Story at a glance

  • A new CDC survey suggests 39 percent of Americans misused household cleaners like bleach to avoid the coronavirus.
  • Nineteen percent said they applied bleach to food items, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Calls to poison control lines have jumped since the onset of the pandemic in the U.S.

New information gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that more than one-third of the U.S. public used household cleaners, such as bleach and other disinfectants, in “high-risk” practices in an effort to prevent a coronavirus infection.

The CDC worked with firms Porter Novelli Public Services and ENGINE Insights on May 4, 2020 to administer a voluntary, rapid-turnaround Internet panel survey to ask 502 U.S. adults about general knowledge and practices related to the use of household cleaning chemicals as a strategy for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. 


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Overall, the survey found that 39 percent of respondents had used a household cleaner in a way that could endanger their health and was not recommended by the CDC to prevent a COVID-19 infection. 

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The uses included in the responses range from sanitizing food items — specifically fruits and vegetables — with bleach, using household cleaning and disinfectant products on hands or skin, misting their bodies with a disinfectant or cleaning spray, inhaling of vapors from disinfectants or household cleaners and "drinking or gargling diluted bleach solutions, soapy water, and other cleaning and disinfectant solutions." 

Accidental poisonings spiked during the pandemic as a result of some of these practices.

Out of the 39 percent, one-quarter reported an adverse health effect as a result, such as nausea, skin irritations, headaches and lightheadedness. 

“Although adverse health effects reported by respondents could not be attributed to their engaging in high-risk practices, the association between these high-risk practices and reported adverse health effects indicates a need for public messaging regarding safe and effective cleaning and disinfection practices aimed at preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in households,” the report read.

It also noted that when preparing disinfectants for household cleaning use, specific safety rules apply. For example, the report warns to never mix bleach solutions with vinegar or ammonia, and never apply heat to it; this can create chlorine and chloramine gases that can damage lung tissue when inhaled.

Additionally, the CDC warns to avoid exposing the skin or other body parts to disinfectants and cleaning products. It recommends that local and state public health offices distribute this information through trusted messaging platforms to keep the public aware of how to safely use disinfectants. 

This survey was weighted to be representative of the U.S. population.


Published on Jun 05, 2020