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How to Use Strong Cleaning Chemicals Safely

Don’t underestimate the dangers of cleaning products, especially those that contain chlorine or ammonia. Wonderful cleaning solutions can cause not-so-wonderful damage to your possessions and to yourself.

Many cleaning solutions can burn your skin and, if swallowed in sufficient quantity, prove fatal. Each year in the UK, 28,000 children under five years of age go to the accident and emergency department of their local hospital after accidental poisonings in the home.

Getting technical, it’s the pH of a substance that makes it caustic. So whilst most people know that acids burn, you may not realise that strong alkalis are also harmful. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, so a pH around 7 is neutral and won’t hurt your skin.

Blood, milk, and washing-up liquid all have neutral pH. Most cleaners are alkali because they work to neutralise and so shift grease and oils, which are mild acids. Exceptions are cleaners used to clear up rust, limescale, and hot caffeine drinks. All these items are alkalis, so they need acid-based cleaners to shift them.

If a cleaner has a high or low pH, take care. A pharmacy can sell you test strips to determine the pH of a cleaner, but there’s no need to go this route.

The precautions you need to take to keep yourself and your possessions safe from cleaners are mainly common-sense guidelines. When working with chemicals follow these tips:

  • Always read the label and accurately follow dilution and safety instructions.

  • Open windows to ventilate where you are working.

  • Wear gloves and eye protection if advised. Protect your clothes and surfaces from splashes.

Oven and drain cleaners are the most powerful cleaners. Take extra care when using these products.

Do not mix cleaning products. Combining chemicals won’t make a super-cleaner and can produce toxic gases. The best-known example is chlorine bleach and ammonia, which you should never use together. If one cleaner doesn’t produce the cleaning or stain removal power you hoped for rinse away (or, if you’re cleaning the toilet, repeatedly flush) all traces of the first product before beginning again with cleaning agent two.

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