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Infectious Diseases

18 April 2020

Handle DIY cleaning products with care during coronavirus pandemic

Experts warn that you can put your health at risk by creating your own cleaners or disinfectants in trying to fight the coronavirus.

If you're one of the many people making your own cleaning products at home because you can't find them in stores, you need to be sure what you make is safe and effective, an environmental medicine expert says.

Do-it-yourself (DIY) cleaning products made from ingredients such as vinegar, essential oils and baking soda are safe, but they haven't been shown to kill viruses or bacteria, said Robert Laumbach. He's an associate professor at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at Rutgers University, in New Jersey.

"It is essential to make a distinction between cleaning and disinfecting products. Cleaners remove dirt and some, but not all, germs. Disinfectants kill germs, including bacteria and viruses," he said in a university news release.

"The effectiveness of cleaners is usually readily apparent to the user. In contrast, verification of the ability of disinfectants to kill particular viruses and bacteria depends on laboratory tests such as those conducted by commercial product manufacturers," said Laumbach.

New toxic chemicals

The only DIY disinfectant that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for killing the new coronavirus on frequently contacted surfaces is "a dilute solution of 1/3 cup [about 5 tablespoons] of bleach per gallon of water," he noted.

The coronavirus is more easily killed by disinfectants, so common US Environmental Protection Agency-registered household disinfectants should be effective against the virus, according to the CDC.

Laumbach also warned that you can put your health at risk by creating your own cleaners or disinfectants.

"First, mixing some chemicals may create new toxic chemicals. For example, bleach should not be combined with other chemicals, especially ammonia, which can be found in glass, window and toilet bowl cleaners, and can produce toxic chlorine gases. Second, a commercial disinfectant may lose its effectiveness when mixed with other products, including DIY cleaning products," he said.

When handling and using DIY or commercial cleaning and disinfectant products, wear gloves and avoid breathing vapours, Laumbach advised.

"Some individuals, such as those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, may be especially affected by irritating vapours from cleaners and disinfectants, whether DIY or commercial products. Individuals with such conditions must be extra careful if they attempt to make and use their cleaning products," he said.

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