June 12, 2020

A CDC survey of more than 500 people found that more than a third had misused household cleaning products—including drinking bleach and spraying themselves with disinfectant—in a misguided effort to kill the new coronavirus.

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Survey details

The online survey consisted of 502 adults ages 18 to 86 with a median age of 46. Respondents to the survey came from all over the United States, with 38% coming from the South, 24% from the West, 21% from the Midwest, and 18% from the Northeast.

The survey found that 39% of respondents had misused a household cleaning product in an attempt to kill the new coronavirus.

Specifically, CDC found that of those who misused a household cleaning product:

  • 19% applied bleach to their food;
  • 18% used household cleaning products or disinfectants on their hands or skin;
  • 10% misted their body with a household cleaning or disinfectant spray;
  • 6% inhaled vapors from household cleaners or disinfectants; and
  • 4% drank or gargled a diluted bleach solution;
  • 4% drank or gargled soapy water; and
  • 4% drank or gargled another cleaning disinfectant solution.

Of those who misused a household cleaning product, CDC found 25% reported at least one adverse health effect that they believed was linked to their misuse of a cleaning product. For example:

  • 11% reported nose or sinus irritation;
  • 8% reported skin irritation;
  • 8% reported eye irritation;
  • 8% reported dizziness, lightheadedness, or a headache;
  • 6% reported an upset stomach or nausea; and
  • 6% reported breathing problems.

CDC also found that respondents had limited knowledge of how to safely prepare cleaning and disinfectant solutions. For example, just under a quarter of respondents knew that only room temperature water should be used to prepare a diluted bleach solution, while just over a third knew that bleach shouldn't be mixed with vinegar, and just over half knew that bleach shouldn't be mixed with ammonia.

"These practices pose a risk of severe tissue damage and corrosive injury and should be strictly avoided," the CDC report authors wrote. "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 health effects indicates a need for public health messaging regarding safe and effective cleaning practices aimed at preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in households" (Joseph, STAT News, 6/5; Willis, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6; Milling, Forbes, 6/7; Kelley, "Changing America," The Hill, 6/5).

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