Okanagan Eco-Noggin  

Disinfectants are not science experiments

Hazardous DIY disinfectant

During this pandemic, many of us are taking extra steps to disinfect our hands, countertops, tools and other objects. Not surprisingly, hoarders made this more difficult for all of us by clearing the shelves of hand sanitizer and many cleaning products.

In response, many people have taken to the internet to find ways to repurpose household products into disinfectants. But keep in mind that some of these household chemicals are hazardous materials that can react to form serious health hazards.

Unfortunately, the statistics show a recent increase in poisonings and exposures with chemicals such as bleach and hand sanitizers. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, two of the main exposures that have increased are inhalation of fumes from bleach and other cleaners, and alcohol poisoning in children under five years old from accidentally consuming hand sanitizer.


The alcohol poisoning in young children can be avoided by simply remembering that hand sanitizer is hazardous to our health and treating it as such. Now that breweries and other facilities have ramped up production of hand sanitizer, there will be more of it left within hands reach for ourselves, but unfortunately also in reach of small kids to sample. Hand sanitizer contains ethanol (the alcohol spirits), and it may also contain methanol (wood alcohol, a byproduct of fermentation that can harm us) and isopropyl alcohol (an ingredient added to discourage consumption of the ethanol). If you use a magnifying glasses and squint, you will see a label on every bottle of hand sanitizer that says “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.”

The story with household cleaners is a bit more interesting. To check if we are seeing more of these types of exposures in Canada, I called the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre. They told me that, yes, they are seeing an increase in exposures to household cleaners, but the cause is usually inappropriate mixing of household chemicals such as bleach and vinegar. Such household chemistry experiments cause all sorts of noxious fumes that are then inhaled. Moreover, these mixtures are unnecessary; the CDC has simple instructions to make disinfectants by mixing bleach and water on this web page.

In laboratories, we use fume hoods to suck fumes away from our faces, and we wear rubber gloves, lab coats and safety glasses when handling these chemicals. If you are mixing these chemicals at home (even with water), try to mimic these controls – work in a well-ventilated area (outdoors is best) and wear rubber gloves and safety glasses.

If you or others are accidentally exposed to any of these chemicals, call the BC DPIC at 1-800-567-8911 or 911. But let’s take all the steps we can to avoid that in the first place.


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About the Author

Jerry Vandenberg is an environmental scientist and owner of Vandenberg Water Science. He lives in the Okanagan region where he is also a paid-on-call fire fighter.

He can be reached at (250) 491-7260; [email protected]; https://www.linkedin.com/in/jerry-vandenberg/

Website: www.vws.ltd


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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