While it's important to disinfect high-use surfaces in the household as the coronavirus pandemic continues, a Greater Victoria deputy fire chief is cautioning the public not to panic-clean and to do their research on what household chemicals are safe — especially when mixed together.
"We're getting a lot of questions from the public regarding what they should be using," said Dan Wood, deputy chief of the Saanich Fire Department.
He said the fire department has had calls from people who've mixed household cleaning solutions without knowing they've produced toxic gases.
Wood says to keep it simple and remember that hot water and soap will often do the trick.
Cleaning products are easily misused
A statement from WorkSafeBC says typical household cleaning products could be hazardous if mixed or used in high concentrations.
For example, isopropyl alcohol, used in many hand sanitizers, can be very flammable if used by itself to clean surfaces.
Hydrogen peroxide, a popular antiseptic, can cause severe skin irritation and burns in high concentrations.
Also, mixing bleach with household ammonia or acidic cleaners can create dangerous chemical vapours that can cause severe lung damage if inhaled.
Walter Rodriguez, who runs the Victoria cleaning service Luxcor, says mixing vinegar with bleach produces a toxic chlorine acid, while mixing vinegar with hydrogen peroxide can produce a highly corrosive peracetic acid.
To kill potential COVID-19, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control recommends diluting a few tablespoons of household bleach with water, while wearing gloves.
Wood said most products have a label that outlines safety considerations, along with links to a material safety data sheet that explains what not to mix the product with.
'People are in panic mode'
Many people are in panic mode when it comes to cleaning these days, Rodriguez said.
"They're grabbing everything on their shelves.... They think they're going to mix this potent magic solution to kill COVID-19."
He said, in his experience, people often mix ammonia with bleach, which produces toxic vapours that can cause respiratory damage.
"You can smell it ... and feel it right away," he said. "Somebody will spray it on their hands [by accident] and feel the effects for days afterwards."
He also said product labels have often worn off of products kept under the sink or in other moist areas.
"We open the cap, we sniff, and if we don't think it's something bad, we'll end up using it,' Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said children are particularly susceptible to endangering themselves during these challenging times when they see their parents "overspraying" surfaces and then want to investigate the cleaning products themselves.
He recommends parents keep their products locked away when not in use.
If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.