In the early days of COVID-19, I’m sure we all remember the starkly-empty shelves that formerly held bleach, rubbing alcohol, soap, peroxide and disinfecting products of all kinds.
We were bound and determined not to get sick, but in our zeal to be virus-free we may have inadvertently introduced a new threat into our homes … and our pets may be taking an even bigger hit than we are. When used improperly — and some when used at all — over-the-counter cleaning and disinfecting products can be making us and our pets sick, even as we’re trying to stay well.
To begin with, “Your fragrance fiesta is their second-hand smoke,” wrote Dr. Karen Becker in an EPA article in 2017. “Scented products create dangerous indoor pollutants that dramatically affect our pets.”
In the 2015, documentary “Stink,” we learned that one fragrance can be made up of as many as 100 different chemicals, including some of the same ones used in toilet cleaners and pesticides. Yikes!
Children have as much as 30 times more exposure to indoor pollutants than adults because of their size, activity level and proximity to the floor. For pets, it’s even worse. Vapor is heavier than air, so molecules that contain fragrance fall to lower lying places like the floor.
Cats are especially at risk because they lack certain liver enzymes that destroy toxins, and they’re constantly licking their fur.
Benzene, phenol and quaternary ammonium compounds (QAC’s) are common additives in over-the-counter disinfectants. Benzene works by stopping cell growth and can affect bone marrow. Phenols are corrosive, and can cause skin damage and injury to lungs if inhaled. (FYI most dryer sheets contain phenol.)
QAC’s are known to contribute to work related asthma (WRA,) and are also highly corrosive. And, because QAC’s evaporate slower than water, the molecules can stick around as dry particles even after the surface dries.
Exposure to any of these chemicals through skin, inhalation and ingestion can be deadly. Symptoms of exposure include gastrointestinal problems, coughing, sneezing, drooling, low heart rate, low blood pressure, burns, seizures, anemia and liver or kidney damage. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, call your vet or one of these hotlines: Animal Poison Control Center ($59 fee) 855-764-7661, or ASPCA’s line ($75 fee) 888-426-4435.
Sadly, many of the most dangerous cleaning products don’t list ingredients on their labels. You have to go to their website to get them. But don’t despair, we do have some safer options.
Even though they can also be toxic if not used properly, bleach, alcohol and peroxide will kill the virus, minus all those other nasty chemicals. For alcohol, mix it 2/3 alcohol to 1/3 water, and leave it on for 30 seconds before wiping it up and rinsing. Hand sanitizer can be made by substituting aloe vera gel for the water. For peroxide, mix 1 part peroxide (3-10 percent OTC solution,) with 2 parts water. You can add a little lemon juice if you want to scent it. Never mix peroxide with bleach or vinegar — you’ll either get toxic gas or an explosion.
Bleach is good if you mix it right. The CDC recommends mixing 1/3 cup to a gallon of water and leaving it on for 2 minutes. Never mix bleach with anything but water — ever. Dogster Magazine reports that natural cleaning products have 1,000 times less vapor pressure, which happens when dangerous vapors leak out even when containers of chemical cleaners are closed! Creepy.
One product I like is Rescue, made by Canadian company Revival Animal Health. It’s a super charged hydrogen peroxide product that many animal shelters now use. Some of their products are available at department stores or Amazon, and the concentrate can be purchased from the company (a gallon will practically last a lifetime!)
Some other basic things I learned in this round of research include: rinse with water after disinfecting, especially utensils, countertops and floors (and don’t forget mop heads and buckets.) Wear gloves. And don’t spray stuff. Use rags or sponges soaked in the solution you’re using. It’s also best practice to clean with a safe detergent before applying a disinfectant.
The Humane Society reminds us to try to keep pets out of rooms when we’re cleaning, never leave cleaning chemicals of any kind, even the natural ones, within reach of pets (or kids) and don’t add harsh chemicals to laundry detergent. Regular detergent is enough to kill this virus.
I hope this was helpful, and I hope you all — two and four footed, finned and winged — stay well.