CDC finds some Americans are still drinking and gargling bleach — here’s what you need to know

A new survey from the CDC found that one-third of participants were engaging in "high-risk" practices with cleaning products. Here's what you need to know to stay safe. (Photo: Getty Images)
A new survey from the CDC found that one-third of participants were engaging in "high-risk" practices with cleaning products. Here's what you need to know to stay safe. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed major “gaps in knowledge” in regard to safely disinfecting one’s home during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Friday report by the government health organization.

The Morbidity and Mortality Report came after news that poison control centers have received increased calls regarding exposure to bleach and other cleaning products during the coronavirus. To learn more, the CDC conducted an online survey of more than 500 adults over the age of 18. While the group seemed informed on topics like hand-washing and how to use personal protective gear, many were unsure about how to correctly use disinfects — and revealed partaking in dangerous practices.

Specifically, the CDC found that 39 percent of the survey respondents had “engag[ed] in at least one high-risk practice not recommended by the CDC for prevention of SARS-CoV-2.” Among them, 19 percent had used bleach on food items, 18 percent had used household cleaning products on the hands or skin, 10 percent had “misted their body” with a cleaning or disinfectant spray, six percent inhaled vapor from household cleaners and four percent had either ingested or gargled “bleach solutions, soapy water and other cleaning ... solutions.”

More than a quarter of the respondents reported experiencing “adverse health effects,” which included irritation of the nose, sinus, skin or eyes, dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, upset stomach/nausea or breathing problems. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has released a list of approved disinfectants to use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Here’s what you need to know about safe household product usage.

Related Video: US Poison Control Centre Calls More Than Double

Gargling bleach or using it on the skin is extremely dangerous

One of the biggest gaps in knowledge, based on the survey, seemed to be whether or not it’s safe to use bleach and other cleaning products on food or ingest. Drinking bleach — which a Virginia poison control center discouraged earlier this year — can cause a range of symptoms from dizziness and burning pain to difficulty breathing and fluid in the lungs. The CDC notes that using bleach in the aforementioned ways can be extremely deadly. “These practices pose a risk of severe tissue damage and corrosive injury and should be strictly avoided,” the report reads.

Similarly, bleach should not be used to disinfect food items

Another major confusion seemed to be over whether it’s necessary to clean food products, such as fruits and vegetables, with bleach. In an earlier interview, Yahoo Life Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel clarified. “There have been no recorded transmissions in the world of food to human transmission but the best way to think about groceries is really about the packaging on the outside — boxes, etc,” said Patel. “Again this is very unlikely to be the source of transmission but if people want to be cautious, they can either leave packages alone for at least 24 hours and then open or wipe down or open and then discard the external packaging and of course wash your hands all along and clean any countertops or tables.”

Bleach should only be diluted with room temperature water

Just over half of the respondents in the study were aware that bleach should not be mixed with ammonia, or that diluting it needs to be done with room temperature water. The CDC notes that failing to follow those two important guidelines can lead to adverse health effects. “Mixing of bleach solutions with vinegar or ammonia, as well as the application of heat, can generate chlorine and chloramine gases that might result in severe lung tissue damage when inhaled.”

According to the CDC, unexpired diluted bleach can effectively kill the coronavirus. To correctly dilute it, the organization recommends mixing 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of room temperature water, or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of room temperature water. It also recommends using disposable gloves when working with the disinfectant to protect the skin.

Keeping cleaning products away from kids and pets is important

The CDC notes that not all of the respondents were aware of the need to store cleaning supplies out of reach of both kids and pets, and that this includes hand sanitizer. Poison centers received tens of thousands of calls for children who were exposed to hand sanitizer from 2011-2014. The exposure can cause alcohol poisoning, causing not only nausea and vomiting but a slowed heart rate.

The coronavirus is unlikely to spread through surfaces

It’s important to note that the main way the virus seems to spread, as the CDC noted in an earlier report, is through person-to-person contact. As of now, “no evidence” of the virus spreading from a surface has been documented. This means that while disinfecting is important — especially when living with someone who is sick with COVID-19 — keeping a six-foot distance and washing hands frequently is the gold standard in terms of prevention.

That doesn’t mean disinfecting should be avoided. According to the most recent evidence, the CDC says “SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.” As a result, “Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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