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Household Irritants: Skin-Friendly Cleaning Tips for Your Family

Scrubbing toilets and doing laundry aren't most people's idea of a good time, but for some of us, cleaning house is irritating. Literally.

Many of the products that keep our homes clean and germ-free can be rough on skin -- and not just the super-powerful cleaners. Even a gentle cleaner can dry out and irritate your skin if you're sensitive to it or if you use it often enough.

Sensitive skin that's been exposed to cleaning products can develop a red, swollen, itchy rash that dermatologists call contact dermatitis.

There's no cure for housework, but identifying and avoiding the cleaning chemicals that inflame your skin can at least reduce your irritation when you have to do it.

Protect Your Skin From These Irritants

The most notorious chemical irritants are usually easy to spot. The government requires the makers of toxic cleaning materials to label their products with words like, "DANGER," "POISON," or "USE IN A WELL-VENTILATED AREA." These warnings should clue you in that the product contains chemicals that can be harsh to the skin.

Protect your skin from contact with these irritants, especially if you have sensitive skin:

Ingredient Found In
Ammonia Disinfectants, floor cleaners, window and glass cleaners, all-purpose cleaners

Chloride and alkyl ammonium chloride

Mold and mildew removers
Ammonium hydroxide

Spot removers
Hydrochloric acid

Drain cleaners
Hypochloric acid

Toilet bowl cleaners
Lye

Oven cleaners, drain cleaners
Petroleum distillates

Furniture waxes and polishes
Petroleum solvents

Floor cleaners/waxes
Phenol Antibacterial cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, furniture polishes

Sodium bisulfate

Toilet bowl cleaners
Sodium hypochlorite Disinfectants, spot removers, all-purpose cleaners

Sodium or potassium hydroxide Drain cleaners, oven cleaners

Cleaning Tips: Preventing Irritation

You can come up with a whole list of reasons to avoid cleaning your house, but sensitive skin shouldn't be on it. You just need to use a little bit of caution when you clean.

Here are a few tips for avoiding skin irritation:

1. Read labels. Know exactly which chemicals are in the product you're using. Try to avoid products that contain ingredients you've had a reaction to in the past. Follow directions on the label so you know you're using the cleaning product safely.

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2. Go alternative. "Green" cleaners won't necessarily prevent dermatitis, but they are generally gentler on the skin, not to mention on the environment. Look for cleaning products labeled "fragrance- and dye-free" or "all natural," or try an old fashioned cleaner like baking soda.

3. Store smartly. So that you don't accidentally come in contact with a chemical that irritates your skin, leave all cleaning products in their original, labeled containers. Keep the lids tightly sealed to prevent the product from spilling on you.

4. Don't mix. Don't turn into a mad scientist. Mixing cleaning products is a dangerous experiment. Combining cleaning products is never a good idea. Cleaning products can produce dangerous fumes when combined with certain substances.

5. Gear up. Protect your sensitive hands and arms by wearing waterproof gloves and long sleeves when you clean. If you're really sensitive, be careful about which type of gloves you buy. Latex gloves themselves can cause a skin reaction. Plastic and vinyl are better options for anyone with a latex sensitivity.

6. Clean up. Washing after you've just used a cleaning product sounds like a waste of time, but it can help protect your skin. Wash your hands or any other skin that's been exposed to the laundry detergent or cleaner with warm water and a gentle soap.

Cleaning Tips: Treating Irritated Skin

Avoiding the offending substance is the best way to prevent skin irritation. But if you do come in contact with an unfriendly cleaner and get a rash as a result, call your dermatologist. A prescription ointment or cream can help relieve the itching and redness. If the cream hasn't worked after about a week, your doctor might put you on a steroid medication.

No matter how much the rash itches, don't scratch. Scratching will give you a few seconds of relief, but it can make your skin even itchier and it could cause an infection. Instead of scratching, apply a gentle moisturizing cream daily to soothe the itch and protect your skin.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on October 10, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. 

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

National Jewish Health. 

Belsito DV. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, February 2002.

Cleveland Clinic. 

Mayo Clinic.

Environmental Protection Agency.

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