Window cleaner poisoning
Window cleaner poisoning occurs when someone swallows or breathes in large amounts of window cleaner. This can happen by accident or on purpose.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call the local emergency number (such as 911), or the local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Older types of window cleaners may contain:
- Isopropyl alcohol
New types of window cleaners are considered safer.
Some brand names of window cleaners are:
- Glass Gleam
- Sparkle Glass Cleaner
- Squeegee Off
Other window cleaners are also available.
Below are symptoms of window cleaner poisoning in different parts of the body. Most of these occur from older window cleaners that contain the poisonous ingredients listed above.
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
- Loss of vision
- Severe pain in the throat
- Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
HEART AND BLOOD
- Low blood pressure that develops rapidly
LUNGS AND AIRWAYS
- Breathing difficulty (from breathing in fumes of the cleaner)
- Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)
- Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
- Severe brain damage
- Stupor (decreased level of consciousness)
- Walking difficulties
- Ulcers in the skin or tissues under the skin
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
- Blood in the stool
- Burns in the food pipe (esophagus)
- Severe abdominal pain
- Vomiting blood
Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.
If the person swallowed the window cleaner, give them water or milk right away, unless a provider tells you not to. DO NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness. If the person breathed in fumes of cleaner, move them to fresh air right away.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (ingredients, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
Take the container to the hospital with you, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.
The person may receive:
- Blood and urine tests
- Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator)
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Fluids through the vein (by IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
- Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days
How well someone does depends on the ingredients of the window cleaner they swallowed, how much they swallowed, and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.
Nelson LS. Acute poisoning. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 102.
Nelson ME. Toxic alcohols. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 141.
Last reviewed on: 11/13/2021
Reviewed by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.