Chemical
Keep Ammonia Out of Your Home

Keep Ammonia Out of Your Home

April 5, 2013

While some ammonia is naturally formed when organic materials decompose, it’s also manufactured for fertilizer, synthetic fibers, plastics, explosives, and as an ingredient in smelling salts and cleaning products. Most of us are familiar with this gas’s extremely sharp, irritating odor.

We’re all regularly exposed to small amounts of ammonia in water, soil and air. Thankfully this low-level exposure is not believed to cause health issues. In larger quantities, however, ammonia fumes pose an immediate danger to the lungs and skin. These risks increase dramatically when ammonia is mixed with chlorine bleach or cleaners containing it. This chemical combination produces highly poisonous chloramine gas, which can cause severe lung damage.

Ammonia can irritate or burn skin and mucous membranes, and it is highly toxic if swallowed. Ammonia fumes also react with nitrates in the environment to form unhealthy ammonium nitrate particles, which then linger in household dust, carpets, curtains and upholstery.

Children are most likely to be exposed to ammonia via household cleaners. Without adequate ventilation, the fumes these cleaners create can pose a danger. Children with asthma may be particularly sensitive to ammonia fumes.

To avoid ammonia, read product labels. Most cleaners don’t have their ingredients listed on bottles as product formulas are considered trade secrets. So keep in mind that cleaners that typically contain ammonia include glass, window, metal and oven cleaners, and wax removers. For these products, choose cleaners from companies that voluntarily disclose their ingredients. Household ammonia usually contains 5 to 10% ammonia diluted in water. Even this concentration can be enough to cause severe respiratory irritation.

You can also detect ammonia with your nose. You’ll probably smell that sharp odor before you are exposed to any concentration that could cause harm. In fact, ammonia can be detected by its odor at concentrations about 10 times lower than the toxic threshold.