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Steam iron cleaner poisoning

Steam iron cleaner is a substance used to clean steam irons. Poisoning occurs when someone swallows steam iron cleaner.

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 your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

The harmful chemicals in steam iron cleaner are:

  • Chelating agents
  • Hydroxyacetic acid
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Sodium hydroxide (dilute)
  • Sulfuric acid

Where Found

These are the names of some steam iron cleaners:

  • CLR Clacium, Lime & Rust Remover
  • Faultless Hot Iron Cleaner
  • Lime-A-Way
  • Whink Steam Iron Cleaner

This list does not include all steam iron cleaner products.

Symptoms

Below are symptoms of steam iron cleaner poisoning in different parts of the body.

EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT

  • Burns and severe pain in the mouth and throat
  • Burns, pain and ulcers of the eyes
  • Drooling from burns
  • Loss of vision

STOMACH AND INTESTINES

  • Blood in the stool
  • Burns in the esophagus
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting, sometimes containing blood
  • Severe abdominal pain

HEART AND BLOOD

  • Collapse (shock)
  • Rapid drop in blood pressure

LUNGS AND AIRWAYS

  • Breathing difficulty due to throat swelling
  • Burns of the breathing tubes (trachea, bronchi and lung tissue)
  • Irritation

NERVOUS SYSTEM

  • Coma
  • Headache
  • Seizures

SKIN

  • Burns
  • Ulcers in the skin or tissues under the skin
  • Irritation

STOMACH AND INTESTINES

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe abdominal pain

Home Care

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 chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

If the person swallowed the 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.

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

Poison Control

Your local poison 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 hotline number 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 with you to the hospital, 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 placed down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Chest x-ray
  • ECG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy: camera placed down the throat to see burns in the food pipe (esophagus) and the stomach
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms
  • Surgery to remove burned skin (debridement)
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well someone does depends on how much steam iron cleaner they swallowed and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery. Steam iron cleaner can cause extensive damage to the:

  • Esophagus
  • Eyes
  • Lungs
  • Mouth
  • Nose
  • Stomach
  • Throat

Delayed injury may occur, including a hole forming in the throat, esophagus, or stomach. This can lead to severe bleeding and infection. Surgical procedures may be needed to correct these complications.

If the cleaner gets in the eye, ulcers may develop in the cornea, the clear part of the eye. This can cause blindness.

Alternative Names

Chelating agent poisoning; Mineral deposit remover poisoning

References

Braitberg G. Drugs and antidotes in acute intoxication. In: Ronco C, Bellomo R, Kellum JA, Ricci Z, eds. Critical Care Nephrology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 98.

Hoyte C. Caustics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 148.

Zosel AE. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 143.

Review Date 10/1/2017

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.