Metal cleaners are very strong chemical products that contain acids. This article discusses poisoning from swallowing or breathing in such products.
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.
Metal cleaners contain organic compounds called hydrocarbons, including:
- 1,2-butylene oxide
- Boric acid
- Cocoyl sarcosine
- Dicarboxylic fatty acid
- Dodecanedioic acid
- N-propyl bromide
- Sodium hydroxide
Various metal cleaners contain these compounds.
Below are symptoms of metal cleaner poisoning in different parts of the body.
AIRWAYS AND LUNGS
- Breathing difficulty (from breathing in the chemical)
- Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
- Severe pain in the throat
- Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
- Vision loss
HEART AND BLOOD
- Low blood pressure (shock)
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
- Abdominal pain -- severe
- Blood in the stool
- Burns of the food pipe (esophagus)
- Nausea and vomiting (possibly with blood)
- Feeling of being drunk (euphoria)
- Loss of alertness (unconsciousness)
- Necrosis (holes) in the skin or underlying tissues
Get medical help right away. Do not make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care provider.
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 metal 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 the poison, 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 Exect 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.
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood and urine tests
- Bronchoscopy -- camera placed down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (heart tracing)
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the esophagus and the stomach
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through a vein (IV).
- Washing of the skin (irrigation). Perhaps every few hours for several days.
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage).
- Surgery to remove burned skin.
- Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator).
How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. Swallowing this type of poison can have severe effects on many parts of the body. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Burns in the airway or gastrointestinal tract can lead to tissue necrosis, resulting in infection, shock, and death, even several months after the substance was first swallowed. Scars may form in these tissues leading to long-term difficulties with breathing, swallowing, and digestion.
If metal cleaner gets into the lungs (aspiration), serious and possibly permanent lung damage can occur.
Aronson JK. Organic solvents. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:385-389.
Wang GS, Buchanan JA. Hydrocarbons. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 152.
Review Date 11/13/2021
Updated 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.