Ammonia (ammonium hydroxide) is commonly used as an ingredient in household cleaning supplies, such as glass and surface cleaners, disinfectant aerosol sprays, and jewelry cleaning solutions. When it is exposed to the open air, it turns into a gas with a distinct sharp smell. Most household cleaners contain a 5% to 10% concentration of the substance, which is generally not strong enough to harm an adult, but it can cause eye, nose, mouth, and lung irritation in sensitive individuals or when not used correctly. By taking basic precautionary steps, such as properly ventilating a room during use and wearing rubber gloves, this inexpensive liquid can be both a safe and effective cleaning agent.
Like many other chemicals that are used to clean things in the home, ammonia has the potential to harm to people and pets. Before a person starts cleaning, he should open any windows and air vents, and turn on ceiling fans. If there aren't any air vents or ceiling fans nearby, he should place a small box fan in the window to circulate the air in the room that he is working in. Pets and children should not be around while ammonia is being used since the fumes are likely to affect them more seriously than an adult.
Ammonia should not be mixed with any other common household cleansers or soaps, as they may contain chlorine bleach. When the two compounds come into contact, they chemically react and release toxic gases into the air. Inhaling these gases causes nose irritation, swelling of the throat and lungs, and fluid build up in the lungs. Some people may also experience chest pain, coughing and wheezing, watering eyes, and nausea when they breathe it in. Anyone who is exposed to high levels of chlorine gas may require medical attention.
Stainless steel surfaces, tempered glass stove tops, glass windows, porcelain fixtures, and most types of kitchen counters can be cleaned with ammonia. Individuals can make a cleaning solution by mixing roughly one part ammonia to two parts water and adding it to a spray bottle. It can be used in the same manner as any window or surface cleaner. The spray is particularly good for shiny surfaces, since it will not leave streaks.
The cleanser is also handy in the bathroom, as it removes soap scum buildup and hard water stains from porcelain sinks, tubs, and wall tiles. People can use it to remove soap and water spots from mirrors and glass shower doors, and return dingy metal fixtures to their original shine. While the cleanser does not need to be rinsed, people who are concerned about lingering odors or chemical traces may want to take this extra step.
Ammonia can damage no-wax floors, specialty tiles, and fabrics such as upholstery and carpeting. While some people may recommend using it to remove stains from sofas or carpets, it is important to do a spot test first. There is a good chance that the cleaner could discolor the material and leave a spot that looks worse than the stain.
Because ammonia reacts with bleach, it should never be used on any surface that might also be cleaned with bleach at some point in the near future. Even when they are not mixed directly, the chemical traces left by one could interact with the other, leading to very serious results.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), ammonia is a toxic, or poisonous, substance. The pungent gas is an irritant that can chemically burn mucous membranes located in the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs. Exposure to high concentrations of the substance can kill. Symptoms of poisoning include coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and burning, watering eyes. Other symptoms include throat and mouth pain, lip swelling, hallucinations, blindness, and rapid heart beat.
Pets that are exposed to ammonia will show symptoms similar to those experienced by people, particularly breathing difficulties. Since household animals may walk on surfaces that have been cleaned with this substance, they can get it on their hair and skin, and may lick it off. Most pets are also smaller and so are closer to the fumes released by the cleaning solution, so many experts recommend that pet owners not use ammonia or use it only with caution. Anyone who has a pet that may have been exposed to the substance should take the animal to a veterinarian immediately.