We’ll start off by examining ammonia, a common general purpose cleaner and main ingredient in most glass cleaners. Ammonia has been used in households for decades, and most people would consider it safe if used properly. There are different strengths to ammonia solutions – household cleaning products are typically 5 to 10 percent ammonia, while industrial cleaning solutions can contain concentrations of 25 percent or higher.
About 80 percent of the ammonia produced worldwide is used in agriculture as fertilizer. It’s also used in the manufacture of textiles, pesticides, explosives, plastics, and other chemicals. Also, some meat companies have used ammonia for over a decade to treat E. coli in processed beef.
Cleaning uses include oven cleaning, diminishing tarnish, removing soap scum buildup in tubs, sinks, and tiles, and general stain removal. All of this sounds pretty good until you read all the warnings on the back of the bottle. Ammonia is an eye, skin and respiratory irritant. That fresh scent may smell nice, but you are exposing yourself to a chemical that can harm you if not used properly and in a well-ventilated home.
Regular use can also cause you to become immune to the smell, so you may use more thinking that it will clean better. Ammonia vapors tend to spread lower to the ground, so what happens if you have small children? Children are at greater risks for health issues because of their size, proximity to the ground, and greater lung surface area.
The extent of injury depends on duration of exposure, but even low concentrations may produce eye and nose irritations. Chronic exposure to ammonia can cause chronic irritation of the respiratory tract and involve coughing, asthma, lung damage, chronic eye irritation and dermatitis.
Even if you don’t use straight ammonia on a regular basis, you probably use other types of cleaners daily. Check the back of the bottle and see if ammonia is listed in the ingredients. It’s a very common ingredient in many cleaners, including glass/window, all-purpose, bathroom, drains, and ovens. It’s also used in polishing waxes.
In addition to the general warnings, you’ll also see a warning about mixing ammonia with bleach. Ammonia and bleach should NEVER be mixed. People, especially children, end up in the emergency room after mixing the two out of curiosity. Mixing the two produces a chlorine gas (among other chemicals), which causes cellular damage to your nasal passages, trachea and lungs. This can be fatal. It can also explode. Ammonia is used in rocket fuel, so that gives you a good idea on how explosive it can be when mixed with other chemicals.
Ammonia’s Effect on the Environment
Ammonia naturally occurs in the environment and is also manufactured by man. The majority of ammonia released to the environment occurs during the breakdown of animal waste. Man-made sources of ammonia release include the use of fertilizers, the decomposition of wastes, and from some industrial processes.
Ammonia is very toxic to water-dwelling organisms, especially fish. It is also one of the gases important in “acid rain”, playing a role in the long range transport of acidic pollutants.
Low concentrations of ammonia occur normally in soils as part of the nitrogen cycle. It is an important source of nitrogen to crops and other plants. However, high levels of fertilizer use can result in a drain of large quantities of nitrate into ground water, which could be deemed unfit for human consumption. Expensive treatment options are available for ground water in order to reduce nitrate concentrations so it can be safe for human consumption.
Why Use Ammonia if It’s Harmful?
Good question. Many people use ammonia as a household cleaner, but given its risks is it really worth the benefit? There are other less corrosive/harmful products on the market that will tackle tough jobs without the toxins and potential for health and environmental problems.
Cleaners containing soy make a great alternative and are just as powerful. The natural cleaning power in soy comes from the micro particles that attack surface dirt and bacteria at lightning fast speeds, but are gentle on the consumer and the environment. Soy cleaners can be used several times a day under any conditions and will not harm your skin, eyes, or respiratory system.
These cleaners are also biodegradable and help other oils and acids decompose in our water systems of the world. With a multitude of benefits, it’s easy to see how soy is a much better and safer alternative for all of your cleaning needs.