What are the safety issues involved in aqueous cleaning?
Worker safety issues, for aqueous cleaners, involve skin exposure, eye exposure, ingestion, inhalation, and chronic systemic exposure. Consult the label and material safety data sheet on the cleaner for warnings and safety precautions.
When cleaning by hand, it is always good practice to wear protective gloves. Even the mildest cleaners can sometimes cause "dishpan-hands". Gloves also provide protection and comfort when working, by hand, with hot solutions. In fact, many highly acidic or alkaline cleaners require the use of chemical-resistant gloves for worker safety. Eye exposure is also a concern with many aqueous cleaners.
Eye tissue is particularly vulnerable to attack by chemically active aqueous solutions. Accordingly, it is also considered good industrial practice to wear safety glasses or other eye protection when working with aqueous-cleaning solutions. Particularly hazardous aqueous cleaners should have warnings and recommended eye protection on the label.
In addition, there may be inhalation hazards with some aqueous cleaners. Because aqueous cleaners generally do not have volatile solvent ingredients, it is somewhat unusual to find the need for respiratory protection with such cleaners. However, it is considered good industrial practice to have some respiratory protection when working with sprays and mists in open-spray cleaning. Any special ventilation required should be noted on the material safety data sheet. Some semiaqueous cleaners may contain volatile solvents that require special ventilation and possibly even flammability controls.
While it is relatively unusual for an aqueous cleaner to contain any carcinogenic ingredients, the cleaner's material safety data sheet should disclose any long-term chronic exposure concerns relating to carcinogenicity.
Physical safety issues with aqueous cleaners, generally, concern storage and handling to avoid any hazardous reactions with other industrial chemicals. Good industrial practice usually involves storing acid and alkaline chemicals separately to avoid any reactions between them in the event of accidental spills. Some aqueous cleaners contain bleaches or other oxidizing agents that should be stored away from reactive chemicals that might undergo hazardous oxidation reactions. As previously mentioned, most completely aqueous cleaners are not flammable. However, some aqueous cleaners contain ingredients that form hazardous chemicals when burned. (It is considered good practice to wear respiratory protection when fighting any fire involving industrial chemicals.)