TikTok’s ‘Product Overload’ trend is dangerous, according to cleaning experts

TikTok is ripe with cleaning inspiration (just look at our own account!), but an eyebrow-raising trend that’s been building steam over the past year now has experts worried about users’ social media safety.

Aptly known as “product overload” of those in the know, the trend – which involves users filming themselves filling a toilet, bath or sink with copious amounts of astringent cleaning products – has become its own form of ASMR for what’s known as “CleanTok” -corner of the platform. The #ProductOverload tag has garnered hundreds of millions of views since the concept began gaining popularity in early 2021.

But health experts are catching on to the serious risk of participating in the trend, including e.g Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center. Dr. Johnson-Arbor says poison control officials get many calls daily about adverse reactions from mixing chemicals in similar ways, often innocently and with fewer cleaning agents.

“One of the problems with these TikTok videos is that you don’t see the person filming,” explains Dr. Johnson-Arbor, who says masks may be involved to avoid coughing or gagging. “Just because someone mixes chemicals in a video doesn’t mean it’s safe for viewers to do at home.”

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Additionally, health risks aren’t the only thing TikTok users have to worry about if they try to “overload” videos at home — they could inadvertently jeopardize the integrity of their plumbing, as well as affect their community’s wastewater.

“Flushing excessive amounts of mixed cleaners down the drain or toilet can damage surfaces and clog plumbing,” says Carolyn Fortemanaging director of Den Goode Husholdning Institute’s Home Care & Cleaning Laboratory. “Some of these videos show thick slurries of mixed products that can easily settle, clog pipes and cause blockages.”

Mixing products into a product overload video does not make them more effective.

Most TikTokers who turn to the platform for this particular cleaning trend don’t exactly see the process of replicating at home. Commenters on the most popular “product overload” videos often relate it to ASMR videos, as the sound associated with mixing handfuls of different cleaning liquids, powders and solutions can be satisfying – and others react to the rainbow-like hue these mixtures end up producing produce. . But there have been some users who wonder if cleaning their own toilets, sinks or bathtubs this way will result in better results.

“Cleaning products are best used as directed on the label and are not formulated to work in combination with other cleaning agents,” explains Forté.

Product manufacturers are meticulous about testing how chemicals used in their products might interact with others, but Forté says the deliberate overmixing of products used in “product overload” videos is not something most people could foresee or test. “Deliberately mixing detergents is never a good or safe idea,” she adds.

Attempting a product overload at home can ruin your surfaces and plumbing.

Even if you’re just thinking about filming a TikTok-friendly “product overload” video at home, exposing your bathroom and kitchen surfaces to this trend could end up costing you, Forté says.

“Any product that isn’t formulated to be used in a toilet or sink shouldn’t be – after all, manufacturers do extensive safety testing on products based on the correct dosage of detergent and the recommended surfaces it should be used on,” she explains . Some of the platform’s most popular videos show users using products intended for steel sinks, for example, in a porcelain toilet bowl, along with a dozen other products. Even just a single exposure like this can stain a surface beyond your own repair.

Excess amounts of harsh cleaners can etch, scratch and otherwise damage the surface of your fixtures if they have been used well in your home. Why, you might wonder? A majority of the products in popular cleaning videos are designed to be used with water for dilution, Forté clarifies — so a full-strength application poses a much higher risk of injury compared to when someone uses the product as directed.

There is also an inherent risk associated with the large amount of cleaning agents piled in a basin over a drain.

“Flushing an excessive amount of mixed cleaners down the drain or your toilet can damage surfaces and clog your plumbing,” she says, noting that many TikTok users document the lengths they go to when they block a drain — meaning, that it most likely means that the mixture is excreted. in the trash instead of trying to flush it out directly.

There is also an edge of ecological concern, where experts such as Dr. Johnson-Arber is concerned about how that amount of chemicals and solutions could affect community resources — especially if done regularly.

“It would take enormous amounts of water to thoroughly flush these mixtures down a drain, and I suspect that wastewater treatment systems may not be able to adequately handle and process such crazy combinations of chemicals in a safe and thorough manner,” says Forté.

This TikTok trend poses a significant risk to users’ skin and respiratory health.

Most importantly, choosing to either attempt a “product overload” cleaning in your home or film one to share can result in a significant risk to your health; especially if you are not properly equipped with protective equipment.

“Cleaning products—including abrasive cleaning powders and all-purpose cleaners—can have very high, basic pH values,” says Dr. Johnson-Arber and adds that skin irritation can be expected due to direct exposure. “People should wear rubber gloves when using these products, as skin irritation, including redness and pain or even chemical burns, may occur after use.”

And mixing popular cleaning products can also trigger breathing problems, even for healthy people.

“Mixing bleach and ammonia causes the release of chlorine gas, and mixing bleach and toilet bowl cleaner can trigger the release of chlorine gas,” says Dr. Johnson-Work us. “Inhalation of one of these can cause coughing, irritation of the nose and throat and difficulty breathing; for those with asthma, COPD or lung disease, serious respiratory problems can occur and can even result in death.”

Many TikTok users don’t realize that bathrooms in particular don’t provide enough ventilation to allow chemical odors to dissipate, she adds. Without windows or a large open space, vapors can concentrate and increase the risk of respiratory toxicity from any gaseous byproduct of mixing chemicals.

The bottom line:

Attempting to cleanse using a myriad of products or filming a trendy “product overload” clip at home can directly affect your health—and can also indirectly affect your family and community. Since TikTok has an impressive reach, these seemingly innocent cleaning videos can lead others to unwittingly expose themselves to dangerous gases.

“Kids can see these products being mixed together and think they are something that might taste good,” says Dr. Johnson-Arber, who reports that this is often the case, noted by Poison Control Center officials. “Some of the trending cleaning products, like Fabuloso, are worrying because they’re packaged in colorful bottles that look like juice.”

Mixing these cleaning products together to create rainbows of color for your social media channels can reinforce the idea that children can play with them or eat them, “which is exactly what we don’t want children to do with cleaning products.”

“These cleaning products are intended to be used as directed on the product label,” explains Dr. Johnson-Arber. “Unless the label says to mix with another chemical, it’s best to follow the directions as listed and not combine products.”

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