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Dirty Hands? 5 “Cleaners” That Cause Dangerous Health Risks

If you work in the oil industry, you know just how difficult it can be to get your hands clean. Regular hand soap won’t cut through the oil on your skin, and regular laundry detergent isn’t enough to clean your clothes. Many oil riggers and their spouses often turn to alternative cleaning methods that, while relatively effective, can be incredibly dangerous.

In this blog, we will look at 5 different types of “cleaners” that oil rig workers, pipeline workers, and auto mechanics often use and explain safer alternatives to these dangerous chemicals.

#1. Brake Cleaner

If it’s good enough to clean grease from brakes, it’s going to work on hands, right? Wrong. Not only is brake cleaner made up of toxic chemicals, but it’s also an OSHA violation. Brake cleaner can be absorbed through the skin, so although it may work to remove the grease, having direct skin contact with it (such as handwashing) can expose your body to carcinogens that can not only have damaging effects in the short-term, but can also cause cancer. Not to mention this solvent is flammable!

One of the main ingredients in brake cleaner is often tetrachloroethylene, or perchloroethylene, which can cause serious health risks through both short-term and long-term exposure. When exposed to temperatures above 315 degrees Celsius, such as in welding, tetrachloroethylene becomes phosgene, an extremely poisonous gas that was used as a chemical weapon during World War 1.

#2. WD-40

Most everyone has a can of WD-40 in their garage, but industrial workers have even more exposure to this solvent. While it’s mostly used as a lubricant, WD-40 is also effective as a rust preventative solution and an adhesive remover. But is it toxic?

The dangers associated with the first ingredient listed on consumer WD-40 cans include:

  • Cancer
  • Respiratory issues
  • Damage to an unborn child
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Genetic defects
  • Skin irritation
  • Death, if ingested

The second ingredient, petroleum base oil, is also considered a carcinogen, because it releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. Repeated skin contact with WD-40 can cause irritation and even dermatitis, so it should be used with gloves – not to wash hands or clothes.

#3. Kerosene

Especially when used to clean hands after contact with oily materials, kerosene can be incredibly dangerous; one study found that cleaning with kerosene “facilitates passage of carcinogens through the skin.” This dramatically increases the likelihood of genetic damage in critical organs, including cancer. Skin exposure to kerosene can also cause burns, itchiness, and rashes with blisters.

#4. Gasoline

Kerosene is just one of the many dangerous ingredients of gasoline. Even just spilling gasoline on yourself at the gas station can be serious and should be dealt with carefully. Skin exposed to gasoline should be rinsed with water and washed with a non-abrasive soap; affected clothes should be carefully rinsed and may even need to be thrown away. Because gasoline is flammable, these clothes should never be put through the dryer, at risk of fire.

#5. Paint Thinner

Because paint thinner, also known as mineral spirits, contains hydrocarbons, exposure through inhalation or touch can cause poisoning. Skin contact can cause numbness in fingers and arms, dry skin, and dermatitis. It can also cause burns and eye conjunctivitis. The best course of action? Follow the warnings on the label: avoid repeated or prolonged skin contact. Never use paint thinner to clean hands.

How Do You Wash Oil Off Your Skin Safely?

When you need thorough cleaning and regular soap won’t cut it, you don’t need to turn to dangerous solvents to get the job done. There are plenty of alternatives that are effective and safe and won’t require hours of scrubbing with a nail brush.

Safe handwashing alternatives to solvents include:

  • Soap containing pumice
  • Citrus-based cleaners
  • Dawn dish soap
  • Coffee scrub
  • Baby oil
  • Olive oil

Keeping Oil Workers Safe

Industrial workers are regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals as it is; cleaning those chemicals off your hands or clothes shouldn’t put you in harm’s way, too. It’s important to get hands as clean as possible after the working day is done, and the safe alternatives to solvents listed above can help.

At Arnold & Itkin, we are committed to keeping oil workers safe. We have a long history of protecting workers and their families in and out of the courtroom. If you or a loved one has been injured with dangerous solvents, don’t hesitate to contact our team of industrial injury lawyers.


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