What is ammonia? 

Ammonia is a colorless gas with a strong, unpleasant odor. Most people would recognize the odor from household ammonia, which is a solution of about 7% ammonia in water, and home and glass cleaners that contain ammonia. In nature, ammonia is made by animals and plants as they break down proteins. Mammals convert ammonia to urea and the kidneys filter it out of the bloodstream, then excrete it in urine.  

It is used in the manufacture of chemicals, in cleaning solutions, and as a fertilizer for plants.  

How could I be exposed to ammonia?  

People can be exposed to ammonia while using household cleaners that contain ammonia. They can be exposed when applying ammonia to fields or when near farms where ammonia has been applied. There can be high levels in the air in enclosed spaces where many animals are being kept, such as at a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).  

How can ammonia affect my health? 

Breathing air containing ammonia can cause respiratory irritation, resulting in coughing, eye irritation, and nose and throat irritation. It may trigger asthma attacks. Breathing very high levels of ammonia can kill a person.  

Solutions of ammonia are basic and can cause skin or eye burns. Diluting ammonia properly before use reduces the risk of skin or eye injury, but you should always use proper protective clothing and eye protection. 

Ammonia when mixed with chlorine bleach generates a poisonous gas called chloramine. This is a chemical that can be used at low concentration to treat drinking water and pools to kill bacteria, but at high concentrations causes skin, eye, throat, and lung irritation, and can even be fatal to breathe. Never mix household cleaners, and only use them in a well-ventilated area.  

How can I reduce the risk of exposure to ammonia?  

Use household cleaners according to the label directions. Ammonia solution should be diluted as recommended. Use ammonia-containing cleaners only in well-ventilated spaces. Wear proper clothing and eye protection while using ammonia-containing cleaners. Never mix together different household cleaners. 

Is there a medical test to show if I’ve been exposed to ammonia?  

Medical tests can measure the level of ammonia in your bloodstream, but since the body naturally makes ammonia, this ammonia may result from normal body processes. Most often high levels of ammonia in the body are a sign of liver and kidney disease.  


Updated 2023