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Swiffer WetJet

Claim:   The Swiffer WetJet poses a general danger to dogs and other household pets.

FALSE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, May 2004]

I recently had a neighbor who had to have their 5-year old German Shepherd dog put down due to liver failure. The dog was completely healthy until a few weeks ago, so they had a necropsy done to see what the cause was. The liver levels were unbelievable, as if the dog had ingested poison of some kind. The dog is kept inside, and when he's outside, someone's with him, so the idea of him getting into something unknown was hard to believe. My neighbor started going through all the items in the house. When he got to the Swiffer Wetjet, he noticed, in very tiny print, a warning which stated "may be harmful to small children and animals." He called the company to ask what the contents of the cleaning agent are and was astounded to find out that antifreeze is one of the ingredients. (actually he was told it's a compound which is one molecule away from anitfreeze).

Therefore, just by the dog walking on the floor cleaned with the solution, then licking it's own paws, and the dog eating from its dishes which were kept on the kitchen floor cleaned with this product, it ingested enough of the solution to destroy its liver.

Soon after his dog's death, his housekeepers' two cats also died of liver failure. They both used the Swiffer Wetjet for quick cleanups on their floors. Necropsies weren't done on the cats, so they couldn't file a lawsuit, but he asked that we spread the word to as many people as possible so they don't lose their animals.
 

Variations:   December 2008 versions of the warning proclaimed "THIS IS TRUE & VERIFIED ON SNOPES.COM." Which is not the case — our article indeed says the opposite.

Origins:   So much about this anonymous message purportedly detailing the demise of someone's neighbor's dog and that neighbor's housekeeper's two cats is wrong or unverifiable:
  • The message gives no information about its writer or either of the pet owners, and thus provides no avenue through which inquiries can be made to verify its contents. It appears to have been disseminated through its posting to many different dog-related newsgroups and mailing lists, always by a second-hand source who had "received it in e-mail."
  • The claims that the cleaning agent used with the Swiffer WetJet is "antifreeze" or "a compound which is one molecule away from" something else are quite similar to a number of other alarmist scares we've seen (such as one about margarine) and are indicative of an uninformed writer's making unwarranted assumptions.

    According to P&G's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), most of the cleaning fluid used in the Swiffer WetJet system is water (somewhere between 90 and 100 percent), with propylene glycol n-propyl ether and isopropyl alcohol making up between 1 and 4 percent each, and the remainder of the solution composed of minor ingredients and
    preservatives.

    The two most common compounds found in antifreeze and de-icing solutions are ethylene glycol and propylene glycol. The former has been identified as posing a danger to pets, but propylene glycol is much safer than ethylene glycol — it has been classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an additive that is "generally recognized as safe" for use in food, it is found in a variety of medicines and cosmetics, and it is recommended as a safe alternative to antifreeze for pet owners. Moreover, what the Swiffer Wetjet cleaning solution contains is not propylene glycol itself, but propylene glycol n-propyl ether, an ingredient found in many, many different brands and types of household cleaning products. If this compound truly posed a significant risk of causing fatal liver damage in cats and dogs, we should be hearing about many more pet deaths associated with cleaning products other than the Swiffer WetJet.

    Also note that the danger posed to pets by antifreeze (i.e., ethylene glycol) has to do with kidney failure, not destruction of the liver as claimed in the message quoted above.
  • The warning message claims that the anonymous writer found on his WetJet packaging a warning label which stated that the product "may be harmful to small children and animals." We examined the warning labels on every Swiffer WetJet product we could find at our local stores, and none of them bore such wording. The labelling on all these products (i.e., the Swiffer WetJet Power Mop with Jet-Action Sprayer, the Wood Floor Cleaner, the Multi-Purpose Cleaner, and the Cleaning Pad Refill) was identical and read: "AVOID ACCIDENTS: KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN AND PETS. In case of eye contact, flush thoroughly with water. If irritation persists, call a physician." This is the standard boilerplate warning label found on virtually every household cleaning product to inform users that cleaning agents are generally caustic and may be harmful should they come into direct contact with the eye. On Swiffer products, the first line of the warning (the one referencing children and pets) was presented in block letters and in darker type than the rest of the message, all of which was listed in three languages: English, French, and Spanish.

    Only the warning carried on the Antibacterial Cleaner solution was different: after an expanded caution about not getting the product into one's eyes and the procedure for flushing exposed eyes with water, it concluded, ''Contact a Poison Control Center or doctor for treatment advice. Have the product container or label with you when calling the Poison Control Center or doctor or going for treatment." Nowhere on this label was there mention of children or pets, and even the part of the warning devoted to Poison Control Centers and doctors might well have applied only to the preceding passage about getting the solution into one's eyes. No Swiffer product carried a warning cautioning users that its toxicity might pose a danger to children or pets, as suggested by the message quoted above.
On its web site, Procter & Gamble describes its Swiffer WetJet cleaning system as an all-in-one, ready-to-use mopping system. According to the entry in its "Swiffer Q&A" section devoted to the question of whether the product is safe to use around pets:
Q: Is Swiffer safe for animals? What if my pet licks the floor or his paws?

A: Your pet will be fine if it licks its paws after walking on a newly wet floor mopped with WetJet or Wet cloths. You can always offer water or milk to help remove the perfume taste from your pet's mouth. But even drinking large amounts of the Swiffer solution would not be expected to cause more than temporary and minor intestinal upset.
In direct response to the e-mail's claims, Procter and Gamble posted a rebuttal:
Q: Are the ingredients safe?

A: We're glad you came to us for the facts about the rumor circulating. Swiffer Wet cloths and WetJet liquid solution do not contain antifreeze or any ingredient similar to it. In fact, Swiffer products have been safely used in over 15 million U.S. homes — many with pets — for nearly five years.

Independent veterinarians and scientists evaluated the Swiffer Wet Cloths and WetJet cleaners and found them safe. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has even posted information about this rumor on their site. Here's a link to their home page: http://www.aspca.org

We have pets too, and their health and well-being is very important to us. Please help us put animal lovers' minds at ease and stop this rumor by sharing the truth with others.
The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center also issued a statement declaring this rumor to be unfounded:
Veterinary toxicologists at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center have reviewed the claim described in a widely distributed email alleging a relationship between the use of Swiffer Wet Jet and liver failure in a dog. The email alleges that exposure to the ingredients in Swiffer Wet Jet caused a dog's death.

The Swiffer Wet Jet system contains water (90-100%), propylene glycol n-propyl ether or propylene glycol n-butyl ether and isopropyl alcohol (1-4%). These ingredients are safe to use around pets when used according to label directions and would not cause liver damage at product concentrations. Propylene glycol n-butyl/propyl ether differs significantly from ethylene glycol, the potentially toxic ingredient present in most antifreeze products. Ethylene glycol is frequently implicated in causing renal failure in dogs following antifreeze ingestion. Propylene glycol n-propyl ether and propylene glycol n-butyl ether are very safe ingredients at levels used in cleaning products and do not cause kidney or liver failure.
If this warning is as unsubstantiated as it appears to be, then why did someone write it? One possibility is that most pet owners are of course quite distraught when beloved, apparently healthy animal companions die for no obvious reason, and in their grief they understandably try to make sense of the otherwise unexplainable by finding something to which the deaths can be attributed. Unfortunately, this emotional reaction often leads people to lay the blame on agents that may have only a coincidental connection to events. For example, a pet owner re-carpets his home, and a week later both his dogs suddenly die. In this circumstance, many people would quite naturally assume that the new carpeting — which draws attention as the most substantial and visible change to the household — must have been connected to the death of the dogs, but much more evidence would be necessary to draw that conclusion. Quite possibly a factor (or combination of factors) unrelated to carpeting was the cause, and the timing of the dogs' deaths was completely coincidental. Or the connection may have been tangential — perhaps after the new carpeting was installed, the residents took to removing their shoes upon entering the house; the dogs, now having convenient access to those shoes, began to chew or lick them, thereby picking up some kind of toxin or illness-causing biological agent carried in from the outside on those shoes.

Also, given this message's similarity to a different, unfounded e-mail warning about another Procter & Gamble product, Febreze, we'd have to consider the possibility that someone with a grudge against Procter & Gamble is maliciously trying to damage the company by deliberately spreading false information about their products.

Additional information:
    Swiffer Pet Rumor Swiffer Pet Rumor
(Procter & Gamble)
Last updated:   17 March 2009

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Sources:

    Seattle Post-Intelligencer.   "Swiffer and Pets Do in Fact Mix."
    17 May 2004.