Mixing Cleaners – Just Don’t!

  • bleach and ammonia
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Introduction: Mixing two different cleaning products will double the power to disinfect your home, right?  Everyone knows that bleach kills viruses and bacteria and rubbing alcohol is great at removing grime, so why not mix the two and kill two birds with one stone?  Here is why – many cleaning products contain chemicals that when mixed with each other can form extremely toxic compounds.  According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, accidental exposures to chlorine gas from mixing bleach and acid occurred 2,284 times in 2017.  This Tox Topic was developed to help you understand why you should not mix cleaning products, what compounds could be formed if you do mix cleaning products, and how exposure to these formed compounds can harm you.  By understanding these key concepts, you will be better prepared to keep yourself and your family safe from harmful exposures.

Exposures to Cleaning Products:  If you think about how you use cleaning products, it is easy to figure out how you could be exposed to chemicals in the products.  When you open the cap, it is possible to get the product in your eye or on your skin.  When you apply the product, it is possible to get the product on your skin.  If you spray the product, you could inhale mists or vapors.  If you do not wash your hands after you clean, you could transfer the product from your hands to your eyes or to your mouth.  The most DANGEROUS exposure is to gases that form when you mix cleaning products.  For example, the chlorine gas that is formed when ammonia and bleach are mixed can be inhaled.  When the chlorine gas reaches the lungs, corrosive compounds such as hydrochloric acid, hypochlorous acid, and hypochlorite are formed in the lungs.  These compounds can actually dissolve lung tissue, making the lungs unable to function.  The potential routes of exposure to cleaning products include dermal contact, inhalation, and incidental ingestion.

Harmful Effects (Toxicity) of Mixing Cleaning Products:  If a chemical mixture gets into your eyes, the chemicals could burn your eyes.  You could lose focus in your eyes and your vision may be damaged.  Contact of mixtures with skin could cause irritation or burns.  If you inhale mists or vapors that are generated from mixing cleaners, your throat may swell, and it may be difficult to breath.  The corrosive compounds formed from the chemical reactions of chemicals in the cleaners and compounds formed in the lung will cause difficulty in breathing, severe lung damage, and can even cause a coma or death.  If you swallow even a small amount of a cleaner, there could be swelling or pain on your lips, in your mouth, and burning of your esophagus.  You could have gastrointestinal tract symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and pain.  You could also have blood in your stools.  The following table presents the harmful effects of compounds formed when you mix certain cleaners: 

Toxic Chemicals Formed When Products are Mixed 

Cleaning Products Toxic Chemicals Formed When Mixed Harmful Effects
Hydrogen peroxide and Vinegar Peracetic acid Harm to eyes, skin, nose, throat, damage to the lungs
Ammonia and Bleach Chloramines Irritation of eyes, nose, throat ; chest pain, damage to the lungs
Rubbing alcohol and Bleach Chloroform, hydrochloric acid, chloroacetone Damage to the nervous system, eyes, lung, skin, liver, kidneys
Bleach and toilet bowl cleaner Chlorine gas

 

Burning in eyes, nose, throat, coughing, breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting, death
Beach and mold/mildew remover
Bleach and oven cleaners
Bleach and Vinegar

 Summary:   Mixing certain cleaners can cause chemical reactions that lead to the formation of toxic substances.  Mixing cleaners can quickly produce toxic fumes and if you inhale these fumes, it could cause irritation or burning of the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing, difficulty breathing, lung damage, and even death.  On a final note, you should NEVER drink any cleaning product.  Bleach is corrosive and can burn your mouth, esophagus, and stomach.  It lowers your blood pressure and if ingested, can kill you.  Rubbing alcohol causes dizziness and nausea.  It also irritates the respiratory system and alters the functions of your heart.  If ingested, it can also kill you.

Additional Information:

For additional perspective we recommend visiting the following websites:

https://cen.acs.org/safety/consumer-safety/Accidental-mix-bleach-acid-kills/97/i45

https://www.usfa.fema.gov/operations/infograms/031920.html

https://www.poison.org/articles/2015-mar/spring-cleaning-old

https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/explainer-why-is-mixing-cleaning-chemicals-such-a-bad-idea/4011257.article#/