Don’t risk your health just to get your home clean. Some cleaning products are dangerous to combine or even use at the same time.
Don’t Combine These Cleaning Products
When you’re faced with a stubborn mess, it’s tempting to keep trying different cleaning products until something finally works. That’s a hazardous approach, though. Sure, some combinations only cause mild itching or watering eyes, but others could knock you out or permanently damage your lungs. And some combinations of cleaning products are fatal.
1. Bleach + Vinegar = Chlorine Gas
The chlorine in bleach reacts with the acetic acid in vinegar to produce chlorine gas. Even brief exposure can irritate air passages and eyes. At higher levels, it causes chest pains, plus swelling and blistering of the throat, lungs, eyes, and skin. At very high concentrations, it is fatal.
2. Bleach + Ammonia = Chloramine Vapors
This combination produces chloramine gas which leads to many of the same problems described above. (If you have a cat, this is why you need to rinse the empty litter box with water before disinfecting it with a bleach solution.) Both cleaning products are powerful on their own, so you should always use good ventilation when you’re working with either one. But never use them simultaneously, or one right after the other, or the passive combination could make you very sick.
3. Bleach + Rubbing Alcohol = Chloroform
Bleach contains sodium hypochlorite. Rubbing alcohol — known as surgical spirits in the UK — contains ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. The combination produces chloroform. Yep, the same stuff kidnappers on TV use to knock out their victims. Chloroform can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled and can damage your nervous system, eyes, lungs, skin, liver, kidneys, and other organs.
Incidentally, your favorite hand sanitizer contains rubbing alcohol, so don’t reach for it to clean your hands after disinfecting a bathroom.
4. Hydrogen Peroxide + Vinegar = Peracetic Acid
Actively combining hydrogen peroxide and vinegar creates peracetic acid, a highly corrosive liquid. Peracetic acid is readily absorbed through the skin and a very toxic compound that can burn the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. While this reaction is sometimes used in laundry products*, where it’s heavily diluted in the wash, you shouldn’t use it for surface cleaning without rinsing well between them.
*For example, oxygenated bleach produces hydrogen peroxide when it’s dissolved in water. Adding vinegar to the same load will create peracetic acid but in such a diluted form that it doesn’t cause injury. Instead, you’ll get softer, cleaner clothes and less static cling. (Here are more reasons why you should use vinegar in your laundry.)
5. Certain Pesticides + Water = Phosphine Gas
Everyone hates finding bugs and spiders in their home. It’s tempting to use the strongest pesticide you can find to deal with them or to disregard the label’s warnings about use in kitchens or bathrooms. You can rinse away the danger, right? Not necessarily. Many pesticides leave a residue that produces deadly phosphine gas when combined with water. Get rid of those pests with non-toxic, natural pest control methods, or contact a professional.
6. Drain Cleaner + Drain Cleaner = Explosion
Different drain cleaners rely on different chemicals to power through grime and clogs. Some are acidic, while some are alkaline (basic). When one doesn’t work, you might be tempted to try a different product to get the drain flowing freely again. Don’t! The first drain cleaner is still in your pipes and still active, so adding a second one can cause a chemical reaction that sends corrosive ingredients spraying all over you and your home. If the first drain cleaner doesn’t work, call a professional.
How to Use Cleaning Products Safely
Using one cleaning product immediately after another can create potentially toxic results. So, it’s important that you take appropriate precautions when you clean.
Active vs. Passive Combination
Not all dangerous cleaning product combinations are the result of actively shaking or stirring the wrong ingredients together.
Passive product combination happens when you use one product immediately after another or the overspray from one product lands on a surface where another is still active. To avoid this type of passive combination, rinse cleaning products away and let the surface dry completely before changing products.
Another form of passive product combination occurs when you use different cleaners simultaneously in a room. If you’ve cleaned the toilet bowl with a bleach-based cleaner, for instance, using vinegar or ammonia-based cleaners on the seat and tank could still create a toxic cloud.
Take These Precautions
Since many product manufacturers don’t disclose what’s in their cleaning products, you should always take precautions to protect your health while cleaning. But even if you’re a fan of homemade cleaning products, you’re not entirely safe since some natural ingredients can still produce toxic vapors. Steps you can take to protect your health while cleaning:
- Ventilate the room. In bedrooms or living areas, open the windows and run ceiling fans, or both. In bathrooms and kitchens, run the exhaust fan. While fans won’t overcome a lethal combination, they can help speed up drying to prevent passive combinations and disburse irritating fumes.
- Protect your skin, even if you use natural household cleaners. Wear reusable latex or rubber gloves when you’re using cleaning products or disinfectants to prevent the products’ absorption through your skin. They’ll also shield you from coming in contact with some of the nastier bacteria that grow on household surfaces. Look for washable gloves you can launder immediately after use.
And, of course, listen to your body. If you feel dizzy, itchy, or experience burning in your eyes, throat, lungs, or skin, leave the room immediately and close the door behind you. Then stuff a towel at the base of the door to keep the fumes from spreading into the rest of your home and contact your local poison control center for advice on what steps you need to take next.