Don’t risk your health to get your home clean. Some cleaning products are dangerous to combine or even use at the same time.
When you’re faced with a stubborn mess, it’s tempting to keep trying different products until something finally works. That’s a bad practice, though. Sure, some results only cause mild itching or watering eyes, but other dangerous cleaning combinations could knock you out or cause permanent damage to your health.
I learned this the hard way in college, back when we didn’t have the internet to look up things. It was move-out day, and I was determined to get my security deposit back from the landlord. So, I doused the toilet with one cleaner, sprayed another all over the tub and shower, and started using a completely different one to clean the sinks. Then I passed out. Thank goodness my roommate found me.
Avoid These Dangerous Cleaning Combinations
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, leading to many of the 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 use good ventilation when working with either. 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 bad guys on TV use to knock out their victims. Chloroform can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled, damaging 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
Combining hydrogen peroxide and vinegar creates peracetic acid, a highly corrosive liquid. Peracetic acid is readily absorbed through the skin and is a 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, oxygen bleach produces hydrogen peroxide when dissolved in water. Adding a cup of vinegar to the same load will create a diluted, safe form of peracetic acid that delivers softer, cleaner clothes and less static cling.
5. Certain Pesticides + Water = Phosphine Gas
Everyone hates finding bugs in their home. It’s tempting to use the most potent 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 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. 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 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.
Why People Accidentally Mix Cleaning Products
Using one cleaning product immediately after another can create unwanted results. So, you must take appropriate precautions when you clean.
Active combinations happen when someone intentionally combines products. You’ve probably seen that happen on TikTok or Instagram Reels in what they call “cleaning overload videos,” which never show the actual person. Why? Because they’re wearing gear to protect them from a dangerous cleaning combination. They’re more interested in going viral than in keeping people safe.
A passive combination of cleaning products happens when you use one immediately after another or the overspray from one cleaner lands on a surface where another is still active. Say you’ve sprayed a bleach-based cleaner on the shower floor, and while it works, you decide to clean the shower door with an ammonia-based glass cleaner. Oops! You just made chloramine vapors. To avoid this, rinse surfaces after using cleaning products and let them completely dry before changing products.
What I Did Wrong
That college incident I mentioned? It was the result of another kind of passive combination that happens when you use different cleaners at the same in a room. Had I known to practice a few safety measures, I wouldn’t have a scar on my forehead from dumping the vanity on my way down.
How to Be Safe Using Cleaning Products
Since many product manufacturers don’t disclose what’s in their cleaning products, you should always take precautions to protect your health while cleaning.
Open the windows and run ceiling fans. In bathrooms and kitchens, run the exhaust fan. While fans won’t overcome a dangerous cleaning combination, they can help speed up drying to prevent passive ones and reduce irritating fumes.
Protect Your Skin
Wear reusable latex or rubber gloves when using cleaning products or disinfectants to prevent the products’ absorption through your skin. Cleaning gloves also shield you from coming in contact with bacteria on household surfaces. Look for washable ones and launder them immediately after use.
Listen to Your Body
If you feel dizzy or 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.