Learn why this cleaning combination is a disaster waiting to happen—and how to prevent it while sanitising and disinfecting around the house.

Heavy-duty filth, grime, mildew, and mould accumulations necessitate the use of strong home cleansers. And chances are, you already have two of the most powerful—bleach and vinegar—in your cleaning cupboard. These cleansers are safe and effective when used alone in the kitchen, bathroom, and elsewhere. However, when they are combined, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they produce a poisonous, perhaps deadly substance. Continue reading to learn what happens when you mix bleach and vinegar and how correct usage of these cleansers may help you avoid making a hazardous and all-too-common error.

Why Bleach and Vinegar Is A Killer Combination

Chlorine bleach has disinfecting and whitening qualities, whereas vinegar has sanitizing, stain removal, and deodorizing characteristics. So it’s no surprise that individuals may combine the two in the hopes of making a powerful all-purpose cleaner—only to receive far more than they bargained for, and none of it good.

The alkaline (sometimes known as basic) chemical compound sodium hypochlorite is the active component in chlorine bleach. When powdered or liquid chlorine bleach reacts with an acid—in this example, vinegar (acetic acid), sodium hypochlorite transforms into hypochlorous acid, which releases chlorine gas into the surrounding air. Chlorine gas is very toxic—so much so that a powerful version of it was employed in trench warfare to knock out Allied troops during World War I. The gas has an extremely strong odour, and while it appears yellow-green in big numbers, it is invisible in tiny quantities.

Symptoms Of A Serious Reaction To This Dangerous Combination

Exposure to chlorine gas might result in the following symptoms:

  • Burning, reddening, or blistering skin.
  • Burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat to burn
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting

Long-term exposure can lead to pulmonary edema (i.e., fluid build-up in the lungs), which can prove fatal.

When full-strength (i.e., undiluted) bleach is combined with vinegar, the degree of gas exposure and intensity of symptoms are often highest. When water-diluted bleach is combined with vinegar, the risk of chlorine gas exposure persists.

If you believe you have been exposed to chlorine gas, the CDC recommends that you leave the area immediately, remove any exposed clothes, thoroughly wash your skin with soap and water, and seek medical treatment.

How To Avoid An Accident

Even if you don’t intentionally mix bleach and vinegar, you may inadvertently mix the cleansers when doing regular home activities. Here are some pointers for keeping the two powerful cleaners apart in some of the most typical circumstances.

  • In a single wash cycle, use either vinegar or bleach, but never both.
  • Some people pre-treat washables with vinegar before adding a half cup of bleach to the washing machine’s bleach dispenser to remove persistent stains or brighten white textiles. However, the combination of vinegar in the clothes and bleach in the wash water might cause chlorine gas to be released into the machine, putting you at danger of exposure while removing the load of laundry.
  • Always clean and dry the inner components of the coffee maker before moving on to the outside of the device.
  • Homeowners who use a solution of equal parts vinegar and water to clean the interior of a coffee maker and a solution of one teaspoon bleach and a half-gallon of water to clean the outside of the machine should be careful not to mix the bleach and vinegar.
  • Before using vinegar in food preparation, thoroughly wash and dry cutting boards.
  • Home chefs who clean their butcher block cutting boards with a teaspoon of bleach and a half-gallon of water before exposing the surface to vinegar while making meals are at danger.
  • When making a bathroom disinfectant, always fill the spray container halfway with water and the other half with bleach or vinegar.
  • As a final step in DIY mould treatment techniques, tubs or showers are frequently sprayed with an equal parts combination of water and either bleach or vinegar to eliminate germs and prevent new mould development. It’s all too simple to mix vinegar and bleach in the same container. Filling with water first ensures that there is no room to mix the two powerful cleansers together.
  • Label any containers containing bleach or vinegar, and keep them (along with other cleaning products) out of reach of youngsters.
  • When refilling unlabeled cleaning bottles in the supply closet, you may unintentionally add vinegar to a container that previously had a tiny bit of bleach, or vice versa.

Bleach and Vinegar Can Be Used Safely

Surfaces that have been heavily dirty may benefit from a vinegar treatment following a bleach application or vice versa. To avoid the two from combining and producing chlorine gas, use bleach and vinegar separately, one after the other. Rinse the first cleaner thoroughly from the surface with water and dry it before applying the second.

Take, for example, dirty tile floors or shower walls. To remove mould from the grout, mix equal parts chlorine bleach and water, and then sterilize the tiles with a solution of one-half cup vinegar and one gallon of water. In this case, apply the bleach solution to the grout first, then rinse it with plain water until just one drop of bleach solution remains, dry the grout with towels or air-dry thoroughly, and only then apply the vinegar solution to the tiles.

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