Dangers of Bleach

Bleach is a household item that’s used for cleaning and disinfecting. But it can cause serious harm if you mix it with other substances such as ammonia, chlorine, or detergents.


Despite claims contrary, Bleach is currently being researched for its potential impact on respiratory health, particularly children. But, unfortunately, people continue to mix products and expose themselves and their families to harmful chemicals in the name of cleanliness.

In my opinion, though, you should never use Bleach in your home again. Plus, listed below are some natural cleaning products that won’t harm you or your family.

What Is Bleach?

To understand the dangers, start with the most common Bleach uses. Bleach is a disinfectant and stain remover. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that Bleach kills germs after washing surfaces, not to clean them.

Bleach comes in liquid and powder form. Pathogens, weeds, and wood pulp are all killed using Bleach in industrial settings.

The chlorine content in Bleach varies depending on the brand. Bleaches typically include either chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) or hydrogen peroxide.

What is Bleach made of?

To properly understand the dangers of Bleach, one must first know its composition.

When chlorine in Bleach reacts with sodium chloride, it forms sodium hydroxide. And although liquid Bleach indeed contains no “free” chlorine, it is also true that specific bleaching processes generate chlorine molecules.

The following is a straight quotation from the CDC’s website regarding sodium hydroxide:

“Inhalation of sodium hydroxide dust, mist, or aerosol may irritate the nose, throat, and respiratory tract mucosal membranes. Because they have bigger lung surface area: body weight ratios and increased minute volumes: weight ratios, children exposed to the same amounts of sodium hydroxide in the air as adults may get a higher dosage. Furthermore, due to their small height and the greater amounts of sodium hydroxide in the air found closer to the ground, kids may be exposed to higher levels than adults in the same area. Thermal and chemical burns result from direct contact with the solid or concentrated solutions, resulting in deep-tissue damage. Strong sodium hydroxide solutions may hydrolyze proteins in the eyes, causing serious burns, ocular damage, and, in the worst-case scenario, blindness. In addition, the lips, tongue, oral mucosa, esophagus, and stomach may all be severely eroded if sodium hydroxide is consumed. Early signs of sodium hydroxide consumption include stridor, vomiting, drooling, and stomach discomfort. Ingestion may result in gastrointestinal perforation and shock.”

While household cleaning solutions do not contain enough sodium hydroxide to produce some of these consequences (such as chemical burns), there is already evidence that Bleach used in aerosol form affects both adult’s and children’s respiratory systems. In addition, although chlorine bleach is not thought to bioaccumulate in the body, the harm it causes may worsen with time.

When utilizing bleach products containing sodium hydroxide and sodium chloride, chlorine poisoning is a serious issue. This may happen when Bleach and ammonia are combined (later on) or when Bleach is consumed directly. Breathing difficulties, throat swelling, and other problems are among the symptoms.

Sodium Hypochlorite: One of the ingredients in Bleach is sodium hypochlorite, a famous bleaching agent. Inhaling its vapors may cause poisoning, which is especially probable when the substance contains ammonia. Because pure sodium hypochlorite is the most frequently encountered bleaching chemical, many refer to it as “bleach.” This component is often misunderstood as the source of chlorine in chlorinated Bleach; however, as previously stated, it is produced via a reaction between sodium hydroxide and sodium chloride.

Sodium Chloride: Another term for sodium chloride is table salt. It’s a thickening and stabilizing ingredient in Bleach.

Sodium Carbonate: This component helps to increase “cleaning efficiency” by neutralizing acid. It’s used to make Bleach more effective in removing alcohol and oil stains.

Sodium Chlorate: Sodium chlorate is one of the breakdown products of sodium hypochlorite, and it has been shown to speed up and enhance flammability.

Sodium Polyacrylate: Although sodium polyacrylate is deemed probably harmless in the United States, it is classified as “likely hazardous to organ systems” on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. It’s an ingredient in detergents and Bleach that prevents filth from re-depositing on textiles throughout wash cycles.

Sodium c10-c16 Alkyl Sulfate: This alkyl sulfate, which is included in certain bleach products, produces eye and skin irritations and is potentially hazardous to the liver if inhaled repeatedly.

Hydrogen Peroxide: I use peroxide daily, and it’s a significant component! Hydrogen peroxide may be used to clean grout, tile, toilets, tubs, and other surfaces on its own.

Bleach’s Origins

The practice of “bleaching” has been carried out in many ways throughout history, the oldest of which was to lay the fabric out on an open area of land, known as a bleachfield, to be whitened by water and the sun. Sun bleaching is a term used to describe this process. However, given the current hazards of Bleach, we may have been better off sticking to this approach.

Four scientists produced findings of chlorine in the 18th century that led to the development of chlorine bleach as we know it today.

Sweden’s Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered chlorine in 1774 (though the term “chlorine” wasn’t used until 1810). Claude Berthollet, a French chemist, was the first to locate sodium hypochlorite and identify chlorine as a bleaching agent. Hypochlorites were found to disinfect by another Frenchman, Antoine Germain Labarraque.

Finally, Charles Tennant of Scotland discovered that mixing chlorine and lime produced the finest bleaching results available at the time. In 1798, he was granted a patent for his mixture.

In hydrogen peroxide, it was created for the first time in 1818 by scientist Louis Jacques Thénard. However, it wasn’t utilized for bleaching until 1882, and by the 1930s, it had become commercially popular.

Most Common Applications

There isn’t much that bleach lovers can’t fix with a bit of Bleach. Household bleach is suggested as a disinfectant for:

  • Toilet bowl sanitization
  • Floor sanitization
  • Getting Stains Out of Cups and Drinkware
  • Adding sparkle to glassware
  • eliminating stains and whitening clothing
  • Mildew damage to outdoor furniture may be repaired by cleaning it
  • Getting rid of mold and mildew
  • Window-cleaning assistance

These are just a few of the most frequent bleach recommendations. In addition, the CDC advises cleaning contaminated areas using a bleach solution, but they caution against combining Bleach with other cleansers when it comes to black mold.

If Bleach was your only choice, it might be worth it to use it to sanitize or mold-proof your area.

Bleach’s Hazards

1. It Doesn’t Get Along With Others

Bleach is dangerous when used with various other items, which is one of its most significant drawbacks. All bleach products have caution warnings stating that they should never be used with ammonia or “other home chemicals,” but how realistic is that?

Many individuals, for example, do not take the time to read labels like this one. Second, since the side effects aren’t included on the label, customers aren’t always aware of the dangers of mixing Bleach with other chemicals.

Third, even if you cleanse the surface well, there’s no way to ensure that cleaners won’t mix when using them on the same surfaces.

Ammonia + Bleach

When these two are together, it may be a lethal combination. The chlorine in Bleach is converted to chloramine gas when ammonia and Bleach are mixed. Chloramine gas exposure may cause the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Breathing problems
  • Eyes that are watering
  • Pain in the chest
  • Irritation of the throat, nose, and eyes
  • Wheezing
  • Pneumonia is a condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs

Ammonia is a cleaning ingredient that may be found on its own and in certain glass cleaners. Much worse, pee contains ammonia, necessitating even more excellent care while cleaning anything contaminated by urine.

Oh, and don’t forget that monochloramines are used to treat approximately 25% of public drinking water in the United States. Because these compounds have a boiling point of roughly 75 degrees Fahrenheit and may be released from water in about 24 hours, the water you use to clean your surfaces might also contribute to the production of chloramine gas.

People get poisoned in this manner all the time. Although most instances of sodium hypochlorite poisoning (the official name for the disease) resolve without permanent consequences, there have been many accounts of severe lung impairment resulting from chloramine exposure. When a person has pre-existing respiratory problems, the danger is increased.

An uncommon but potential interaction between chlorine bleach and ammonia also exists. Do you know what liquid hydrazine is? If you don’t know what it’s called on the street, it’s called rocket fuel. So you got it: explosive rocket fuel may be made if “excess” ammonia is present and mixed with Bleach.

The ammonia and Bleach required for this reaction are likely to be encountered only in industrial settings. However, I believe the chloramine gas problem is sufficient to cause to avoid this.

Acidic Products + Bleach

Acidic cleaners are another kind of popular cleaning solution. There are examples of vinegar, certain glass cleaners, dishwashing detergent, toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners, rust removers, and brick/concrete detergents.

This combination, like ammonia, results in the emission of a hazardous gas — this time, chlorine gas.

Chlorine gas, even at low quantities for short periods, produces responses such as:

  • Irritation of the ears, nose, and throat
  • Coughing and breathing problems
  • Eyes that are burning and watering
  • a stuffy nose

After prolonged exposure, these symptoms may progress to:

  • Pain in the chest
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Vomiting
  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the lungs
  • Death

Chlorine gas may cause discomfort, inflammation, blistering, and swelling when absorbed dermally (via the skin). Skin, eyes, ears, nose, throat, and stomach may all be burned by the acid.

Alcohol + Bleach

Many people think of rubbing alcohol and acetone as safe cleaning products. However, when these chemicals come into contact with Bleach, they produce chloroform… You know, the kind of thing kidnappers use to knock people out in movies.

According to the CDC, chloroform is a potential carcinogen, which is why it was prohibited as a medicine and for other popular applications in 1976.

When Bleach is used with other cleansers such as hydrogen peroxide, oven cleaners, and certain insecticides, unpleasant emissions such as chlorine gas or chloramine gas are produced. So said, don’t do that.

Water + Bleach

Isn’t it true that all that’s left in terms of cleansing is water? Yes, home bleach’s instructions state that it should only be mixed with water and always diluted before being used to clean any surface (the water in the washing machine dilutes Bleach for laundry).

This would be OK if it weren’t because alcohol isn’t the only chemical that interacts with Bleach to produce chloroform gas. Chloroform gas may be made by water containing a sufficient amount of “organic matter” (commonly known as filth).

Clean tap water is OK, but what happens if you’ve been cleaning and rinsing with it? The proof for this issue is Bleach’s’ next significant hazard.

2. Toxic Showers 

You probably haven’t noticed that you don’t pass out every time you shower. If that were the case, I doubt many people would shower often. However, you’re still probably getting exposed to low amounts of chloroform in your shower. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges it. Most folks aren’t surprised by this. In fact, in 1984, a study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses suggested that chloroform exposure in the shower may be a “serious public health concern.”Unfortunately, despite numerous follow-up studies conducted across the globe, nothing has been done to address this issue.

The World Health Organization notes that chloroform is produced when chlorine interacts with organic materials in a press release on popular disinfectants. Humic compounds are one kind of organic debris that is a significant source of worry. Phenol and alcohol, two chemicals secreted in human urine, are among these substances.

One way chlorine might get into your shower is by disinfecting it with chlorinated bleach. Furthermore, most public water supply systems clean the water with chlorine or chloramines; thus, a battery would undoubtedly increase the chlorine level. (Chloramines, like chlorine, react with organic matter to produce chloroform, although not as often.)

When you combine the fact that bathing is supposed to eliminate filth from your body with the reality that many individuals relieve themselves in the shower, you get a hazardous mix. For example, chloroform is deadly enough on its own. Still, when it comes into contact with sunlight, it may turn into phosgene, a much more toxic chemical employed as a chemical warfare weapon during World War I.

In only 10-15 minutes in the shower with chlorinated water, a person is exposed to substantial amounts of chloroform.  This quantity will be influenced by the presence of Bleach used as a cleaning. The amount of chloroform you inhale and the amount you absorb via your skin are about equal.

In the United States, eight out of ten individuals have detectable chloroform levels in their bodies. The duration and temperature of your shower directly affect how much chloroform you are exposed to.

The research was performed in Taiwan to evaluate cancer risk in regions with heavily chlorinated water with those with unchlorinated water. According to the study, total cancer cases were found to be substantially higher in areas with considerable chloroform exposure (up to six times higher for those who routinely took 20-minute showers).

This, in my view, is all the more reason to stop using Bleach… While you’re doing it, you should install a whole-house water filter to remove chlorine.

3. A magnet for Babies (and Pets)

While it is easy to keep Bleach away from children and pets, bleach poisoning nevertheless occurs regularly. About 11.2 percent of poison control instances include cleaning supplies (totaling 118,346 cases in 2015). Although this does not differentiate between Bleach and other cleansers, the World Health Organization ranks Bleach as one of the world’s top poisoning toxins for children.

Pets also get into bleach products regularly, but data on this aren’t as easily accessible.

Extra-strength Bleach may burn the lips, nasal passages, throat, and stomach if consumed undiluted. Fortunately, most instances aren’t very hazardous due to Bleach’s unpleasant odor, preventing most children and animals from consuming large amounts of the chemical.

Remember, bleach poisoning should always be treated as a medical emergency, especially if undiluted Bleach has been consumed. Instead of encouraging your kid or pet to vomit, which may cause more harm, offer them water to drink to help avoid chemical burns and seek medical assistance right away.

4. Promotes the growth of mold

Another unexpected aspect of Bleach’s’ hazards is that it may promote the development of deadly mold rather than assisting in its removal. For this reason, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Organization) recommends against using Bleach to clean mold infestations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) followed suit and revised its mold recommendations to remove the use of Bleach.

Because of their inherent characteristics, Bleach and mold do not interact well. To live, the opportunistic mold must grow roots (mycelia) deep into a porous surface. Chlorine bleach, on the other hand, only works on non-porous surfaces and degrades rapidly. So when you apply Bleach on a mold-infested surface, you’re enabling water (the bulk of household bleach content and what is left, moreover after the chemicals disperse) to introduce moisture to an area that needs to remain dry.

Some sites even claim that Bleach on porous surfaces may lead to mold development in previously uninfected regions.

The main message is that you should never use Bleach to cure mold. Instead, follow OSHA or EPA mold standards to remove hazardous mold from your home correctly.

5. Causes Respiratory Problems

Bleach has its own set of problems even when it isn’t mixed with other chemicals. For example, bleach is more prone than other cleansers to cause respiratory issues.  Bleach is especially troublesome for individuals with asthma or chronic bronchitis in many trials, but further small research suggests it may help relieve specific asthma symptoms.

After enough evidence linked it to asthma symptoms, the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) designated Bleach as an asthma gene.

Aerosol exposure seems to be the form of Bleach most likely to induce respiratory problems, particularly asthma.

As a consequence of inhaling chlorine bleach, further lung damage and respiratory problems may develop. For example, one research showed that exposure to common cleaning chemicals, particularly Bleach, increased the likelihood of individuals getting COPD by 24-32 percent.

Chemical pneumonitis is a disorder marked by coughing, trouble breathing, a sense of not getting enough air (air hunger), wet/gurgling chest noises, and a burning sensation in the chest. Repeated exposures may cause inflammation and stiffening of the lungs, leading to respiratory failure and death.

6. Dirt Neutralizes

If all of that wasn’t enough, it turns out that Bleach is neutralized by dirt until you use so much of it that you risk inhaling a lot of the fumes it produces. The following is how the WHO describes how Bleach works:

“Bleach is a powerful oxidizer that frequently evaporates in side reactions so quickly that little disinfection is achieved unless quantities over the chlorine requirement are added.”

To put it another way, Bleach only works on surfaces that are free of biological matter. So before disinfecting it, you should properly clean the afflicted area, most likely with something that won’t react well with Bleach.

Bleach Alternatives That Work

First and foremost, if you want to reduce your overall chlorine exposure, you should consider installing water filters that remove the chemical from your water. Point-of-use systems and point-of-entry systems are two possibilities. Point-of-entry or “whole-house” filters are an excellent choice since you can be certain that even the water you use in the shower has been filtered to remove chloroform-causing chlorine.

Then try these non-bleach alternatives:

Distilled Vinegar: Vinegar is a fantastic cleaning agent on its own. It may not smell pleasant, but it will undoubtedly aid in keeping your home fresh and clean.

Lemon: This citrus fruit, in juice or essential oil, is excellent for destroying germs. Store it in glass rather than plastic since the acidity of lemon oil may eat away at plastic.

Hydrogen Peroxide: This safe bleach substitute will perform a fantastic job of keeping whites white and disinfecting everything, all without the risks of Bleach.

I’ve also created a number of environmental cleansers that combine the germ-killing and laundry-cleaning properties of a variety of natural ingredients:

Maleuca Lemon Household Cleaner: This cleaner uses the cleaning properties of vinegar, tea tree oil, and lemon oil to keep your home germ-free and to smell wonderful.

Homemade Stain Remover: Do you know how to get rid of stains? It ensures that you don’t utilize the same staining technique for every color. Discard the bleach bottle by using one of my stain removal methods.

Finally, if you insist on using Bleach, go for one that has a high EWG rating (Environmental Working Group). They scrutinize ingredients and manufacturing methods to ensure that you know what’s in your goods and any possible risks they may bring. In context, the top brand of home bleach is rated “F,” which is the same as it was in high school.

Final Thoughts

  • For many years, Bleach has been a popular home disinfectant. On the other hand, the components do not, in my view, justify the possible difficulties it may cause. Why? When Bleach is combined with other chemicals, the hazards of Bleach are magnified.
  • Bleach should never be used with any other home cleaning since it may induce the emission of various hazardous gases. For example, avoid using Bleach to sanitize your shower since it may contribute to the production of chloroform, a possible carcinogen.
  • If you choose to keep Bleach in your house, keep it away from your children and pets at all times. Bleach should never be used to cure mold since it encourages the growth of additional mold. Because organic matter neutralizes the germ-killing effectiveness of Bleach, you’ll need to use a lot of it to disinfect surfaces that still have dirt on them.
  • Respiratory problems, such as asthma, COPD, and chemical pneumonitis, are the most prevalent medical ailments linked to beach exposure.
  • If you or someone you know injures themselves by ingesting Bleach, do not urge them to vomit; instead, offer them water and treat the situation as a medical emergency.
  • Alternatively, you may do what I did and avoid using Bleach entirely. Lemon essential oil, tea tree essential oil, hydrogen peroxide, borax, and distilled vinegar are some of the helpful alternative cleansers and detergents that don’t have the same risks as Bleach.

Frequently Asked Questions

What 2 things should never be mixed with Bleach?

A: Bleach and ammonia should never be mixed because the chemicals react violently.

What is harmful in Bleach?

A: Bleach is a strong oxidizer that can cause burns, irritation, and blindness.

Why is it dangerous to mix Bleach with other cleaning products?

A: Bleach is a powerful chemical that can cause serious problems if it gets on your skin or in your eyes. Therefore, it’s essential to be careful when using Bleach, so you don’t accidentally get Bleach on yourself or others.

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