Mixing Cleaning Products: Is it Safe?Mar 23, 2018
by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée
It’s sooo tempting to mix household cleaning products to create the most powerful cleaning solutions to fight stubborn stains and grime. However, this may create a “chemical cocktail” that can be dangerous.
Even products that are widely considered “safe” (like vinegar) can be toxic when combined with other chemicals.
The Chemical Cocktail Effect
The chemical cocktail effect occurs intentionally during the manufacturing of products as well as unintentionally in our homes (like when we clean our bathrooms).
Dioxins, an unintentional byproduct from manufacturing, is a well-documented example.
Dioxins is a class of chemicals—over 150 chemicals—that are created from manufacturing processes: polyvinyl chloride (PVC) production, paper bleaching, manufacturing of pesticides and chemicals with chlorine. (1)
“In doses as low as parts per trillion, dioxin has been found to damage development, reproduction, and the immune and endocrine systems. In fact, there hasn’t been a detected dose that doesn’t cause biological harm (Thornton 2002).” (2)
In our homes, this chemical cocktail effect can occur from the normal use of conventional household products: cleaning products, air fresheners, scented candles, paints personal care products, and more.
How our chemical cocktail exposures may affect our health and development is not fully understood, but it is increasingly recognized as a potential threat to the wellbeing of human and environmental health. (7)
Risky Cleaning Mixtures
Mixing household cleaning products can be dangerous, even if individual products are safe on their own. For example:
1. Bleach with Ammonia. Mixing ammonia with bleach, or a cleaning product that contains bleach, can create a toxic gas called chloramines, which can contribute to irritation, chest pain, Pneumonia, and fluid in the lungs. (3)
2. Bleach and Other Cleaners. Cleaners—like hydrogen peroxide, oven cleaners and some insecticides—also react with bleach and can be harmful to health. (5)
3. Baking Soda and Vinegar. Basic chemistry teaches us that mixing a base with an acid creates a neutral substance. Baking soda (a base) mixed with vinegar (an acid) creates a fun foaming substance, but that’s about it. The two ingredients, which are sometimes used together for cleaning, cancel each other out, leaving watery substance that’s on the acidic side.
4. Bleach and Rubbing Alcohol. Combining bleach and rubbing alcohol creates chloroform, a chemical that can contribute to cancer and organ damage. (6)
Even if we do not intentionally mix cleaning products, chemicals mix unintentionally. For example, fumes and/or residue from bleach and ammonia often mix unintentionally in a bathroom since cleaning products often use each. So beware of mixing cleaning products directly or indirectly.
- Get to know the ingredients in your off-the-shelf products so you can avoid toxic fumes from the intentional or unintentional cocktail effect from our household products
- Do not pour chemicals into the same container or use one cleaner right after another, as it may create harmful gases or additional chemicals such as dioxins that have been linked to various health conditions
- Be sure to wash off one cleaner before using another so that there is no mixing of chemicals
- If you'd like to help reduce dioxins in our environment, then reduce your purchases of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), bleached paper, pesticides, and chemicals with chlorine
(3)(4)(5) Washington State Department of Health
(7) LA Times, "Mad about L.A.'s air quality? Blame common products like hairspray and paint, not just cars," 2018 February
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