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Is Mixing Cleaning Products Really That Dangerous?

A variety of cleaning products and supplies in a plastic basket.
5 Second Studio/Shutterstock

When it comes to cleaning, it’s sometimes tempting to mix cleaners together to (theoretically) make shorter work of a large project. However, there are some very good reasons why you should avoid mixing various cleaners together.

Chances are, you’ve been faced with a difficult cleaning job before. Maybe your pet left you a little present in your home or some pests made a mess in your basement. Or, maybe a certain corner has just been neglected for far too long.

Certain situations call for deep cleaning. When a task is tedious and your patience is running thin, it’s not unusual to want to use every tool at your disposal to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. After all, more products equal better results, right? Wrong.

Why Mixing Cleaners Is a Bad Idea

Cleaning agents are chemicals, and, as such, they should be treated with caution. Just because two products are meant to clean the same kind of surface doesn’t mean they’ll do a better job mixed together. In fact, the opposite could happen.

Mixing certain products can cause dangerous chemical reactions that put your health at serious risk. For example, when combined with both each other and other chemicals, bleach and vinegar can create harmful gases that irritate your respiratory system, skin, and nervous system. Some mixtures can even result in death.

Generally, you should always read product labels to ensure you’re not mixing dangerous chemicals together. However, we’re going to take it one step further and say you should skip mixing cleaning agents together, period.

The average person isn’t a chemist. Decoding what the various compounds listed in cleaners even are, let alone understanding the potential chemical reactions that could occur if they’re mixed is too big of a minefield.

Rather, the best practice is to choose the right cleaner for the job and use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

What Common Cleaners Create When Combined

Even if you follow our advice and avoid mixing cleaning compounds, you might curious what would happen if you did. It turns out that all the warnings about mixing cleaners together are well earned.

Here’s what you get when you mix the common cleaners below:

  • Vinegar + bleach: These two might sound like a match made in heaven, but combining them leads to nothing but trouble. Together, they produce chlorine gas and chloramine vapors, which can cause extensive damage to your airways and irritate your eyes. 
  • Vinegar + hydrogen peroxide: When combined, this powerful duo results in peracetic acid—a corrosive that can irritate the eyes, skin, and the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. Even low concentrations of this gas can be harmful to your nose, throat, and lungs. However, you can still use these products in succession—just make sure you leave some time in-between. 
  • Vinegar + baking soda: Many of us have used this seemingly innocent combo to clean many surfaces around the home. Although it’s not hazardous, it does present some risks. When you combine these, they foam and bubble, producing a high volume of carbon dioxide gas. If you mix them in a closed container, it could explode due to the pressure buildup. It’s also not a very effective cleaning combination. Use baking soda paste to scrub things and vinegar to cut through grease and grime.
  • Bleach + rubbing alcohol: The gas this notorious mixture creates is chloroform—the “ether” nefarious kidnappers use to knock out their victims in thrillers and horror movies. While the chances of knocking yourself out are slim, chloroform is also toxic. Exposure to it in high concentrations can damage your nervous system, airways, eyes, skin, or kidneys. It can even be fatal. This stuff is no joke, so avoid the temptation to mix these at all costs. It’s also worth noting that other cleaners—especially those designed for windows and toilets—often contain certain acids that shouldn’t be mixed with bleach.  
  • Bleach + ammonia: Reminiscent of the bleach/vinegar combo, this one produces chloramine vapors, which can cause shortness of breath, a burning sensation in the throat, and chest pain. Ammonia is a common ingredient in other sanitizers, too, so make sure you read the label before whipping out your trusty bottle of bleach. 
  • Drain cleaner + drain cleaner: When it comes to these, one plus one doesn’t always equal two. In fact, it can equal a sudden little explosion—-not exactly the best kind of experiment to do outside a chemistry lab. As tempting as it might be to use more than one drain cleaner to get rid of a clog, combining these can only cause more damage—to your pipes and your health. If one product doesn’t do the job, it’s probably time to call a plumber. 

Sometimes, it’s easy to get carried away while cleaning. However, it’s important to remember that the chemicals in cleaners can be dangerous if improperly used. That’s why it’s best to always read the labels, keep the aforementioned hazardous combos in mind, or do a quick Google search before mixing any products. When in doubt, just avoid mixing at all.

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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