Dangers of Mixing Bleach with Other Cleaners
As printing operations implement a sanitation program, they may start using some household cleaning products such as hydrogen peroxide, alcohol with at least 70% concentration, bleach or other cleaners to sanitize workstations and other frequently touched surfaces. In fact, some of these cleaners are on EPA’s approved list of disinfectants for COVID-19.
When using any of the products, care must be taken to protect the person from using it incorrectly and this includes training on the hazards associated with using the product, using personal protective equipment such as gloves and eye protection, and washing hands for 20 seconds once the cleaning activity is accomplished. Remember, if you are using these chemicals in the workplace you must provide employee training under OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard. Make sure that you do have the relevant safety data sheets on file, since, even though you are using common household chemicals, they are being used in a manufacturing setting.
The most important fact to remember is that you should not mix any cleaners or disinfectants with any other cleaners or disinfectants. The concept of mixing two products together to provide even greater cleaning or disinfecting power is not correct. Mixing various chemicals together can cause serious injuries such as chemical burns to your eyes and lungs and in certain instances, can be fatal. Common symptoms include coughing, nausea, shortness of breath, watery eyes, chest pain, irritation to the throat, nose, and eyes, wheezing, pneumonia, and fluid in the lungs.
Be sure to always read the product label or manufacturer’s instructions before using any cleaning product. The following is a list of cleaners that should Not be mixed together:
- Bleach and ammonia, acids, or other cleaners – Bleach is one of the most common and least expensive disinfectant and is on EPA’s list. Even though some household cleaners and disinfectants do contain bleach, it is important to understand that these products are specially formulated to be compatible with bleach. Since bleach can be found in some household product, this does not mean that bleach can be universally mixed with all other products.Sodium Hypochlorite is the active ingredient in chlorine bleach. It is found in household bleach and many other disinfectants. Sodium hypochlorite reacts with ammonia, drain cleaners, and other acids.
- When bleach is mixed with ammonia, toxic gases called chloramines are produced. In addition to using ammonia as a cleaning product, ammonia can be found in some glass and window cleaners and water-based inks and coatings.
- When chlorine bleach is mixed with an acid, chlorine gas is given off. Chlorine gas and water combine to make hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids. Products containing acids include vinegar and some glass and window cleaners, automatic dishwasher detergents and rinses, toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners, mildew stain removers, rust removal products, and brick and concrete cleaners.
- Bleach and rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, make chloroform. Chloroform was used as an anesthetic, but is a dangerous chemical that irritates the eyes, respiratory system, and skin. It can damage the nervous system, eyes, lungs, skin, liver, kidneys, and other organs and may even cause cancer.
- Mixing Bleach with Other Cleaning Products, bleach also reacts with some oven cleaners, hydrogen peroxide, and some insecticides.
- Pool chemicals frequently contain calcium hypochlorite or sodium hypochlorite and should not be mixed with other cleaning products.
- Hydrogen Peroxide and vinegar - Alone they're considered great natural cleaning ingredients, but when combined, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar can result in paracetic acid. While the combination will sanitize, it can also be very corrosive.
- Antibacterials/Disinfectants and Detergent - Mixing a disinfectant that uses quaternary ammonia with a foaming cleanser (think of mixing Formula 409 Multi-Surface Cleaner or Lysol with a foamy soap), may seem like the perfect combo to double down on picking up grime, but it actually results in quite the opposite. The combination neutralizes the disinfectant.
- Washington State Department of Health, Dangers of Mixing Bleach with Cleaners, Retrieved April 3, 2020.
- Alexa Erickson, 20 Common Household Cleaning Products You Should Never Mix, Retrieved April 3, 2020.
- Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, February 11). Chemicals You Should Never Mix.
Gary A. Jones is the director of environmental, health and safety (EHS) affairs at the Specialty Graphic and Imaging Association in Fairfax, VA. His primary responsibility is to monitor and analyze EHS regulatory activities at all domestic and some international government levels. He provides representation on behalf of the printing and specialty graphic imaging industry.