When I was a kid, I wanted to impress my parents one day. They’d told me to clean my room before they got home from work, but I decided to clean the bathroom as a bonus.
This wasn’t an act of altruism. I was strategically going to ask them for a new video game a few later on. So there was plenty of motivation to get the job done.
Besides, how hard can it be to clean a bathroom, right? You just scrub it with a bit of bleach and then spray some citrus cleaner for freshness. Even a 9-year-old can do it.
Except, as it turned out, the mission was neither as simple nor as straightforward as I’d previously anticipated. What was supposed to be an easy gig almost turned into a medical emergency.
Not even halfway through the cleaning, I felt sudden irritation in my eyes. It was so painful, I dropped the brush and ran out of the bathroom to get some fresh air outside.
My brother (7 at the time) got scared when he saw my bloodshot red eyes and started crying. And, as if that weren’t enough, my mom got home at that very moment, walking into a room with her sons in tears because of bathroom cleaning.
I never got my video game and I was grounded for a week because I could’ve hurt both myself and my brother. How was I to know you shouldn’t mix cleaning chemicals? Lesson learned.
Recently, I read a report on the effects of mixing bleach and citrus cleaners and I remembered this situation. So I thought it might be a good time to pay the lesson forward.
In this article:
Bleach is one of the most popular and widely used chemical cleaners on the market. This is weird, considering bleach is generally a terrible cleaner. It’s terrific for disinfection, but as far as cleaning goes, you’re better off using pure water. But I digress…
The strong disinfection properties of bleach come from strong chemical properties. That’s the reason why you shouldn’t mix it with other chemicals – it’s highly reactive.
Mixing bleach with ammonia, for example, leads to the release of chloramine gas, which is deadly. But mixing it with other, more “harmless” chemicals can also be dangerous.
What we call bleach is usually a 3-6% solution of sodium hypochlorite. But when we use it, the substance emits hypochlorous acid and chlorine gas that can accumulate in the environment if it’s not properly ventilated.
If chlorine sounds familiar, it’s either from your chemistry class or history class, since chlorine was used as a chemical weapon in World War I.
Even though these compounds can accumulate in the environment, lucky for us, it’s not that easy to get them to dangerous levels. Otherwise, bleach wouldn’t be so popular.
However, as they linger in the air, these gases react with other chemicals commonly found in your home – namely limonene.
Limonene is a fancy way of saying “citrus scent”. It’s a chemical derived from citrus fruit peels and it’s the compound that gives chemical cleaners their lemon or orange scent.
But we’ve already established we shouldn’t be conducting chemical experiments at home and mixing bleach with other cleaners. So what happens when we do?
Hypochlorous acid and chlorine react with limonene to form particles called secondary organic aerosols. These SOAs are linked to a boatload of negative health effects.
They can cause eye, throat, and nose irritation, coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath, to name a few. As if that weren’t enough, they can also exacerbate already existing medical conditions, such as asthma.
Unfortunately, SOAs are nothing new, especially in megacities like London. They’re linked to air pollution and contribute to adverse health effects caused by breathing the “clean” London air.
In fact, studies show that higher numbers of fine particles are linked to more emergency room visits. People with chronic lung or heart conditions are especially vulnerable.
Having secondary organic aerosols in your home can be harmful to your family and pets. To make matters worse, this harm is within the realm of possibility. So what can you do?
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Naturally (pun intended), you can replace chemical cleaners with more eco-friendly alternatives. For example, instead of disinfecting with bleach, you can disinfect most surfaces with a 1:1 solution of white vinegar and lemon juice.
Note: Obviously, this isn’t a universal solution. While this is a good alternative for your day-to-day needs, it’s not as powerful as bleach. So if you have medical reasons why your environment needs to be thoroughly disinfected (for example, disinfecting a room after a viral infection), then the vinegar/lemon juice solution may not be the best approach. However, for most people, it will work just fine day-to-day.
Most cleaning supplies at home can be replaced with baking soda and white vinegar. We have several guides that show you how to use them. Just, don’t mix them together in most cases.
If you don’t think these methods will work for you, then make sure your home is well ventilated before you begin cleaning with bleach. It’s not an ideal solution, but it at least mitigates some of the risks.
Finally, you can also outsource your cleaning to a professional. Professional cleaners know how to properly handle cleaning chemicals in order to reduce the risks for themselves and their clients. After all, this is what they do for a living.
Mixing bleach with anything is a bad idea. It can be especially reactive and create dangerous conditions in your home before you can say “keep away from kids”. I’ve experienced this first-hand.
We often don’t see cleaning supplies as potent chemicals, but that’s what they are. And they can be dangerous if handled improperly.
Luckily, alternatives exist. Maybe you don’t need to be teary-eyed before you pick up the phone and let someone else handle it.
Hi, I’m Atanas - brand consultant and writer. I’m helping Samyx Cleaning create the best cleaning company blog on the Internet. Join us on our journey and learn how to live a cleaner, healthier, happier life in the process.
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