Household chlorine bleach, of which Clorox is a brand, is a cleaning and disinfecting product that contains sodium hypochlorite as its active ingredient. Bleach on its own has a distinctive odor that some people may find unpleasant or irritating. When bleach is mixed with other common household chemicals, it can produce vapors that are potentially life threatening.
Product labels on most brands of household bleach contain information on safe use and handling of the product; it's crucial that you follow all label instructions and precautions.
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Bleach and Ammonia
When chlorine bleach is mixed with ammonia, a chemical reaction produces compounds called chloramines. When inhaled, chloramines can cause coughing, shortness of breath, irritation of the respiratory tract, nausea and even chest pain or pneumonia.
Many common household products, including glass cleaners and paints, contain ammonia; they should never be used in conjunction with bleach. Bleach may also react with the ammonia in urine, so be careful when using bleach to clean toilets, cat litter boxes or any other areas where urine may be concentrated.
Bleach reacts with many common household products to create dangerous fumes. Avoid mixing bleach with other chemicals; read product labels to learn the potentially dangerous interactions. Always use bleach in well-ventilated spaces.
Bleach and Acids
The mixture of chlorine bleach with acids produces chlorine gas, another harmful vapor. Exposure to chlorine gas typically causes eye and respiratory irritation and coughing, even when the exposure is brief. More prolonged exposure can cause chest pain, vomiting, breathing difficulties and pneumonia, and significant exposure can be fatal.
Common acidic products that may react with bleach include vinegar, toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners and some glass cleaners.
Bleach and Other Household Products
Bleach reacts with hydrogen peroxide to produce potentially harmful gases; it may also react dangerously with the chemical components in common household products such as oven cleaners and insecticides. The interaction of bleach with these chemicals may produce the same toxic gases -- and the same health consequences -- as the mixture of bleach with ammonia or acids.
Bleach and Allergies
Individuals with respiratory allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions or sensitivities will not have an allergic reaction to bleach itself, but with exposure to chlorine and chloramines, especially over a long period of time, may exacerbate underlying respiratory problems and produce symptoms, including wheezing, coughing, sneezing, irritation or runny nose.
Individuals who are sensitive to chlorine may also experience skin irritation, redness or itching after contact with bleach, as well as with other products that contain bleach or chlorine, such as swimming pool chemicals, household cleansers and detergents.
Evan Gillespie grew up working in his family's hardware and home-improvement business and is an experienced gardener. He has been writing on home, garden and design topics since 1996. His work has appeared in the South Bend Tribune, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Arts Everywhere magazine and many other publications.