Clorox is the company that manufactures one of the most familiar household bleach products, and it's the same company that produces Pine-Sol household cleaner. The company produces eight different Pine-Sol products, and according to the safety data sheets the company provides, only one -- Original Pine-Sol -- may react with bleach to produce harmful fumes. Despite the omission of this warning in the sheets for other Pine-Sol products, they all contain an ingredient that may react with bleach to produce chloroform.
The Dangers of Bleach
Bleach isn't liquid chlorine; it's a 5.25 percent solution of sodium hypochlorite and water. You should never mix it with ammonia; the reaction releases chloramines, which cause irritation, coughing, shortness of breath and possible pneumonia. Similarly, you should never mix bleach with household acids, including vinegar, which contains acetic acid; lemon juice, which contains citric acid; and many types of window cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and dishwasher detergents. The combination of bleach with acid can release chlorine gas, which is fatal in high doses. Bleach also reacts with oven cleaners, hydrogen peroxide and some insecticides to release poisonous gases, and it reacts with isopropyl and ethyl alcohol to produce chloroform.
Bleach and Original Pine-Sol
In the safety data sheet released on Jan. 2, 2015, for Original Pine-Sol, Clorox cautions that the product may react with bleach-containing products or other household cleaners. It lists the reactive ingredients as ethoxylated alcohols and glycolic acid. Sodium hypochlorite reacts with alcohol to produce chloroform, which can be fatal in high doses. In small doses, chloroform can cause central nerve depression, cardiac and respiratory irregularities and liver damage. Glycolic acid -- which is derived from sugar cane -- is acidic, with a pH of 2.5, which is comparable to that of vinegar, which is around 2.4. Combining this acid with bleach could potentially release chlorine gas, but the concentration is probably low. The company withholds actual concentrations as a trade secret.
Glycolic Acid May Be the Culprit
Most other Pine-Sol products -- for example Lemon Fresh Pine-Sol Multi-Surface Cleaner -- contain ethoxylated alcohol, but none contains glycolic acid, and none contains a warning to avoid mixing it with bleach. This indicates that -- even though the combination of alcohol and bleach can produce chloroform -- the company probably considers glycolic acid the hazardous material in Original Pine-Sol. If so, the danger it presents is the release of chlorine gas when you mix the product with bleach. The dangers of chlorine inhalation include:
- Irritation of mucous membranes
- Coughing and breathing problems
- Burning, watery eyes
- Chest pains, breathing problems, vomiting and fluid in the lungs in high doses.
In very high doses, chlorine gas can kill, but the concentration of glycolic acid in Pine-Sol probably isn't high enough to worry about such severe consequences.