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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

The Killing Power of Bleach and Vinegar

By September 26, 2007

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Some things are meant to be mixed. Do you remember the old Reese's cup ads, where a person eating from an open jar of peanut butter (um... ick) would inexplicably collide with someone eating a chocolate bar (yum)? "Hey, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" "Well, you got your peaut butter on my chocolate!" Reese's cups are awesome.

Other substances don't combine quite so favorably. Bleach and ammonia are an excellent example. Another example is bleach and vinegar. I know, I know... if you run a search on Google you'll read that vinegar increases the killing power of bleach. Yes, it makes the chemicals more likely to kill you or your kids or your pets. It also helps to kill anthrax spores. If you find yourself in a position to do an emergency decontamination of an item coated with anthrax, by all means, mix the bleach and vinegar. If you just want a sparkling clean bathroom, use a product designed for that purpose. Bleach combines with acids (e.g., vinegar, lemon juice) or certain bases (e.g., ammonia, drain cleaner, urine in the catbox) to release chlorine and chloramine vapors. Realistically, you're probably not going to kill yourself mixing a little bleach and vinegar in a bucket of water (as opposed to mixing them directly). You can get a lethal dose of chlorine by taking a few breaths of it at a concentration of 1 part per thousand in air. You can't gauge the concentration by smell, since most people can smell chlorine at a reasonably safe concentration of 35 parts per million. However, you can get a nasty chemical burn, especially of your eyes and lungs. Mixing these chemicals just seems like an unreasonable risk to take.

Home Chemicals You Shouldn't Mix | Names of Common Chemicals
Image: Yves Guillou, openclipart.org

Comments

October 1, 2007 at 6:28 pm
(1) L. R. Kerr says:

THANKS for the reminder AND also the reason why the mixture is lethel.

May 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm
(2) Alan says:

The reason that mixing bleach and vinegar is a health hazard is not related to the toxicity levels of Chlorine (chemical symbol Cl2) but due to the toxicity of Chlorine Monoxide (also called Dichlorine Monoxide, Chemical formula Cl2O). Adding any weak acid to bleach (or Sodium Hypochlorite, chemical formula NaClO) produces Hypochlorous acid (HClO):

NaClO + H2CO3 = NaHCO3 + HClO

Dehydrating HClO (with, for example, Calcium Nitrate) releases Cl2O, the gaseous anhydride of HClO. Chlorine Monoxide is a stronger oxiderizer than Cl2, which means it is more reactive with lung tissue and your eyes among other things.

October 9, 2011 at 11:41 am
(3) fsgdfpgkor f1tgzjnf1k1gkz1 says:

jnsfijsdfdhiiiiiiiiiiiisujhhjsdfsfksfjksfjkjksffjksjfssfjksfjksfkjsfkssfjksfjksfjksfjkjsckhwoek8 ru ru ru ru ru ru ru ru ru ru ru ru ru ru ji9 gljkps99999999999999999999999999999g5po;4klsrt9;a\hr4klo;z4r0zhipw4; r89r89r89r89r89r8926-

October 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm
(4) kkmaaaad says:

KILL MEE! GIVE ME SOME CHLLORINE GAS!

October 4, 2007 at 11:59 am
(5) D. Anglen says:

35 parts per million chlorine is NOT a “reasonably safe level”! The exposure standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is 1 part per million for any length of time. The National Instutute for Occupational Safey and Health (NIOSH) states that 30 parts per million is “Immediately dangerous to life and health.”

July 25, 2011 at 7:49 pm
(6) carol says:

You folks seem to know alot about this stuff. i am writting an article for our children’s museum. i can not seem to find out facts like
Vinegar is as affective as bleach in killing germs. Both kill …. %

Do you folks know these facts or any reputable research study that says other products, like soap and water etc, are just as effective as the cleaners on the market?
thanks, Carol

October 4, 2007 at 12:33 pm
(7) chemistry says:

When I say ‘reasonably safe’ that translates as ‘won’t immediately kill you’. If what D. Anglen says is true (shouldn’t be too difficult for one or the other of us to verify the NIOSH safety level), then if you can smell chlorine, you have breathed in too much for your own safety. That implies smelling chlorine in the shower, swimming pool, or when cleaning with bleach presents some form of immediate hazard to your health. Right?

July 3, 2008 at 12:25 pm
(8) Will N says:

Good article on the risks of mixing bleach and vinegar. Thanks. I found your article after searching for tips on removing the mildew from my shower curtain. A few recommended the dangerous mixture.
I might suggest however a stronger clearer beginning. I’ve learned ‘the mind hears only positives.’ “Don’t do it,” doesn’t work as well as we would hope. Numerous studies have shown that a significant percentage of people given completely negative information, still come away with a positive idea.
“Coca-cola is not an effective paint thinner”, left many of the test subjects with the idea that it was.
I teach 8th grade science. I make a point of telling my students that bleach is used diluted with water or in the washing machine with laundry detergent. I don’t even mention the dangerous combinations because one them will inadvertently try it.

July 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm
(9) A says:

What should on do if they find them selves in a perdicament of mixing bleach and vinger. If one was trying to clean up cat urin and they pour bleach on it, then unknowingly pour vinger on it as well what would be the best course of action to take.

July 26, 2008 at 6:10 am
(10) Laura says:

I would very much like to know the answer to that question. I did the same thing.

July 25, 2011 at 7:51 pm
(11) carol says:

But, cat urine is not that toxic or anything else. soap and water should do the trick.

November 10, 2011 at 5:31 pm
(12) Jo says:

If you have mixed bleach and vinegar or bleach and ammonia – get out of the room and/or house (take the pets and children too). It will produce a toxic gas that CAN kill you (if in high enough concentrations). Some idiots have already died this way – don’t be another.

Don’t panic if you have already breathed in the fumes more than a few days ago and haven’t noticed any symptoms – you’re probably in the clear, although you may want to get checked just for peace of mind. If you HAVE noticed symptoms – including but not limited to: trouble with breathing, sore throat, cough, fluid on the lungs, heart palpitations or dizziness – then you should visit the doctor ASAP.

Next time just use bleach OR vinegar to clean. It’s overkill to use both.

September 12, 2008 at 9:42 pm
(13) Christopher says:

I once did this mixture, when I was younger to see what would happen. I mixed a little in a cup, directly, however i sniffed it a bit and suffered no ill effects. It had a funny smell though, which I found out later from my science teacher to be chlorine gas. I do know the dangers of it but I just wonder how I came out ok.

February 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm
(14) Snot says:

wikihow.com told me to “neutralize” bleach with vinegar so that it will not continue to eat at the fabric (creating distressed jeans)
ARE THEY TRYING TO GET ME KILLED?

however, they did mention this; “While it is effective to mix bleach and vinegar, be extremely careful because when bleach and vinegar is mixed, especially in quantity, it creates a toxic gas (chlorine gas) that could be deadly”

March 7, 2009 at 2:53 am
(15) cleaner says:

I accidently added a bucket of water containing bleach to another bucket forgetting that it had not only water but also vinegar in it. I then proceeded to mop an area where there was urine on the floor where young boys had missed the toilets in a large bathroom…….the resulting gas made my nose feel like it was burning for hours and my eyes hurt and burned when I dumpt the mixture down the drain. don’t repeat my mistake.

March 11, 2009 at 6:58 pm
(16) Sylvie says:

A friend was cleaning my bathroom today, and decided to use bleach and vinegar mixed in a pail of water. Even dilute, the mixture immediately burned my eyes and caused heaviness and burning in my lungs. I ended up having to open up the house in 40 degree weather and run fans to flush it – and I had to leave the house for about an hour before I could come back in.

What a mess! I’d add that I am *not* generally particularly sensitive to cleaning solvents. I use both bleach and vinegar, separately, a LOT for cleaning, and neither bothers me on their own. This was a really scary combination!

March 18, 2009 at 2:39 pm
(17) DAVE says:

I poured bleach into a very slow moving urinal at work around 6 months ago. It was awful. First the urinal foamed over and made a mess. The gas it produced burned my eyes and throat and messed up my sinuses for a couple days. I’m failry confindant that there was no other chemicals in the toilet. I had researched afterwards, and read that because urine contains amonia, it can be dangerous. I learned this the hard way unfortunately.

March 26, 2009 at 12:30 pm
(18) Kable says:

it amazes me how many of you people are still alive!
mixing chemicals willy nilly is never a good idea.. unless your a scientist in controlled conditions.. and even then accidents happen! do your research first…

June 11, 2009 at 12:46 am
(19) me says:

K i work in a resteraunt and acidentally mixed bleach vinegar directly i could smell it and all it was horrible but the guy on the poisens line said you need a fair few breaths of it to kill you and also because vingar is a weak acid therefor it takes a while for the chloride gas to build up to the killing concentration he told me to dispose of the mix, drink water, eat some food and sit down and i’m fine so i hope this answers what to do in i MINOR situation if you feel your situation is more extream ring your local poisens line like i did

July 4, 2009 at 12:19 pm
(20) missy says:

I worked at a convenience store in the afternoons after class during high school. Another part-time high school worker was mopping the floor. She went into the janitor closet and started just pouring chemicals in a bucket. I’m sure there was a little of everything… including bleach and ammonia, etc. There was this little “boom” sound and she ran out of the closet that had filled with fumes. We’re both still alive… but neither of us teenagers knew not to mix drain cleaner with window cleaner. Now I think of that every time I open my cleaning cupboard and remember to check ingredients very carefully!

July 9, 2009 at 6:31 am
(21) Kim says:

google rocks, and so do people who share these bits of info! I love being able to prevent such mistakes by having internet access. I will wait and rinse the bleach I used to clean my tub before I pour vinegar+baking soda down the drain (to help clear it). I knew about bleach and ammonia, but not vinegar and something told me to check first. I can see how easily someone could make this mistake even without intending to. So thanks for your help!!

July 9, 2009 at 10:42 pm
(22) Mark says:

I created a homemade mixture of vinegar, bleach, salt, and dishwasher detergent to spray on the poison ivy field that exists on my property. I treated a selected area of poison ivy this morning and by this evening this particular weed area burned up. The combination is dangerous so I wear a mask when I perform treatment, but it definitely works.

August 26, 2009 at 3:40 am
(23) John says:

Yeah I did a stupid thing
I moved into my new house, I had a clogged toilet.
So I tried pouring some dish soap and hot water down the toilet, didn’t work. Then I tried vinegar cuz i figured its accidic then bleach because I was getting creative, soon after I felt bad, and even in the other room, so I jumped on the computer and found about 100 sites telling me what this site says. I ran to wal-mart at 1 in the morning, got a plunger, when I got home I opened all the windows in the house and plunged the toilet and set up fans to help clear the fumes. Such a stupid dumb thing to do but wasn’t thinking at the time =(

September 10, 2009 at 11:08 pm
(24) klefenz says:

remember that chlorine was the first chemical weapon used in ww1 to kill many people, invented by the germans

October 4, 2009 at 7:08 pm
(25) Jackie in Texas says:

I just did this and what a mess the whole house was filled with these horrible fumes my kids and I had to go outside and play for a good while. I called poison control and was told it is the ammonia fumes that burn your eyes and possibly lungs, my throat is still hoarse. So if you were thinking of doing this DON’T it is bad, just could kick myself for not looking it up first!

January 7, 2010 at 10:21 pm
(26) kirk says:

I use bleack (1Tablespoon per gallon) in a spray bottle to disinfect the kitchen and other things. I also use vinager at 25% strength in a spray bottle to clean things. I dont mix them together but is there is a risk with these solutions say I wiped down the counters with the bleach solution (1 tablespoon per gallon) and a few hours later, forgetting that, wipe the same area down with vinger (25%). I am thinking I am safe but just want to be sure

April 9, 2010 at 7:19 am
(27) Alfred says:

Here’s a question. I quarterly use large amounts of vinegar in my front load washer to clean it of the mouldy smell and soap residue. I regulary use about 1/2 a cup of vinegar in my darks and colours to help keep the machine clean of this mould. This is expressed into my septic tank. I also do my whites with bleach which is also sent to the septic. 1. Am I killing the septic tank’s processes? 2. As there any danger to the gas getting into the house.

July 24, 2010 at 12:53 am
(28) zach says:

okay. so I work as a dishwasher at the local golf course. today at work I got a big pot of burnt red sauce. so i put degreaser in it and let it sit for a few hours. later i dumped it and put some acid cleaner stuff in it. we also have a bucket for bleach were we put coffee mugs in it so lipstick stains come off. being careless and not paying attention i accidentally poured a little bit of bleach in the pot with the acid cleaner. Immediately it started to foam and i smelt a retched nasty smell I immediately got dizzy and felt like i was going to faint. so i breathed out and held my breath while i dumped it and spayed my area down took the pot outside and let it air. i then started to feel bad and felt a small cough coming on. this happened about 6 hours ago and I’m completely fine. my cough is gone but my throat is still a tiny bit sore. when i got home from work i took a shower and that’s’ when i started to feel better. my eyes never started to burn and my lungs never burned either.

July 28, 2010 at 9:23 pm
(29) LadyPoetess says:

I just accidentally mixed a bleach-based toilet bowl cleaner with a vinegar based multi-surface cleaner. I had the toilet soaking, and was spraying the other cleaner on other bathroom surfaces in the meantime. Apparently I got too close and some of the sprays hit the water in the toilet. I immediately saw visible, white vapors rising from my toilet. I hurried to scrub down the toilet and flush it before the vapors could fill my windowless, vent-less bathroom completely. 15 minutes later and my eyes hurt a little and my lungs feel irritated (but I’m asthmatic so they get irritated -very- easily). Going to wait another bit before I go back into the bathroom.

September 22, 2010 at 9:52 am
(30) Dylan S. says:

i am goind to do this on a science project. should i???????

September 22, 2010 at 4:54 pm
(31) sailor bob says:

well in the navy if you want your whites so bright you are going to need shades it is a must to wash in detergent with vinegar and bleach. The whole base/ship/air station smells sooo clean ;)

February 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm
(32) mary the mermaid says:

I won’t use vinegar and bleach together (unless I’m washing sailor uniforms on a navy ship!) but what I have found with vinegar is that it cleans most spots on my carpet like magic! Much better than the carpet foam in a spray can I use to pay 4.95 for!

February 15, 2011 at 8:32 am
(33) thinkglobalfuture says:

I was disinfecting a basement. I thought I used safe dilutions of bleach. I had two fans venting out and several open windows. There must have been other chemicals in the concrete. By the time I realized that the fumes weren’t just strong (I hate the smell of bleach) I had burned my throat and lungs. I had trouble breathing for about a week. Always rinse and dry before using bleach. DON’T try to do huge areas at one time. LFMF

May 24, 2011 at 6:44 am
(34) Liam says:

Despite the dangers if you make the necessary safety preparations for making these gasses they can be incredibly useful for cleaning.

Our kitchen drain always stank of rotting food and no matter how much bleach we used we could never clean it. However mixing bleach and drain cleaner inside the pipe caused chlorine gas to be released. I donned my Surplus Russian gasmask which still works and sealed the plughole.
The gas coudn’t escape and for the first time in years our drain now smells clean.

July 25, 2011 at 7:55 pm
(35) carol says:

Most of these cleaning projects could be solved with just soap and water. skip the bleach. don’t even buy it unless you have cholera or anthrax in your house.

August 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm
(36) selina says:

really wish i’d read this before mixing bleach, water, and vinegar into a spray bottle to clean my shower. i sprayed it on and as soon as i began to wipe, i felt a burning sensation in my nose and throat. i stopped immediately and turned on the shower to wash it away, and i got rid of the bleach, water, and vinegar solution. it’s been about 30 an hour and my nose and throat still don’t feel right and it hurts when i cough. i’m sure it will heal on its own, right? any thoughts?

August 31, 2011 at 9:37 am
(37) Maya says:

There are mentions all over the internet about how to save money and “go green” by using vinegar in your dishwasher instead of a chemical rinse-aid. However, my dishwashing liquid contains chlorine bleach (perhaps this is a problem unto itself). Could this be potentially problematic, given the small quantities of each, the water inside the dishwasher diluting it, and the fact that the dishwasher is sealed while the chemical interaction is occuring?

November 12, 2011 at 12:19 am
(38) Nancy says:

I am so grateful having ran into this information as I am a hemodialysis nurse and work around bleach and vinegar all the time for cleaning equipment. Vinegar cleans the bicarb out of machines so that bacteria cannot grow in machines and bleached is used once a week to disinfect unless of course a patient has certain viruses then it is used every time this patient uses machine. But I have found when disinfecting the outside of machine with bleach and using vinegar to cut the dialysate buildup can make it almost unbearable to be in the room. I will pay more attention to letting one dry before using another. I was not aware that I was causing a gas to form in the room by using them so close together.

December 29, 2011 at 10:33 pm
(39) leigh says:

I had a mop that I’d used water and vinegar. Neighbors kid moved my mop into a closet to which I never found… that was about 2 months ago..today I wanted to wash the floor but present mop needed rinsing after using mop on bathroom,so I then found the other mop that I’d used vinegar on, but of course wasn’t perfectly clean..so put into sink with bleach and waited a few hours..then proceeded to mop the floor after hubby rinsed it for me.. my question is..after said mop having vinegar on it ( month or so) and now adding bleach would the vinegar still be effective or after a month would it have lost the strength of it thus makiing adding bleach ok?

April 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm
(40) Jimmy says:

I wouldnt call it lethal to mix the two when your outside. I tried a low dossage and there wasnt much of a reaction and then i used a full bottle of bleach and vinegar and mixed the two outside. The only lethal thing is if you get it on you or breath in to much of it. Either or its not a big deal, unless you plan on dumping it on someone cause that ill defenetly bleach clothes. lol.

May 11, 2012 at 7:37 pm
(41) D says:

I use it in my fireplace when having a fire along with mobil 1 motor oil to give off a beautiful smoke cloud like you have never seen before… AMAZING…

May 25, 2012 at 1:24 am
(42) DB says:

I agree with Kable who says:

“it amazes me how many of you people are still alive!”

Of course, there’s plenty other’s who didn’t so can’t comment here.

BTW, good article, Doc.

July 13, 2012 at 9:53 am
(43) Audrey says:

Thats totaly redick! I’ve ben mixing the two of them together for years, never had a reaction and I’m not dead yet. I will continue to mix them until i can find substantial evidence that this is true.

September 6, 2012 at 11:43 pm
(44) Blondie says:

I just had my hair bleached blonde. My scalp is sensitive. There is a vinegar product to help with the sensitivity from psoriasis. Will the vinegar interact with the bleach in my hair or just calm my scalp from the bleach treatment?

Thanks for an answer…

September 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm
(45) vadrudijeus says:

I enjoy reading this kind of stuff. Thanks for sharing good knowledge

November 10, 2012 at 2:05 am
(46) Michelle says:

I just did this poured bleach a lot down my drain and then right after poured a cup of vinegar now I’m freaking out what should I do?

February 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm
(47) Prudence says:

@Blondie (#44): You’re perfectly safe using vinegar in your hair. Hair is bleached with something completely different: Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which has no chlorine in it.

Chlorine bleach should **never ** be used to bleach hair — you’d absorb a toxic dose through your skin, it would hurt like hell, and it would blind you if it got in your eyes!

Chlorine in a swimming pool will give blonde hair a greenish tinge — an annoying but relatively harmless side effect. If you want green hair, there are much better products. :-)

February 25, 2013 at 9:08 pm
(48) Mitch says:

My wife wife finally realizes the effects of mixing bleach and vinegar. But still persists to try and use them right after one another in the dishwasher. Atleast now she realizes the danger. I hope.

March 1, 2013 at 7:42 pm
(49) Oliver says:

You can mix bleach and vinegar safely. We use 1/4 cup bleach and 1/2 cup vinegar in a tub of 20 gallons of water or so for washing and disinfecting our farm bins and surfaces, etc. It makes the bleach kill bacteria and as long as you are careful to stick with the formula it won’t hurt. It is even recommended by the Maryland Ag Extension office in a pamphlet that explains the dangers and tells you how to do it safely. It means we use much less bleach to accomplish even better bacteria control.

June 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm
(50) Lenry says:

dermatologist recommended 4-6 ” of bathwater and 1/2″ cup household bleach and 1 cup white vinegar.

Sock in this for 5-10 minutes then rinse, pat dry and moisturize.

Can be repeated daily as needed.

No safety instructions.

Is this safe?

June 30, 2013 at 4:45 pm
(51) Dr. Bev says:

Curious dermatologist recommendation. Doesn’t seem “safe” to me, Lenry.

Laundry use:
You can use bleach and white vinegar in the washer in this order for best cleaning and low toxicity:

Add bleach near the end of the washing cycle. Bleach decreases the effectiveness of laundry detergent cleaning power. That’s why washers have a separate area for you to dispense the bleach … the washer auto-dispenses the bleach near the end of the wash cycle.

Add vinegar to the rinse cycle near the end of the rinse cycle for softer, brighter, cleaner clothes and as a great washer rinse too. If you do a second rinse, then add the vinegar only near the end of the second rinse cycle.

August 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm
(52) Sue says:

Thank you, thought it was only bleach and ammonia and was about to mix when I thought I should check!

August 25, 2013 at 1:06 am
(53) kyle 11 says:

i cant beleive people put this on the internet people can hurt others and themselfs by that

October 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm
(54) Alex says:

An old thread, but still showed up pretty high in google. So: It’s probably best for the average consumer to not try enhancing a bleach solution this way (and if they have bad water, they can use distilled water for a more effective and stable bleach solution). But nevertheless, the internet articles are a legitimate discussion of how bleach solutions can be economically enhanced (yielding more anti-microbial hypochlorous acid) by those who know what they’re doing. I.e., they don’t lower the pH so much that they release chlorine, and to avoid accidents they don’t keep concentrates and vinegar open at the same time. Perhaps, though, they could have made it clear that this is a “do at your own risk” proposition, and cautioned that mixing wrongly can be hazardous.

November 20, 2013 at 10:02 am
(55) Cheryl says:

I just did this by accident. I was trying to make a vinegar and water cleaning solution, but the bottle I used was an old bottle which had a tiny bit of what I thought was Lysol lemon cleaner in it. So I poured in 16 oz. of distilled white vinegar, then 16 oz. of water. I even added the juice of one fresh lemon to make it smell better, but when I took a whiff, it smelled strongly of bleach. I then realized that what was left in the bottle was bleach, not Lysol cleaner.

I searched online to see if it was okay to mix bleach and vinegar and found this thread. Needless to say, I flushed the whole concoction down the toilet, opened up all my windows and left the bathroom vent on, too. My question is, do you think that the tiny bit of bleach that was left in the bottle (approx. 1 – 2 oz.) was enough to cause me harm when I sniffed it? I’d appreciate any feedback.

I have asthma and 2 years ago suffered from pulmonary emboli, so I don’t wanna take any chances with my lungs. So far, I feel fine. I was a tad dizzy before I dumped the stuff, but I’m not having trouble breathing or anything. I’m still worried, though.

December 31, 2013 at 3:23 pm
(56) Worried William says:

My wife always mixed bleach and vinegar. She is so picky about cleanliness. She read this thread ans now mixing with greater concentrations for everything.
Is she trying to kill me?

March 14, 2014 at 10:17 am
(57) wogga says:

This thread reads like submissions to the Darwin Awards!

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