Why You Should Never Combine Vinegar & Bleach Cleaners

Bleaches and vinegars are best kept separate since “combining these creates dangerous fumes that can be harmful, or even fatal,” explains green cleaning expert Tonya Harris. The danger lies in the chemical reaction that happens when these two meet.

Most household bleach is made from sodium hypochlorite diluted in water. Vinegar gets its cleaning power from acedic acid. When sodium hypochlorite is mixed with acedic acid (or any acid, for that matter), it creates chlorine gas, which is poisonous and can severely damage the skin and lungs if inhaled. The gas allegedly smells similar to bleach, but it’s slightly more pungent.

This means that adding bleach to a vinegar-based cleaner is never a good idea. Mixing bleach with any other disinfectants, for that matter, could be dangerous. Ammonia or rubbing alcohol, in particular, can also emit chlorine gas when mixed with bleach.

At the end of the day these two categories of cleaners serve different purposes and should be kept separate anyways. While vinegar is good at removing germs from surfaces, it’s not a disinfectant so it doesn’t actually kill these germs. Bleaches, on the other hand, are powerful disinfectants.

If there is a situation where you need to be diligent about disinfecting your home (say, if someone in your family was exposed to COVID-19), the CDC recommends using bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or another alcohol-based disinfectant. If you do, follow the product’s instructions diligently, wear gloves, open windows, and—say it with me this time!—don’t mix it with other cleaners.

If you’re just looking to refresh surfaces, that’s where vinegar-based cleaners come in handy. They don’t come with as many health concerns and are suitable for many different types of materials. To exercise extra caution, don’t use them on or near surfaces that you’ve already cleaned with a bleach-based product.

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