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Mixing household cleaning products can kill you

DID YOU KNOW… Mixing household cleaning products can kill you?

There are two cleaning products in particular that can be extremely lethal when mixed, bleach and ammonia. When these two cleaners are mixed together they produce a lethal chlorine gas.

Cleaning products that contain bleach (Clorox, toilet bowl cleaners) or ammonia (Windex, window cleaners) as part of its composition are obviously included, but sometimes overlooked.

Bleach and ammonia are both commonly used for cleaning and disinfecting floors, tiles, porcelain and many other surfaces. You may have bleach or ammonia with your cleaning supplies right now.

When these chemicals are used on their own and the directions are followed, the most common result is a clean surface. However, if these two chemicals are mixed together the outcome could be potentially deadly.

When ammonia and bleach are mixed together, the bleach breaks down into hydrochloric acid. The hydrochloric acid then reacts with the ammonia to produce chloramine vapours. These vapours are extremely toxic and can be fatal if inhaled.

On top of the deadly vapours, there is also the possibility that the mixture could boil and spray incredibly hot and toxic liquid. The liquid sprayed is liquid hydrazine and it can be created when the concentration of ammonia is very high.

This combination is so nasty and deadly that this chlorine gas was used as a chemical weapon during World War 1 & 2 by Germany. (See battle of Ypres 1915 for first recorded use in World War 1)

It is commonly mistaken that the combination of ammonia and bleach create mustard gas.

Mustard gas contains sulfur in its chemical make-up and has a sulfur (rotten egg) smell to it. Chlorine gas does not have sulfur or the rotten smell attached to it.

The symptoms of mustard gas were different as well. Immediate contact with mustard gas was very unpleasant, but not always fatal. The soldiers often fell ill hours or days after exposure.

Chlorine gas is a much faster acting poison, incapacitating and rendering the victim unconscious, or dead, in a matter of seconds.

The confusion between the two deadly gases is possibly related to the fact that both mustard gas and chlorine gas were used on the front lines during World War 1.

What are the symptoms of chlorine gas exposure?

Chlorine vapours are extremely irritating to the eyes, causing immediate pain and possible blindness. The eyes feel like they are burning and it is very painful.

When the toxic chlorine vapours are breathed in to the respiratory system, the airways become inflamed and breathing is difficult and painful. It takes very little time to succumb to the chlorine vapours resulting in unconsciousness and possibly death by asphyxiation.

First Aid

If you are exposed to vapours from the mixture of bleach and ammonia

Remove yourself from the affected area immediately before going unconscious
Call 911 for help

If you suspect someone else has been exposed to the lethal mixture odds are they will be unconscious.

Move the person out of the affected area and to fresh air immediately if possible without putting yourself in danger of succumbing to the vapours as well and call 911 immediately and follow their instructions given until help arrives

Before the area can be cleaned it will have to be fully ventilated and the toxic air removed. Open any windows and allow time for the gas to dissipate before re-entering the area.

When using any cleaning product, it is important to read the instructions to fully comprehend the proper handling and use of the material. Should there be an accident, the immediate first aid instructions are printed as well.

© Magill Safety, All rights reserved

Chlorine Gas in the News

Toronto School Fined $150,000 in death of worker in 2005
Mississauga Train Derailment 1979
World War 1 – Battle of Ypres 1915