Avoiding the Hazards of Chlorine Gas

Ammonia isn’t the only substance that creates a deadly situation when mixed with bleach.

February 16, 2023

While the hazards of mixing ammonia and bleach might be more widely known, there’s another common cleaning product that can cause a deadly situation if added to bleach, and that’s vinegar.

When vinegar, often used to clean floors and glass as a natural and safe alternative to chemical products, is mixed with bleach, the combination produces chlorine gas, which according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can be deadly.

According to the morning news show TODAY, a TikTok user, @silkalmondmilk_ers, found out the hard way, when she cleaned her kitchen using both vinegar and bleach during a 2022 Christmas gathering with family members. A caption on the viral video, which showed the family and their dog huddled together in a bedroom to escape the fumes, reads, “I accidentally cleaned the kitchen with bleach and vinegar, and now we are all stuck in the same room on the phone with poison control.” On the video’s post, she commented: “My grandparents were just gassed to be spending time with us. #christmasspirit #stupidity”

“[Chorine gas poisoning] is a very common call that we get at poison control,” Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology physician and interim executive director at the National Capital Poison Center, told TODAY. “There have been cases of people who became very ill and had to be hospitalized for more than a week after mixing bleach with vinegar.”

According to the CDC, the toxicity of chlorine gas, which was used as a weapon during World War I due to its choking properties, depends on the amount of a person is exposed to, how the person was exposed, and the length of time of the exposure. This could explain the number of TikTok followers who commented on the video that they or other family members had used the combination in the past and hadn’t died or become ill from doing so.

But considering the potential consequences, including death, no one should ever combine bleach and vinegar. In fact, bleach should never be combined with any other substance.

Symptoms of Chlorine Gas Exposure

When chlorine gas comes into contact with moist tissues such as the eyes, throat, or lungs, an acid is produced that can damage these tissues. Symptoms of chlorine gas exposure include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Burning pain, redness, and blisters on the skin
  • Burning sensation in the nose, throat, and eyes
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Watery eyes
  • Wheezing.

What to Do in the Case of Chlorine Gas Exposure

If someone has been exposed to chlorine gas, the CDC recommends taking the following simple steps:

  • If the incident is indoors, leave the area where the chlorine gas was released and get to fresh air. Quickly moving to an area where fresh air is available is highly effective in reducing exposure to chlorine gas.
  • If the chlorine gas was released outdoors, move away from the area, seeking the highest ground possible, as chlorine gas is heavier than air and sinks to low-lying areas.
  • Seek medical attention right away. Dial 911 and explain what has happened.

“People who are young and otherwise healthy can most likely just get out into a well-ventilated area, and their symptoms should go away pretty quickly,” Johnson-Arbor told TODAY.

To learn more about the hazards of using cleaning products incorrectly, check out Prevent Cleaning Chemical Mistakes.

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