Some of the most common items in your house might not be as safe as you think. One example? The dangers of bleach, one of the most commonly used disinfectants in the world. And sadly, the latest example of this occurred at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Burlington, Massachusetts, where one person died and 10 others wound up in the hospital due to cleaning product fumes.
The incident is still under investigation, but an emergency hazmat crew on the scene identified the main culprit as sodium hypochlorite — a compound found in household bleach. The worker was said to be mixing cleanings when the emergency ensued, but the incident is still under investigation.
Despite claims that it’s extremely safe when used properly, bleach continues to be the subject of research for its potential impact on respiratory health, particularly in children.
In addition, one of the scariest dangers of bleach involves what happens when you mix it (on purpose or without realizing it) with other household chemicals.
BuzzFeed includes three toxic bleach combinations on a list of common products never to mix, warning readers about what happens when bleach comes into contact with vinegar, ammonia or rubbing alcohol.
Still, some of the dangers of bleach are not well-known, and people continue to mix products and expose themselves and their families to dangerous chemicals, all in the name of cleanliness.
But I think you should never use bleach in your home again, and I’m going to explain why. As a bonus, I’ll also show you some natural cleaning products that can get the job done without putting you and your family in danger.
What Is Bleach?
To understand the dangers of bleach, it’s best to first look at its most common uses. To be specific, bleach is a disinfectant and stain remover. Many people don’t realize this, but bleach isn’t intended to be used as a household cleaner, but rather after washing surfaces to remove any germs that remain.
Bleach can be purchased in both liquid and powder forms. Many industrial processes also employ the use of bleach to kill germs, destroy weeds and bleach wood pulp.
Depending on the type of bleach you get, it may or may not contain chlorine. Typically, bleaches either contain an active ingredient of chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) or hydrogen peroxide.
What ingredients are in bleach?
To understand the dangers of bleach, it’s important to know what’s actually in it. After using water as a base, a typical bottle of bleach contains:
Sodium Hydroxide: This is where the chlorine molecules in bleach are released (when it’s combined with sodium chloride). While The Clorox Company is correct in saying that there is no “free” chlorine in liquid bleach, it’s also true that chlorine molecules are released during certain processes of bleach use.
Here’s what the CDC has to say about sodium hydroxide, quoted directly from their website:
“Inhalation of sodium hydroxide dust, mist, or aerosol may cause irritation of the mucous membranes of the nose, throat, and respiratory tract.
Children exposed to the same levels of sodium hydroxide in air as adults may receive a larger dose because they have greater lung surface area:body weight ratios and increased minute volumes:weight ratios. In addition, they may be exposed to higher levels than adults in the same location because of their short stature and the higher levels of sodium hydroxide in air found nearer to the ground. Direct contact with the solid or with concentrated solutions causes thermal and chemical burns leading to deep-tissue injuries.
Very strong solutions of sodium hydroxide can hydrolyze proteins in the eyes, leading to severe burns and eye damage or, in extreme cases, blindness. Ingestion of sodium hydroxide can cause severe corrosive injury to the lips, tongue, oral mucosa, esophagus, and stomach. Stridor, vomiting, drooling, and abdominal pain are early symptoms of sodium hydroxide ingestion. Ingestion may lead to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract and shock.”
While home cleaning products do not contain enough sodium hydroxide to cause some of these effects on their own (such as chemical burns), there is already evidence that aerosol use of bleach does have an impact on the respiratory systems of both adults and children. Chlorine bleach is not believed to bioaccumulate in the body, but the damage it does may compound over time.
Chlorine poisoning is a definite concern when using bleach products with sodium hydroxide and sodium chloride. This may occur when bleach an ammonia are mixed (more on that in a moment); or if bleach is directly ingested. Symptoms including breathing difficulty, swelling of the throat and many more complications.