As much as we love natural green cleaning solutions, there’s no denying the supreme germ-killing power of bleach. When flu season arrives, there are few tools in your cleaning arsenal as effective at keeping the household healthy.

It’s a staple in any home, but safety goes both ways with chlorine-based cleaners like bleach. The characteristics that make chlorine so useful against germs can also lead to unexpected health issues, from mild facial irritation to severe lung damage.

Despite the risks of cleaning with bleach, it’s easy to avoid harm through smart practices. By appreciating the dangers of cleaning with chlorine, you can promote safer habits in the home and work with your cleaning service to meet your health needs.  

Why Is Chlorine Dangerous?

Chlorine is in many industrial and household products because of its corrosive properties. As a disinfectant, it oxidizes pathogens, ripping apart bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Public water sources use chlorine to kill microbes, and the backyard pool wouldn’t be possible without regular treatments.

But if chlorine is safe in our drinking water, why is bleach so dangerous?

Public water is tightly regulated, with suppliers maintaining safe chlorine levels below 4 mg/L, or ppm. Chlorine tablets for pools are corrosive, but in a large pool, levels stay around 1-3 ppm.

By contrast, bleach contains around 5-6% chlorine, well above the safe level. When dangerous amounts of chlorine enter your body, either through drinking bleach or inhaling cleaner fumes, you can experience adverse health effects.

Chlorine’s Effect on the Body

Chlorine isn’t the most efficient disinfectant by itself, but if you mix chlorine with water, it becomes extremely potent in small doses. When chlorine and water combine, they create hypochlorous acid, which breaks down the cell walls of all kinds of microbes. That’s why it’s the preferred way to disinfect pools and drinking water.

Unfortunately, the human body also contains a fair amount of water, and the same reaction occurs when you breathe in or drink too much chlorine. Hypochlorous and hydrochloric acid form in your body, a corrosive cocktail of damaging substances that lead to chlorine poisoning.

Chlorine poisoning can present a range of symptoms depending on the amount of chlorine, how you expose yourself to it, and how long you stay exposed. You may experience immediate symptoms of chlorine poisoning within minutes of exposure. These can include:

  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Blisters, rash, or frostbite on the skin
  • Sore throat
  • Irritation or burning sensation around the eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting

After exposure or ingestion of chlorine, you could experience a severe injury to your airway or lung. You may also develop pulmonary edema, a dangerous fluid build-up in your lungs occurring several hours after exposure. Acute pulmonary edema is a medical emergency with an in-hospital one-year mortality rate of up to 40%.

Is Cleaning with Chlorine Bad for You?

Chlorine-based cleaners are helpful for countless chores around the home. They can do it all, from managing mildew and brightening countertops to refreshing stained clothes. Along with bleach, you’ll find chlorine in several sanitizing products, such as:

  • Toilet cleaner
  • Disinfecting sprays
  • Dishwasher liquid
  • Laundry detergent

All of these products are hazardous to your health if ingested. Although manufacturers don’t intend for anyone to take them internally, there are still over 40,000 reported poisonings every year.

And the dangers of chlorine-based cleaners aren’t linked to overconsumption and chlorine poisoning alone. Bleach in spray form can make contact with your face by accident, causing burning and stinging across the eyes, nose, and mouth.

The prolonged use of spray cleaners that can promote inhalation may lead to more long-term respiratory issues. Individuals with allergies or asthma are at greater risk of experiencing health issues. Studies have even found connections between cleaning with bleach and adult-onset asthma.

Mixing Bleach with Cleaners

Breathing in vapors from bleach and other chlorine-based products is hazardous enough. Bleach off-gasses volatile organic compounds, which can be disorienting. It’s common to experience intense headaches or dizziness from overuse.

It’s plenty dangerous by itself, but the real threat from bleach is in mixing it with other chemicals. Bleach is effective on germs because of its reactivity, and that reactivity can spell disaster when it comes into contact with other cleaning agents and acids. Although your housekeeper or maid service team will know to avoid mixing toxic cleaners, it’s all too easy to make volatile combinations during a DIY deep clean.

Bleach + Ammonia

Ammonia is in several cleaning products such as window sprays and bathroom cleaners. When ammonia and bleach mix, it creates toxic gases called chloramines. These gases are extremely hazardous, causing accelerated chlorine poisoning symptoms.

Bleach + Rubbing Alcohol

Bleach and rubbing alcohol produce chloroform, another poisonous gas, and other various corrosive substances. These gases are extremely harmful to your eyes, skin, and major organs.

Bleach + Vinegar

Vinegar and other acids such as lemon juice can create chlorine gas when you mix them with bleach. Like chloramines and chloroform, chlorine gas can be deadly when inhaled.

When it comes to bleach, few substances are safe to mix. They may seem harmless, but even citrusy cleaners produce hazardous particles when you add bleach. It’s crucial to mix bleach only with water and avoid using multiple cleaners on the same surfaces.

Staying Safe with Bleach and Chlorine Cleaners

There are two simple rules for safely cleaning with chlorine — don’t mix them with anything and follow the directions. Bleach demands particular caution because it needs to be diluted heavily before use as a multi-purpose disinfectant. You can make a practical solution by mixing ½ cup of bleach with 1 gallon of water, a safer combination that is still strong enough to fight the flu and other persistent pathogens.

Even in its diluted form, chlorine can still cause harmful exposures. When using bleach or any other chlorine cleaner, follow these tips to avoid chlorine poisoning:

  • Keep windows open and rooms well-ventilated when working with chlorine cleaners
  • Wipe surfaces clean of dirt and grime before applying a disinfectant
  • Wear gloves, mask, and safety glasses
  • Dip a sponge in bleach cleaner instead of spraying it
  • Use an air purifier with a carbon filter to catch VOCs and improve indoor air quality

Of course, the safest way to handle chlorine cleaners is to resist using them. Let’s look at some alternatives that can provide the same germ-killing benefits.

Alternatives to Chlorine-Based Cleaners

Many of the more natural solutions around your home can make sound stand-ins for bleach. Non-chlorine bleach is a great starting point. Oxygen bleach uses hydrogen peroxide to make a nontoxic cleaner and laundry-whitening solution.

Hydrogen peroxide is a go-to alternative in many disinfecting products at the grocery store. Look for bleach-free cleaners from brands like Lysol, Green Earth, and Seventh Generation.

Throughout the house, the dynamic duo of vinegar and baking soda are useful on several surfaces, and they can help manage mold. Use these along with tea tree oil and lemon for a scent-filled and less irritating cleaning experience.

Stay Safe With a Weekly Cleaning Service

There’s a premium on safety these days, and the pathogen-killing performance of bleach and other chlorine cleaners is essential in many settings. But while it gets rid of one danger, cleaning with chlorine presents an array of unique immediate and long-term health problems. With an informed approach, you can limit exposure to chlorine, find alternatives, and provide peace of mind throughout the home.

Do you want to change the sanitizing strategy in your home to reduce bleach and chlorine exposure? Save time searching for a green cleaning service provider in your area and let Anita’s find one for you! Request a booking today, and see how easy it is to find the perfect fit for your cleaning goals.


Anita's Housekeeping Editors