Vinegar and bleach and other bleach safety facts

So how safe is vinegar and bleach? Is this potent combination a useful mix for household use?

Vinegar and bleach is not a safe mixture - in fact you really should not mix bleach with anything (except water).

Here are a few key facts about bleach and safety, starting with the idea of mixing vinegar with bleach to make a more powerful disinfectant.

Why would people want to mix vinegar and bleach?

There is evidence that vinegar lowers the acidity of diluted bleach, making it a more potent bactericide. Diluted household bleach has a pH which is quite high (i.e it is quite alkaline). Adding vinegar lowers it and makes the bleach a more effective killer of bacteria.

Is this mixing of vinegar and bleach safe or necessary?

The short answer is "No!".

For domestic use the dangers are too great. When acids are mixed with bleach chlorine gas is given off. This is quite toxic and can be a considerable health risk.

One lady who tried this as a child spent days coughing and choking afterwards and felt lucky to have fully recovered from the effects after a few weeks.

Vinegar is a fairly potent bactericide in its own right. If you feel the need to use bleach too, then separate them out. Use bleach in small quantities, diluted in water to top up your cleaning programme.

Vinegar and bleach is only an option in emergency situations and is best left to professionals.

Vinegar and bleach and other bleach safety facts:

Why use bleach as a cleaner?

Bleach really scores as a cleaner because it has such a potent effect upon stains. People use it because everything looks so sparkling clean afterwards. Vinegar can't quite compete and neither can washing soda or baking soda - both excellent cleaners which remove dirt, grease and some stains. However, if you take full advantage of all the excellent natural cleaners available you will be able to manage without household bleach most of the time.

Vinegar and bleach and other bleach safety facts:

So how dangerous is bleach - for us and for the environment?

Chlorine bleach is mainly sodium hypochlorite. This is the common household bleach with the classic smell of swimming pools! It's the kind you generally find in liquid or gel form in supermarkets. You can also buy it as a dry powder.

It is a useful household cleaner as it dissolves and dirt and whitens and brightens things too. It is not generally very suitable for fabrics as it may destroy them, especially if the concentration is too strong.

A huge quantity of this stuff is flushed down sinks and toilets everyday which you might think was a hazardous thing to do.

Some might say the jury is still out but the likely truth is that most chlorine bleach products will break down harmlessly into salts and water.

For dangerous compounds such as dioxins to be produced you need a much more acid environment.

The environmental impact of chlorine bleach upon water systems is at present considered negligible by many environmental authorities.

The real hazard of chlorine bleach

The real problem is the industrial use of chlorine bleach, as used in many, many products. Manufacturers of conventional nappies, toilet paper and many other paper and fabric products use industrial bleaching methods during production which are very harmful to the environment. This is because large quantities of bleach are acting in an acid environment.

The oxygen bleaches are chemically different from standard bleach and they are generally safer, too.

What about the manufacture of chlorine bleach?

The making of chlorine bleach can pose a significant hazard. Chlorox, a chemical company which makes a popular bleach product in the US experienced an accidental spill in the 1970s which caused them to review their transportation arrangements. Workers in chemical plants may also be adversely affected by the continual exposure to fumes.

Vinegar and bleach and other bleach safety facts:

What about health hazards for home users of bleach?

Bleach is an irritant and the fumes are unpleasant and a potential health hazard. As everyone knows, undiluted bleach is corrosive and will damage skin, fabrics and other surfaces.

Children and bleach

Bleach is too dangerous to leave anywhere small children might play with it and there are accidental poisonings from time to time. More than three hundred young children have accidents involving bleach in UK homes each year.

However, the figures for adults are worse - as many as 700+ (figures supplied by RoSPA - which suggests that many people are affected by bleach as they use it in the course of cleaning about the home.

Anecdotal evidence from blogs and places such as Yahoo Answers also suggests that many people find bleach a health hazard.

Vinegar and bleach and other bleach safety facts:

One specific place where you should definitely avoid using bleach

If you bought decking or other outdoor wood products more than a few years ago you should be aware that your purchase may contain CCA which is a dangerous chemical which becomes even more dangerous when combined with bleach. CCA is a type of arsenic and it combines with bleach to from highly toxic chromium and arsenic compounds. Most of these CCA-treated products were taken off the market in the US by 2003 but of course many people still have such things in their backyards.

If you have any concerns that you family may be exposed to such products then be especially careful not to use bleach or deck brighteners on them.

Also, if toddlers and young children are to play on such decking always lay down matting. Even without added bleach these products are hazardous!

Vinegar and bleach and other bleach safety facts:

Other places to avoid bleach

Avoid using bleach in close quarters such as cupboards and other small spaces where the smell and fumes may be concentrated by lack of air movement. If you feel that you must use it, wear a face mask and dilute the product adequately.

Air rooms well after bleach has been used to dispel fumes.

Never ever use bleach with other products in an experimental way! The risk of hazardous fumes is too great. Use bleach in dilution according to the manufacturers instructions.

People who have asthma or other breathing problems should be especially careful about using bleach.

Be very careful of bleach splashes. Bleach is a powerful corrosive. If any should get into your eye, irrigate it liberally with water for 15 minutes or so and get medical help.

Get out in the fresh air after exposing yourself to bleach fumes and if you have any doubt about effects upon your health consult a doctor.

Use bleach if you feel it is necessary. Dilute it 1 part in 10 parts water for a reasonably safe cleaning agent. If you do use it undiluted, keep it at arms length and irrigate it with plenty of water as soon as it has done its work. People who have heart or lung conditions should be especially careful.


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