Why You Should Never Combine Vinegar- & Bleach-Based Cleaners

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
Woman Cleaning Her Home

I'm going to go on record and say that white vinegar is the most versatile ingredient around. What else can you use as a pickling liquid one minute and clothing brightener and window cleaner the next? There are few things this affordable staple can't do in the scrubbing and brining department—but there's one caveat. When mixing up your own vinegar-based cleaners, it's important to never invite bleach to the party.

Why you shouldn't mix vinegar with bleach.

Bleaches and vinegars are best kept separate since "combining these creates dangerous fumes that can be harmful or even fatal," explains green-cleaning expert Tonya Harris. The danger lies in the chemical reaction that happens when these two meet.

Most household bleach is made from sodium hypochlorite diluted in water. Vinegar gets its cleaning power from acetic acid. When sodium hypochlorite is mixed with acetic acid (or any acid, for that matter), it creates chlorine gas, which is poisonous and can severely damage the skin and lungs if inhaled. The gas allegedly smells similar to bleach, but it's slightly more pungent.

This means that adding bleach to a vinegar-based cleaner is never a good idea. Mixing bleach with any other disinfectants, for that matter, could be dangerous. Ammonia or rubbing alcohol, in particular, can also emit chlorine gas when mixed with bleach.

At the end of the day, these two categories of cleaners serve different purposes and should be kept separate anyway. While vinegar is good at removing germs from surfaces, it's not a disinfectant, so it doesn't actually kill these germs. Bleaches, on the other hand, are powerful disinfectants.

If there is a situation where you need to be diligent about disinfecting your home (say, if someone in your family was exposed to COVID-19), the CDC recommends using bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or another alcohol-based disinfectant. If you do, follow the product's instructions diligently, wear gloves, open windows, and—say it with me this time!—don't mix it with other cleaners.

If you're just looking to refresh surfaces, that's where vinegar-based cleaners come in handy. They don't come with as many health concerns and are suitable for many types of materials. To exercise extra caution, don't use them on or near surfaces that you've already cleaned with a bleach-based product.

"I would also caution against using them together in a small space with no windows, such as a bathroom," Harris adds. "For instance, do not let vinegar-based DIY toilet bowl cleaners sit in the toilet bowl while using the bleach-based cleaner on the toilet seat."

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The bottom line.

White vinegar is a versatile ingredient that can form the basis of an effective, safe home-cleaning product. You can customize your vinegar-based cleaner with essential oils for a nice scent or add some Castile soap for a more powerful clean. But one thing you should never add to it is bleach, as it can cause a dangerous reaction. Safe cleaning!

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