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Safety with Cleaning Chemicals

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 8/16/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shortage of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. Although there are safe do-it-yourself measures you can take when cleaning products are in short supply, mixing common household chemicals can prove hazardous. In other words: Be wary of following tips you find on Pinterest.

Here’s a quick roundup of unsafe, ineffective, and safe chemical mixtures. Although the cleaning agents listed here can work well on their own, they can be dangerous when mixed.

Unsafe—Do not mix:
  • Bleach and vinegar: This combination creates chlorine gas, which can lead to coughing, breathing problems, and burning/watery eyes.
  • Bleach and ammonia: Bleach and ammonia combine to form chloramine, which can cause shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • Bleach and rubbing alcohol: This combination creates chloroform, a highly toxic chemical that studies suggest can be carcinogenic.
  • Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar: In high enough concentrations, the corrosive peracetic acid that results from mixing these two chemicals irritates the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, and it can cause permanent scarring of the affected areas.
  • Two different drain cleaners: Chemical ingredients vary between different types and brands of drain cleaners. Mixing two together or using one right after the other can generate toxic fumes.
  • Lysol and bleach: Most Lysol cleaners contain acids and alcohols, which will form toxic chemicals when mixed with bleach.
Ineffective—Mixing these aren’t worth your time:
  • Baking soda and vinegar: Although not harmful when mixed, baking soda is basic and vinegar is acidic. Combining the two yields an ineffective solution that does not disinfect surfaces as intended.
Safe—Use with caution, but this will disinfect:
  • Bleach and water: Although mixing bleach with other cleaners should not be attempted, the CDC outlines recommended ratios for diluting bleach to make your own cleaning solution: 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of room-temperature water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of room-temperature water*.

Find additional guidelines here.

When using any household chemical, ensure the area you’re working in is well-ventilated, and wear reusable or disposable gloves, if available, to avoid skin irritation.

*Please check with your admin as to cleaning materials you may use in your classroom as some individuals are allergic to bleach.