News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

When Is It Safe To Mix Household Cleaning Products? Never.

Mixing household cleaners can produce chemical reactionss that lead to harmful fumes.

Individual household cleaning products are considered safe when handled correctly. But the North Texas Poison Center says mixing any of them is a bad idea.

Liz Petty, a public health educator with the North Texas Poison Center at Parkland Hospital System, says people sometimes try to mix cleaners in a container or bucket. Other times involve using one product on a surface, and then a second for extra cleanliness. Either approach can lead to chemical reactions that produce fumes.

“In the last three years, we've received over 3,000 calls,” Petty said. “A lot of those calls, we give you treatment right over the phone which is usually fresh air. Other recommendations depend on the severity of exposure, but we have had to send people to the hospital.”

Liz Petty on pairings of household cleaners to avoid:

Bleach and ammonia: "One of the most common calls that we get. Together they make chlorine and chlorine is a very irritating gas that starts burning your eyes, your nose — basically all the airways — and it's a pretty immediate reaction."

Acid and bleach: "Bleach products already have an acid-containing base. When you add another acid to it, now you're getting a stronger acid, which is even more irritating if you are exposed to it. So as soon as you combine them together, nose is going to burn, eyes are going to water. They're going to be red. At that point, you go outside, get fresh air, ventilate the area, open up the windows if you can and call the Poison Center."

Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide: "Generally people think vinegar and peroxide are safer methods of cleaning just because they think they're a little bit more natural solutions. But together they actually make peracetic acid and it's also irritating."

Pool chemicals and cleansers: "Pool chemicals usually contain chlorine which is a bleach type product. A lot of the exposures that we get with pool chemicals are when people are opening up the containers and usually outside. Sometimes it's windy. If you open that lid or that tub toward your face, dust and fumes get in through your nose, your mouth. If it's a serious exposure that will land your trip to the hospital."

Layers of fragrance: "They smell great. So who does it attract? It attracts small children. So be very careful when using multiple products with fragrances. Some people are highly sensitive, especially those who might be asthmatic or have respiratory illnesses."

All natural cleaners: "We would never recommend mixing anything even if it's a natural cleaner. Natural does not mean safe." 

Petty's tips for using household cleaners:

  • Read the product directions.
  • Wear proper equipment if needed, such as glasses. Most products require that you wear gloves. 
  • We really don't have any recommendations for mixing absolutely anything together. But if you want to use multiple products, let the first product completely dry. Wipe it down with some water and then use a different product.

From the American Lung Association:

  • As a safer cleaning alternative, warm water and soap often will do the trick, especially at home. Baking soda is good for scrubbing. A mix of vinegar and water can clean glass.
  • When using cleaning or household products, keep the area well ventilated. Open windows and doors. Never use cleaning products in a small, enclosed space.


EWG Guide to Healthy Cleaning

American Lung Association: Cleaning Supplies and Household Chemicals

North Texas Poison Center- Contact #1-800-222-1222

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.