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Can you mix vinegar and bleach?

Quick Answer

No, you should never mix vinegar and bleach. Mixing vinegar and bleach will create toxic chlorine gas, which can be harmful or even deadly if inhaled. Even small amounts of chlorine gas can irritate eyes, throat, and lungs.

What Happens When You Mix Vinegar and Bleach?

Vinegar contains acetic acid, which reacts with the sodium hypochlorite (bleach) to produce chlorine gas. Here is the chemical reaction:

NaOCl + CH3COOH → Cl2 + CH3COONa

Sodium hypochlorite + Acetic acid → Chlorine gas + Sodium acetate

Specifically, the hypochlorite ion (OCl-) found in bleach reacts with the hydrogen ions (H+) in vinegar to form hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and chloride ions (Cl-). The hypochlorous acid then decomposes into chlorine gas (Cl2) and water (H2O).

Even small amounts of chlorine gas can be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breathing low levels of chlorine gas can cause the following symptoms:

– Coughing
– Scratchy throat
– Eye irritation
– Shortness of breath
– Chest pain

Higher concentrations of chlorine gas exposure can cause more severe symptoms:

– Buildup of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
– Wheezing
– Nausea and vomiting
– Burning pain, redness, and blisters on the skin if exposed

Very high levels of chlorine gas inhalation can be fatal.

Why You Should Never Mix Vinegar and Bleach

Here are some key reasons why vinegar and bleach should never be mixed together:

1. Creates Toxic Chlorine Gas

As described above, mixing vinegar and bleach produces potentially lethal chlorine gas. Even small amounts can be dangerous if inhaled.

2. Risk of Serious Injury or Death

Inhaling the chlorine gas can cause serious health effects like fluid in the lungs or vomiting. At very high concentrations, chlorine gas can be fatal if inhaled. Accidental mixing of vinegar and bleach has led to deaths.

3. Can Happen Easily by Accident

Many households have both vinegar and bleach. If they are stored near each other under the sink or in the closet, they could easily be mixed together by accident. Even a small splash into the other bottle when grabbing them could be dangerous.

4. Lingering Gas Can Cause Problems Later

The chlorine gas lingers in the air after mixing. If you mix vinegar and bleach in an enclosed space like a bathroom, chlorine gas concentrations could build up to dangerous levels over time. Someone entering the bathroom later could be injured by inhaling the gas.

Safe Alternatives to Mixing Vinegar and Bleach

Here are some safer mixing options for household cleaning:

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Vinegar can be safely mixed with baking soda. This combination bubbles up and helps with cleaning and disinfecting.

Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide

Combining vinegar with hydrogen peroxide is another safe cleaning option. This mixture is effective at disinfecting countertops, toilets, and other household surfaces.

Bleach and Water

Diluting bleach with water is the safest way to apply bleach for household disinfection. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper bleach and water ratios.

Commercial Cleaning Products

Using commercial cleaning sprays, wipes, and solutions are pre-mixed to be safe and effective. Read all labels carefully before mixing any commercial products together.

First Aid for Vinegar and Bleach Mixing

If you’ve accidentally mixed vinegar and bleach, here are some immediate steps to help mitigate harm:

– Evacuate the area and get to fresh air immediately. Try to avoid inhaling any fumes.
– Call 911 if you or someone else inhales the chlorine gas. Seek emergency medical attention for difficulty breathing, persistent coughing, or any other symptoms.
– Open windows and use fans to ventilate the area. This helps remove lingering chlorine gas.
– Neutralize the spilled mixture with water or baking soda.
– Rinse eyes, skin, or any other body parts that got splashed. Wash with soap and water. Call Poison Control if irritation persists.
– Dispose of any clothing or rags used to clean up the spill. The bleach and vinegar residue can remain dangerous.
– Report the incident to the proper authorities so they can check chlorine levels before allowing re-entry.

Preventing Accidental Mixing of Vinegar and Bleach

Here are some tips to keep vinegar and bleach safely separated:

– Store vinegar and bleach in separate cabinets or shelves. Keep them far apart.
– Never store them close together under the kitchen or bathroom sink.
– Label the bottles clearly as “vinegar” and “bleach.”
– Put bleach and vinegar on separate grocery lists. Shop for them separately.
– When using for cleaning, only take out one bottle at a time. Put it away before taking out the other.
– Follow all manufacturer’s instructions and never exceed recommended dosages.
– Wear gloves when handling bleach or vinegar.
– Never mix together any cleaning agents unless specifically recommended.


Mixing vinegar and bleach creates toxic chlorine gas that can cause serious harm through inhalation. Even small amounts of chlorine gas can irritate eyes, throat, and lungs. Higher concentrations can lead to fluid in the lungs, vomiting, or even death.

Never mix vinegar and bleach. Be very cautious when using vinegar for cleaning in areas where bleach may have been used. Store them separately. If accidentally mixed, evacuate the area and get medical help if needed. Safer alternatives are mixing vinegar with baking soda or hydrogen peroxide. For bleach, always dilute with water according to instructions. Take precautions when handling and storing vinegar and bleach to prevent accidental mixing in the home.