Tag Archives: dangerous byproducts of bleach and ammonia

What’s under the sink? Part 3 – Bleach

We have already looked at how healthy oven cleaner is for us. In addition there are other household cleaning products that contain ammonia such as glass cleaning sprays. But more importantly one of the most common household cleaning products are or contain bleach or bleaching compounds. It is not uncommon to see it stored in the same cupboard as all our other chemicals.

There are a few reactions that can occur when bleach and ammonia are mixed in various proportions – the release of chlorine gas is just one of these.

Chlorine gas (Cl2) is one of the most dangerous byproducts of bleach and ammonia should they mix. Household bleach has a chemical formula of NaOCl – that is, one atom each of sodium, oxygen, and chlorine. Its chemical name, for the curious, is sodium hypochlorite. Ammonia has a chemical formula of NH3, that is, one atom of nitrogen and three atoms of hydrogen. When these two compounds are combined, the following reaction takes place:

2(parts)NaOCl + 2NH3 –> 2NaONH3 + Cl2.

That Cl2 on the right hand side means one part chlorine gas, made up of diatomic (two atom) molecules. It also means that the chlorine gas has been liberated from the bleach, and is quite capable of causing you harm when inhaled!

To understand the effects chlorine gas has on the body, we first need to understand the chemical properties of chlorine, particularly its valence, or number of chemical bonds chlorine can form. Chlorine is in the seventh of the traditional groups of elements, one before the group of inert gases, which, as their name suggests, are almost completely unreactive. Chlorine has seven electrons in its outer electron shell.

The Octet Rule states that all elements try to fill in their outer electron shell until they have eight electrons. When a chemical has eight electrons in its outer shell, it is then stable. Being so close to having 8 electrons in its outer shell, chlorine is quite desperate to get that one last electron – and will literally rip other atoms apart to do so. This is what happens to your respiratory system when you inhale chlorine gas. It was used as a chemical weapon during World War I and later by Nazi Germany in World War II. The gas tears into your nasal passages, trachea, and lungs by causing massive cellular damage. Obviously, chlorine gas causes a very painful death.

So we really do have a chemical cornucopia under the sink that can cause serious, and sometimes permanent, damage. More importantly it is another set of household products that cause irritation and contribute to our toxic load when we absorb or inhale small amounts of either product or by product every time we use them.

We can achieve the same result with bicarbonate soda, white vinegar, a drop of lemon essential oil and a good, vigorous scrubbing with a nail brush and a wash cloth. Choose the safe option for your health and the environment.