Be very careful when mixing household chemicals

Mixing different cleaning products doesn’t make them stronger, and in fact it could be dangerous. Chemicals act differently with other chemicals. It is best not to risk mixing them.

Mixing different cleaning products doesn’t make them stronger, and in fact it could be dangerous. Chemicals act differently with other chemicals. It is best not to risk mixing them.

Before you settle into this week’s column, I want to thank Kay, a regular reader of our column who called me to talk about efflorescence. To remove this pesky chalk Kay said she just uses a little vinegar and water to remove the efflorescence and bingo with light scrubbing the snowy white substance is washed-out. Thanks Kay for providing that tip to our reader you are the best!

We have all been faced with those tough cleaning jobs and I must admit that I have mixed and matched ingredients to remove stains. It is tempting to get creative but before you reach for every cleaning product under your sink and start playing chemist, please don’t.

It is wrong to think this way….if one product works, mixing it with another one will make it even better.

“Certain products, which are safe when used alone, can sometimes cause unsafe fumes or other chemical reactions when mixed with other products,” says Nancy Bock, Senior VP of Education at the American Cleaning Institute.

And even if your ad-hoc cleaner combo isn’t dangerous or toxic, you can never be sure what effect two products can have on a surface or fabric when combined. Always read the warning and ingredients labels on cleaning products — and never mix these:

Drain cleaner + drain cleaner. Never recommend mixing two different drain cleaners or even using one right after the other. These are powerful formulas, and could even explode if combined. Use one product according to package directions (typically, only half a bottle is needed per treatment). If it doesn’t work, don’t try another product. Instead, you should call a plumber because that clog is more than likely bigger and tougher than a bottle of drain cleaner can tackle.

Baking soda + vinegar. Although these pantry staples are handy on their own (both baking soda and vinegar can help clean all over the house), skip any DIY cleaner recipe that involves this not-so-dynamic duo. “Baking soda is basic and vinegar is acidic,” says Bock, “When you put them together you get mostly water and sodium acetate. But really, just mostly water.” Plus, vinegar causes baking soda to foam up; if stored in a closed container, the mixture can explode.

Hydrogen peroxide + vinegar. You may have heard that you should spray fruits or countertops with alternating mists of hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, wiping down the surface between sprays. Experts say this method is safe — but don’t mix the two products in the same container. Combining them creates peracetic acid, which is potentially toxic and can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system.

Bleach + vinegar. The combination sounds like it would be a powerful disinfectant, but the two should never be mixed. “Together, they produce chlorine gas, which even at low levels, can cause coughing, breathing problems, and burning, watery eyes,” Forte says.

  1. Bleach + ammonia. Bleach and ammonia produces a toxic gas called chloramine. “It causes the same symptoms as bleach and vinegar — along with shortness of breath and chest pain.” says Forte. Many glass and window cleaners contain ammonia, so never mix those with bleach.

  2. Bleach + rubbing alcohol. Perhaps you’ve heard of chloroform? You know, the stuff kidnappers in the movies put on rags to knock out their victims? Although it might not actually make you pass out, this combination can be irritating and toxic. Make it a rule to never mix bleach with anything but plain water. “Even other products like window and toilet bowl cleaners can have ingredients, like acids or ammonia, that shouldn’t be mixed with bleach,” Forte says.

To continue moving in the cleaning direction, many of us are not fond of cleaning and scrubbing pots and pans and just the other evening I was caught without Brillo Pads (I love Brillo Pads). I had a heavy cookware pan that after soaking for an entire day still had telltale signs of baked salmon. I tried a knife, I tried a spatula, I tried filling the pan with water and boiling it for a few minutes all to no avail. Internet here I come. Wow almost like MacGyver, aluminum foil did the trick. After crumpling and re-crumpling a piece of tin foil into a ball, I scrubbed the pan and the baked on salmon disappeared and like Houdini the pan was good as new.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday morning 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or 95.5 FM or the web Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry, meet your local community partners and so much more.

Sandy Griffis is executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association. Email your questions to her at or call 928-778-0040.