The Dangers of Mixing Bleach and Alcohol
Updated: May 4
Mixing chemicals is never a good idea, unless you know what you're doing and are fully prepared for the reaction you will get.
But, did you know that mixing bleach with alcohol will create chloroform?
In fact, any chlorinated compound that is reacted with any one of a wide range of organic molecules will create chloroform.
This types of chemicals are often found stored close to each other in peoples homes and the dangers of mixing them, even accidentally, are very real.
Something as simple as mixing two different generic cleaning substances could create any number of hazardous substances, including chloroform.
So, what exactly is chloroform?
Chloroform is a thick, clear, sweet-smelling substance that is found naturally occurring in the environment as well as produced large-scale by humans for use in industry. We create millions and millions of tons of chloroform every year.
It is an organic compound that has been used in the past as an anesthetic and is still commonly used as a precursor to several refrigerants and also as a solvent in laboratories - due to it's miscibility with many liquids and relatively nonreactive nature - and the pharmaceutical industry.
It's commonly used to extract plant materials like scopolamine from Datura plants or morphine from poppies because it's an excellent effective solvent for alkaloids in their base form.
What are the dangers of chloroform?
Chloroform is very hazardous to humans and can cause any or all of the following health problems:
Irritation of the eyes,
almost instantaneous unconsciousness,
irritation of the respiratory system,
skin rashes and irritation,
severe damage to the nervous system and several organs including the lungs, liver and kidneys,
fatal cardiac arrhythmia.
We figured out that chloroform wasn't all that good for us a very long time ago when people started dropping dead for no apparent reason when it was widely used as an anesthetic.
Once scientists starting working out what it was doing to patients who it was administered to it was phased out and eventually banned for use an as anesthetic.
It is easily absorbed by our bodies, either through inhalation, ingestion or through contact with the skin and should be avoided at all costs.
If you feel you have been exposed to chloroform it's advisable to remove yourself, and anyone else present, from the area and seek immediate medical attention.
You should also report the area to the proper safety authorities so that it can be checked and cleaned.
Disposing of an accidentally produced hazardous substance
If you somehow manage to create chloroform through accidentally mixing bleach and alcohol it's important to immediately dispose of it. Do not add any other chemicals into the mix as this could create other, similarly dangerous substances.
The chloroform must be thoroughly diluted through the use of large amounts of water and washed down the closest drain.
Never, under any circumstances, should you attempt to contain and store chloroform; over time the gases become more potent and increasingly dangerous.
If you would like to understand more about the dangers of mixing certain chemicals or you would like to learn more about the process of identifying and controlling chemical hazards you can take the new COSHH Risk Assessor Certification™.