Bleach and Alcohol Make Chloroform

Why You Shouldn't Mix Bleach and Alcohol

chloroform
This is the chemical structure of chloroform, a chemical produced by reacting a chlorinated compound with any of a number of organic molecules, including bleach and alcohol. LAGUNA DESIGN / Getty Images

Mixing bleach and alcohol is a bad idea because the chemicals react to make chloroform. Here's a look at what happens and the risks associated with mixing these chemicals.

The Chemical Reaction

Ordinary household bleach contains sodium hypochlorite, which reacts with ethanol or isopropyl alcohol to produce chloroform (CHCl3), hydrochloric acid (HCl), and other compounds, such as chloroacetone or dichloroacetone.

Unintentionally mixing of these chemicals could occur from trying to clean up a spill using bleach or from mixing cleaners together. Bleach is highly reactive and forms dangerous compounds when mixed with any of a number of chemicals, so it's best to avoid mixing it with any other product.

Danger of Chloroform

Chloroform is a dangerous chemical that irritates the eyes, respiratory system, and skin. It can damage the nervous system, eyes, lungs, skin, liver, kidneys, and other organs and may cause cancer. The chemical is readily absorbed into the body through the intact skin or from inhalation or ingestion. If you suspect exposure to chloroform, remove yourself from the area and seek medical attention. It is important that you leave a chloroform-contaminated area, even if you're not sure that's what you have because chloroform is a potent anesthetic and can knock you out! It is also a cause of what is called "sudden sniffer's death", which is a fatal cardiac arrhythmia some people suffer upon exposure.

Over time, chloroform in the presence of oxygen (as in air) naturally degrades to produce phosgene, dichloromethane, carbon monoxide, formyl chloride, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen chloride. The process in the air takes from 55 days to about two years, but you definitely don't to mess with these molecules.

Phosgene is a notorious chemical agent. It was responsible for around 85% of the deaths due to chemical weapons in World War I. So, not only is the chloroform produced by the mixture dangerous but if you store it, you get even worse gases.

Disposing of a Bleach and Alcohol Mixture

If you accidentally mix these chemicals and need to dispose of the waste, don't try to neutralize it. First, use caution and do not enter the area if you smell chloroform, which has a heavy, sweet-smelling odor. When you can, dilute the mixture with large volumes of water and wash the mixture down the drain as quickly as possible.

Acetone and Bleach

Although this is a less common mixture, do not mix acetone and bleach, either, as this reaction also produces chloroform:

3NaClO + C3H6O →CHCl3 + 2NaOH + NaOCOCH3

Ultimately, mixing bleach with any chemical except water is an extremely bad idea. Bleach reacts with vinegar, ammonia, and most household cleaners to produce toxic fumes.