I woke up on a dusty Saturday morning, feeling rather exhausted. Saturday mornings are usually my favourite day of the week; I get to do my chores and still have time for movies and never get to worry about work because the next day is a Sunday. Oh well; it probably is your favourite day of the week too. I woke up craving more sleep, thinking about what happened to me that faithful Saturday; I probably should have gone back to bed. It seems the whole odds were against me; I had to clean, cook and wash, normal Saturday routine. I started with my bathroom by applying harpic cleaning agent around the toilet seat and left it there for a while. After cleaning the whole house I came back to the toilet and mixed my detergent in a bowl with water and bleach. I started washing the toilet seat with the mixture, a foul, offensive and harsh odour polluted the air and I inhaled it and almost passed out. It was offensive to a point that I had to leave the bathroom.
I felt sick instantly, dizzy and weak. I took a lot of water since I felt dehydrated and slept off. After that incident; as a chemist I decided to find out what really happened. I looked behind the container of the harpic and read out where it clearly says ‘’ Do not mix with drain cleaners or bleach products’’. It was clearly written behind the container but like many Nigerians I overlooked it because we hardly read to know what commodities contain; even if we have certain allergies. I became more curious and wanted to know what happened to me that Saturday morning.
Mixing bleach and ammonia is extremely dangerous, since toxic vapours will be produced. The primary toxic chemical formed by the reaction is chloramine vapour; with a potential for hydrazine formation. I thought it is truly important that I share it with you all. Harpic contains Hexadecytrimethyl ammonium chloride which contains ammonia.
Here’s a look at the chemical reactions involved in mixing bleach and ammonia, as well as some first aid advice if you accidentally become exposed to a bleach and ammonia mixture.
Note that each and every one of these chemicals is toxic, except for the water and salt.
· NH3 = ammonia
· HCl = hydrochloric acid
· NaOCl = sodium hypochlorite (bleach)
· Cl = chlorine
· Cl2 = chlorine gas
· NH2Cl = chloramine
· N2H4 = hydrazine
· NaCl = sodium chloride or salt
· H2O = water
The bleach decomposes to form hydrochloric acid, which reacts with ammonia to form toxic chloramine fumes:
First the hydrochloric acid is formed:
NaOCl → NaOH + HOCl
HOCl → HCl + O
And then the ammonia and chlorine gas react to form chloramine, which is released as a vapour:
NaOCl + 2HCl → Cl2 + NaCl + H2O
2NH3 + Cl2 → 2NH2Cl
If ammonia is present in excess (which it may or may not be, depending on your mixture), toxic and potentially explosive liquid hydrazine may be formed. While impure hydrazine tends not to explode, it’s still toxic, plus it can boil and spray hot toxic liquid.
2NH3 + NaOCl → N2H4 + NaCl + H2O
What to do when I danger
If you do accidentally become exposed to fumes from mixing bleach and ammonia, immediately leave the vicinity to fresh air and seek emergency medical attention. The vapours can attack your eyes and mucous membranes, but the biggest threat comes from inhaling the gases.
- Get away from the site where the chemicals were mixed. You can’t call for help if you are overwhelmed by the fumes.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- If you find someone who you think has mixed bleach and ammonia, chances are he or she will be unconscious. If you can, remove the person to fresh air, preferably outdoors. Get medical assistant .
- Thoroughly ventilate the area before returning to dispose of the liquid. You’re most likely to make this mistake in a bathroom or kitchen, so leave and seek assistance, return later to open a window, allow time for the fumes to dissipate, and then go back to clean up. Dilute the chemical mixture with plenty of water. Wear gloves, just as you would for either bleach or ammonia.
- Please always read for content of any solution before mixing them with other solutions.
- The ideal method of using bleach is to mix it with water, soak your clothes for a few minutes; rinse then wash with your detergent.