Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Part I:Using Bleach and Ammonia in the Home
(But never together, or you will create a poisonous gas!!)

Last week, I wrote that I enjoyed using both borax and bluing, but didn't know much about them. So, I decided to learn more and posted the results. This week, I'm delving into the attributes of bleach and ammonia.
Even though they are both extremely effective, borax and bluing are among the mildest of household chemicals when used as directed. As I'm sure you know, both bleach and ammonia are much stronger. More caution needs to be taken when using either one of these these.
Because of the potential dangers of bleach and ammonia (not to mention that both have a strong smell), many homemakers prefer to use more gentle alternatives. However, many homemakers could never imagine running a household without having these two cleaning powerhouses on hand.
I personally use bleach and some products with bleach in them, but I use theses sparingly and for specific purposes. I am more reluctant to handle plain ammonia, but I do use products that contain ammonia as an ingredient.
I'll do some research on both and let you draw some conclusions of your own:
First, in this post, let me issue a caution: Never use ammonia or products with ammonia and bleach or products with bleach in the same room at the same time!!! For example, if you disinfect your sink with bleach, don't immediately wash dishes with a detergent that has ammonia in it. Be even more careful when cleaning bathrooms, which are smaller and have less ventilation.
I probably err on the lax side when it comes to using products in my well-venilated downstairs rooms. After having done research for this article, I will be more careful.
However, I have long been particular when it comes to cleaning a bathroom. If I use bleach to clean a bathroom counter or a shower stall, I do not use a window or mirror cleaner with ammonia in it until all of the bleached surfaces have dried and the bleach smell has gone entirely away. I do this even if it means waiting until the next day to clean the mirrors. And, if I use an ammonia-based product in the bathroom, I wait until the ammonia smell is completely gone and the surfaces are dry before using bleach or a product with bleach in it.
I hate to be a bit crude here, but some experts claim that even the amount of ammonia in urine can react badly with bleach in a toilet. I personally think that this worry might be a little overboard. However, if I still had small children in the home, I might think differently. If I were to leave bleach in a toilet to disinfect it, I would take care that little ones did not slip in to use the bathroom before I had flushed the bleach away.
Why is all this so important? The combination of ammonia and chlorine produces a dangerous gas caused chloramine. This gas strongly irritates the respiratory system and the eyes. Over the years, many a person has fainted from this gas, resulting in injuries. At one time, emergency room doctors called this something like "housewife's disease" or "housewife's syndrome". In these PC days, I don't think they call it that any more.
If you shouldn't even use them at the same time within a confined space, do not even think of mixing them together in the same bucket or container. The results will be volatile!
While we're at it, be sure not to mix chlorine with any acid, such as vinegar, certain toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners, and drain openers. This produces an even more toxic gas -- chlorine gas -- which was used as chemical warfare in World War I and World War II. By the same token, do not mix chlorine with a strongly alkaline substance, as the effect is equally posinous.
Here's a list from the Poison Control Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia which describes items that commonly contain ammonia or acids and alkalis:
Ammonia: Floor cleaner, Glass cleaner, Jewelry cleaner
Acids: Drain Openers, toilet bowl cleanes, oven cleaners, vinegar
Alkalies: Drain openers, toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners, mildew stain removers
Be sure to read the labels of all commercially prepared cleaning products, as you will find that the majority contain either bleach or ammonia.
Even when used alone, bleach and ammonia have strong fumes that can be irritating to someone like me. I have slight asthma. I have noticed that using bleach to clean a small place, like a bathroom can make my asthma temporarily worse. This doesn't stop me. However, I do exercise caution.
I imagine that ammonia straight from a bottle would irritate my airways, as well. Who knows? Aafter I complete my research on these products, I may come to love ammonia from the bottle. But, I would still take caution not to let it aggravate my asthma.
Well, now that I've scared you, let me leave you with a more positive thought: For decades well-informed home keepers have used chlorine bleach for certain purposes and ammonia for certain purposes without suffering any ill effects.
In the old days, if a homemaker bought either bleach or ammonia, she had to buy it in the bottle and dilute it herself. Today, many home keepers save money by doing the same, rather than buying more expensive commercially prepared products.
Many home keepers believe that bleach and ammonia both serve purposes that no other product can fulfill as well. Ammonia and bleach are effective when used according to directions, when the user wears protective gloves and works in a well-ventilated room, and when care is taken not to use ammonia or bleach products in the same room at the same time or to use either product with another incompatible substance. Of course, as with all cleaners, these two must be kept out of range of children.
In the next post, we'll focus on the good things about ammonia and bleach. We'll look at the various reasons people use them.

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