Bleach is one of the most commonly used disinfectants in households today because of its affordability and effectiveness in killing bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
The pungent odor of liquid bleach is a characteristic of cleanliness to many people because of its use in healthcare facilities.
However, a strong bleach-like smell can be an indication of a dangerous threat.
If you are suddenly smelling a strong bleach odor in your home, a likely culprit is a chlorine gas leak caused by the accidental mixture of chemicals. When chlorine gas escapes into the air of your home, you may be exposed through inhalation or skin and eye contact which can be harmful.
While chlorine has many uses in industrial and household settings, it’s important to understand that it is a harsh chemical and should be handled with care.
Continue reading below for a better understanding of chlorine gas and the threat it poses to your health.
What Is Chlorine Gas?
Chlorine is the 17th element on the periodic table and is one of nearly 100 naturally occurring chemical elements in the world. Because of how it reacts to almost every other element, it is rarely found to occur alone in nature.
Its most common compound is sodium chloride, which is commonly known as table salt. At room temperature, chlorine represents itself as a dense yellow-green gas.
Unless you live under a rock, you are likely exposed to chlorine daily by doing things like drinking tap water, swimming in a treated pool, and driving a car.
Without it, your drinking water would not be sterilized, swimming pools would not be disinfected, and the manufacturing of products would be significantly hindered.
While exposure to chlorine in these ways doesn’t typically pose a risk to your health, exposure to its toxic gas form can be dangerous.
Chlorine gas is often recognized by its harsh bleach-like odor and a yellow-green color. Coming into contact with Chlorine gas can result in skin, eye, and respiratory problems.
Have a Question? Ask HVAC Technician
Click here to use the chatbox to speak with one of our technicians.
No in-home service calls. No appointments.
Source: JLab, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
What Causes A Chlorine Gas Leak?
Most chlorine gas leaks are found due to an accident in occupational settings such as manufacturing plants.
Household exposures to chlorine gas are typically due to accidents during the disinfection of swimming pools or are caused by the mixing of chlorine bleach with other household cleaners.
These mixtures can have dangerous and even deadly results.
1. Do NOT Mix
It is essential to understand the dangers of mixing chemicals. Mixing chlorine bleach with other household cleaners containing ammonia or acids can cause severe injuries and even death.
The following products may contain acids or ammonia and should not be mixed with chlorine bleach:
- Some glass and window cleaners
- Some toilet bowl cleaners
- Some drain cleaners
- Some indoor and exterior paints
- Hydrogen Peroxide
All of these combinations can cause the release of Chlorine gases. It is better to be safe than sorry! Refrain from mixing chemicals of any kind to prevent adverse reactions that could cause harm to yourself or others.
2. Use Pool Chemicals Safely
Chlorine is the most commonly used product to maintain water quality and protect swimmers’ health and safety by killing bacteria in pools.
Whether you are a gym manager with a pool or a homeowner with a backyard pool, it is important to understand how to handle these chemicals safely. Here are some tips for using your pool chemicals safely:
- Read, understand, and carefully follow product labels and manufacturer’s directions for storing your pool chemicals.
- Wear protective gear such as safety goggles, mask, and gloves during the handling of any chemicals.
- Choose a well-ventilated area for the handling of pool chemicals.
- Measure pool chemicals correctly for the amount of water you are cleaning.
- Lock away all chemicals to protect children and animals.
- Store pool chemicals away from sunlight in a cool and well-ventilated area.
- Keep dry chemicals dry! Getting these chemicals wet can result in a release of chlorine gas.
- Store chemicals in the original container and make sure it is closed tightly.
- Keep acid products away from chlorine products as well as dry products away from liquid products.
- Store your liquid chemicals low to the ground but off the floor to prevent the spilling onto items stored below them.
- Take care of spills immediately by following your pool’s Emergency Chemical Spill Response Plan and contacting the proper authorities.
Sources: Utah Department of Health, American Chemistry Council
Signs of Exposure
You can come into contact with Chlorine gas in three different ways: eye contact, skin contact, and inhalation.
While the smell of bleach is usually the first warning sign of a Chlorine gas leak, you will begin to notice other signs and symptoms soon after.
1. Eye Exposure
Upon eye exposure to Chlorine gas, you may notice burning, redness, blurriness, and watery eyes. Severe exposure to the eyes can lead to corneal burns and tissue damage.
2. Skin Exposure
When exposed to Chlorine gas, your skin may begin to appear inflamed and irritated. Blistering of the skin and chemical burns can also occur.
When inhaled, chlorine gas can cause coughing, vomiting, chest pain, shortness of breath, and feelings of suffocation. In severe cases, you may suffer from lung collapse or sudden death due to the constriction of airways.
While these are all signs of Chlorine gas exposure, bear in mind that each symptom could have a different cause. If you feel that you have been exposed, it’s important to remove yourself from the area and seek emergency medical attention right away.
Source: Chemtech International
After exposure to Chlorine gas, immediately leave the area and remove your clothing. Pay special attention not to spread the chlorine anywhere else, and then seal the clothing in two plastic bags.
Doing this will help prevent further exposure to yourself and protect the first responders from any Chlorine on your clothing.
After removing your clothing, wash and rinse your body with soap and water as soon as possible. If you believe your eyes have been exposed, rinse them in clean water for at least 15 minutes.
If you wear contacts, remove and seal them along with your clothing. If you wear glasses, wash and rinse them with soap and water.
Thankfully, most people exposed to Chlorine gas will recover from their symptoms in a matter of days.
If inhaled, it may take months for your respiratory symptoms to subside. In more severe inhalation cases, chronic respiratory problems may occur, especially to those with increased risk.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Not Quite A Bleach Smell, But Something’s Up
Every home has its own distinct scent; some are more pleasant than others. Some houses smell like the family’s pets, while others are filled with the aroma of lit candles.
You may even become “nose blind” to the smell of your own home because you are so used to it. Listed below are a few additional aromas that are important not to write off as normal as they could suggest hidden danger.
- Musty Smell: A damp or musty smell is usually an indicator of mold or mildew, especially in areas like your kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room. Check these areas for signs of water damage and mold before it becomes a bigger problem.
- Stinky Dog: A stinky dog smell can be expected if you have a stinky dog, but if you don’t, the smell will be pretty alarming. If you notice that the odor gets worse as time goes on, it may be the smell of dead and rotting animals such as rats, mice, or bats. You’ll want to take care of this as soon as possible!
- Rotten Egg Smell: A rotten egg smell can be one of two things. If you can only smell rotten eggs when your hot water is running, it is more than likely sulfur in the water. However, if you notice the odor throughout your house, it could potentially be a dangerous gas leak. In this case, leave the home immediately and report the issue to the gas company.
- Burnt Smell: The obvious culprit for a burning smell is fire but if there is no fire in sight, make sure to check your outlets and appliances for signs of a wiring issue to avoid an electrical fire. Never attempt to fix these issues on your own: call an electrician!
- Strong Bathroom Odor: If you find yourself cleaning your bathroom over and over due to the smell, you might be a victim to a backup of sewage. While this is not only a major inconvenience, it also poses a health risk due to the contaminants in sewage. A plumber will be able to assess and fix the problem.
Sources: Today’s Homeowner, Little Things, The Trenchless Co.
Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs!
While different household odors can be completely normal, in the case of a strong bleach smell and many others, it is typically a warning sign that something is wrong. Trust the warning signs as well as human instinct to ward yourself from danger.