Chlorine or bleach has a strong smell that can be unpleasant. But, apart from being unpleasant, it can also be dangerous, depending on what is causing the smell.
If you notice a sudden chlorine or bleach odor in your home, you should pinpoint where the smell is coming from and take action if needed.
What Does Chlorine Gas Smell Like?
Chlorine gas has a strong odor that resembles bleach. If you’re not sure what chlorine or bleach smells like, think of the strong chemical smell that usually permeates the air near public swimming pools.
Even though they have a similar smell, chlorine and bleach are different. Chlorine is common in water sanitation. You’ll often find chlorine in swimming pools since it kills bacteria, and municipalities also use it to remove bacteria from drinking water.
Chlorine naturally exists as a gas, but it’s possible to cool it down to obtain a liquid form of it. This form of chlorine is one of the ingredients you’ll find in bleach, but bleach also contains other chemicals like sodium hypochlorite, sodium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide, and more.
Why Does My House Smell Like Chlorine (Bleach)?
Noticing a chlorine smell in the house can be jarring due to the unpleasant chemical odor of this gas. Your priority should be to figure out where the smell is coming from since exposure to chlorine can be dangerous.
Possible Reason #1: You Recently Cleaned Your Home with Bleach
Bleach is a common product used to disinfect surfaces around the home. It is generally safe to use as long as you take a few precautions, and the CDC even recommended bleach solutions to disinfect your home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because bleach contains chlorine, it can cause a strong lingering smell. You can prevent it by only using it in well-ventilated areas and rinsing the area you disinfected with some warm water.
If you’re noticing a bleach smell in your home but didn’t use a bleach solution, check the labels of the different cleaning products you have. Some products like toilet bowl cleaners, toilet tablets, mildew removers, and even laundry detergents can contain this chemical.
Possible Reason #2: You Mixed Different Chemicals
Mixing bleach with other household cleaners can cause a chemical reaction that releases chlorine gas in the air, resulting in a strong chemical smell in your home. If chlorine comes in contact with any kind of acid, it will react and form chlorine gas.
You should never mix bleach with other household cleaners. In fact, it’s best not to mix any cleaners, whether they contain bleach or not.
If you accidentally mixed different products, you should open all your doors and windows and turn some fans on to get the air circulating and get rid of the potentially dangerous gases.
Possible Reason #3: You Accidentally Mixed Bleach and Ammonia in the Toilet
Bleach is one of the best products for eliminating bacteria, which is why it’s a common ingredient used in products like toilet bowl cleaners or toilet tablets.
While these products are convenient, there is a risk of mixing bleach and ammonia if you urinate after cleaning your toilet after using one of these products.
Urine contains ammonia. If you’re healthy and hydrated, you should only have trace amounts of this gas in your urine. However, ammonia levels can become higher if you’re dehydrated or if your urine has more waste in it due to a medical condition.
When ammonia comes in contact with bleach, a chemical reaction occurs, and the two substances combine to form chloramine.
Chloramine is responsible for the strong chemical smell you will often notice in public swimming pools since urine and sweat are reacting with the chlorine used to disinfect the water.
Avoid urinating directly after using a bleach cleaner on your toilet, and flush the toilet immediately if you notice a strong bleach smell. Open the windows and turn on your bathroom vent fan to clear the air.
If possible, avoid using toilet tablets that can cause repeated exposure to chloramine.
Possible Reason #4: There Is a Problem With Your Drinking Water
Water treatment facilities use chlorine or chloramine to kill bacteria present in water. These facilities also use a thorough filtration process to remove chlorine and other chemicals before distributing the water for drinking.
However, if something goes wrong with this filtration process, it’s possible for chlorine levels to exceed the recommended safe levels of four milligrams per liter or four parts per million.
It’s best to contact your local government to signal any sudden changes in water taste or smell. However, there are different reasons for your drinking water to suddenly start smelling like chlorine and cause a strong chlorine smell in the house:
- Your local water treatment plant recently switched from chlorine to chloramine or the other way around. Water treatment facilities sometimes switch between these two chemicals to get rid of the slime that builds up in their system.
- You were gone for a while or didn’t use the tap water for another reason, and water sat and evaporated in the pipes. It caused chlorine or chloramine to become more concentrated.
- If you notice that your hot water has a strong chlorine smell, you might have left water sitting in your hot water tank for a while, and evaporation caused the chlorine concentration to increase.
- You moved recently and are noticing that the water has a strong chemical smell. Water treatment facilities in heavily populated areas tend to leave more chlorine in the drinking water, which can cause a chemical smell that is more noticeable if you’re used to drinking water with less chlorine.
You should try letting the water run for a while to see if the chlorine smell disappears. If you can’t get rid of it, your best option is to contact your local water department to find out if there is an issue at their treatment plant.
You will typically hear about boil notices and other warnings on the local news, but contacting your local water department can prompt them to investigate the issue.
If there is a problem at your local water treatment facility, your local government will likely issue a statement and advise you not to drink tap water for a day or two.
In some cases, chlorine and chloramine levels are slightly higher than recommended but not dangerous, and your local government will issue a boil notice.
You can boil water to eliminate chlorine and make it safe to drink. However, you should do it for at least 15 minutes and in a well-ventilated area since it will release chlorine gas.
If your drinking water has safe chlorine or chloramine levels but smells or tastes unpleasant to you, you can remove chlorine with a carbon-activated filter or a reverse osmosis filter.
Possible Reason #5: There Is Plastic Burning Somewhere in Your Home
Burnt plastic has a very distinctive smell. Some will describe it as acrid. In theory, full combustion of plastic would release mineral ash, H2O, and CO2. However, this type of combustion is difficult to achieve since plastic requires a high temperature to burn properly.
Plastic that gradually heats up and starts melting will release hydrocarbons, heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
A hydrochloric acid is a form of hydrogen chloride, a common chemical used in pool cleaners with a distinctive smell that resembles bleach. While not all types of plastic will release this acid when burning, some plastic products can smell like bleach when the combustion process begins.
Unless you can see smoke or trace the burning plastic thanks to the smell, finding hot plastic in your home can be difficult. It’s crucial to act fast since hot or burning plastic can often indicate an electrical problem in your home.
Check your extension cords and unplug your electronics and appliances to be safe. If the smell persists, it’s best to call an electrician.
Possible Reason #6: Improper Handling of Pool Chemicals
Follow the recommended dosage when using pool chemicals. Most people treat their pool when they open it again for the summer and might also use a weekly or monthly pool cleaner that contains chlorine.
If you use too much of these products, the smell can spread and cause your entire home to smell like bleach. The same thing can happen if you have a hot tub or a jacuzzi that you treat with products that contain chlorine.
A strong bleach smell can also indicate that your pool or pump is leaking. You should also make sure that you have properly stored your pool chemicals and that the containers aren’t leaking.
Possible Reason #7: Humidity and Mold
Humidity can cause a wide range of issues in your home, including mold. You might not notice the signs of a mold infestation at first, but they will become hard to ignore as the infestation spreads.
We often associate a mold infestation with a musty smell, but some types of mold can cause an ammonia smell similar to bleach. This smell can become more noticeable when it rains since odors caused by mold tend to intensify when humidity is present.
If you recently treated your home for mold or mildew, you should know that most products used to get rid of it contain chlorine. Humidity can make smells more noticeable, and you might be smelling leftover mold remover.
If you notice that the chlorine smell in your home becomes stronger when it rains, you should contact a mold removal company. Professionals will be able to look for signs of mold in your home and eliminate it.
It’s vital to take action quickly since mold can cause respiratory problems.
Can Inhaling Excessive Chlorine Gas Cause Suffocation?
Chlorine gas can be extremely dangerous. It can cause suffocation and respiratory failure, as well as severe burns to the airways. However, concentration levels have to be high for these severe symptoms to appear.
You would have to breathe in chlorine gas at a concentration of 400 ppm for 30 minutes to be at risk of dying. However, death can occur within minutes if levels reach 1,000 ppm.
It’s unlikely that chlorine gas exposure that results from mixing household cleaners, using too much pool cleaner, or an issue with your drinking water would reach these levels.
However, exposure to lower levels of chlorine gas can cause burns, coughing, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms.
If you can’t locate the source of the chlorine gas leak and if opening the windows doesn’t seem to reduce chlorine levels in the air, it’s best to exit your home and contact first responders.