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What Happens If You Drink Bleach?

Here we explain what to do if you swallow bleach or find someone who has.


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What happens if you drink bleach?
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Bleach is a potent chemical with many effective uses around the home. However, its strength as a cleaner means it can pose risks to your health if not used or stored correctly. In fact, it is one of the leading household items that causes poisoning in children.[1]

If you or someone you know accidentally drinks bleach, then you must seek medical help immediately. To learn how to identify the signs of bleach poisoning in the home to help you know when to act, our guide can help.

Always keep bleach stored out of reach and locked away from children, pets and vulnerable adults.

What are the Symptoms Bleach Poisoning?

While bleach is an efficient disinfectant, it is a strong substance that should never be ingested. The impact it has on your body will depend on how much was consumed and even the age and current health status of the person involved. Young children are particularly vulnerable and may drink bleach accidentally. If you suspect they have drank bleach, call for medical help straight away. Some symptoms of bleach poisoning you can look for are:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Being sick

  • Feeling dizzy

  • Restlessness or agitation

  • Having unusual heartbeats

  • Fits (seizures)

  • Drowsiness or loss of consciousness

How is Bleach Poisoning Treated?

Always seek immediate help from doctors if you think you or someone you know has bleach poisoning.

What to Do if You Swallow Bleach or Find Somebody Who Has:

  1. Immediately call an ambulance.

  2. Explain what the substance is, when it was taken, and how much was consumed.

  3. Provide any information you know about the person affected, including medical problems such as existing heart or breathing defects. 

  4. Keep the bleach bottle close to hand so you can give it to the medics. This will help them give the patient the best treatment.

  5. Stay in contact with the medics and follow any instructions they give you.

  6. Stay with the person and calm them, place them in the recovery position if unconscious. Remove any clothing with bleach on it and rinse any skin in contact with bleach.

  7. DON'T try to make them be sick or give them anything to eat or drink.

What to Do if You Swallow Bleach or Find Somebody Who Has
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What Sort of Treatments will Hospitals Provide for Bleach Poisoning?

  1. Antidotes – different substances that stop the poison from working.

  2. Activated charcoal – this binds to the poison to stop it being absorbed in the blood.

  3. Anti-epileptic medicine – to stop seizures if the person is suffering from them.

  4. Ventilation – putting the patient on a breathing machine to make sure they get enough air.

  5. Sedatives – these calm the person involved if agitated.

How to Prevent Bleach Poisoning?

Prevention is better than cure. So, it's important that you know how to prevent bleach poisoning, not only how to identify and treat it.

  • Always store bleach away from children, pets, adults with dementia.

  • Always store bleach in a sealed container that is fit for purpose. Keep it in the original bottle unless damaged. 

  • Never mix bleach with other substances or chemicals.

  • Use bleach only as directed on the bottle.

  • Use bleach in a well-ventilated area. Read our article about ways to use bleach around the house to get more safety information about the product.

  • Use bleach in a well-ventilated area.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as gloves, when handling or using bleach.

  • Never leave an open bleach bottle out in your home where others may find it. 

  • If mixing bleach with water for cleaning, or leaving bleach inside items such as cups to remove stains, make sure you label it clearly and keep it out of reach of others to avoid accidental ingestion.

  • Call for medical help immediately.

  • Stay with the person. If they’re conscious, get them to spit out anything remaining in their mouth. If not, put them in the recovery position.

  • Give as much information as possible to the medical staff.

  • Don't try and make them be sick or give them anything to eat or drink. If the person vomits the bleach, it will burn the internal organs even further.[2]

Bleach poisoning recovery time

The recovery time from bleach poisoning can vary depending on the severity of the exposure and the individual's overall health. In mild cases, symptoms may subside within a few hours or days. However, in more severe cases, hospitalization may be required, and the recovery time may be longer.

Treatment for bleach poisoning typically involves removing the individual from the source of exposure and providing supportive care for their symptoms. It's important to seek medical attention immediately if you suspect that you or someone else has been exposed to high concentrations of bleach.

image of someone feeling sick


1. Riordan, M., Rylance, G., & Berry, K. (2002). Poisoning in children 4: Household products, plants, and mushrooms. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 87(5), 403–406. https://doi.org/10.1136/adc.87.5.403

2. Benzoni, T. (2023, June 26). Bleach toxicity. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441921/

3. Slaughter, R. J., Watts, M., Vale, J. A., Grieve, J. R., & Schep, L. J. (2019). The clinical toxicology of sodium hypochlorite. Clinical toxicology (Philadelphia, Pa.), 57(5), 303–311. https://doi.org/10.1080/15563650.2018.1543889

Frequently Asked Questions on Bleach Safety

Why is Bleach So Toxic?

The scientific name for liquid bleach is sodium hypochlorite and it is a potent chemical used to remove colour from fabrics. Moreover, it offers strong cleaning properties for certain surfaces in the home like baths and toilets. However, because it is such a strong chemical, it can be extremely toxic to the body and should never be ingested.[3]

What are the Side Effects of Drinking Bleach?

If a child or vulnerable person in the home accidently drinks bleach, they may experience one or more of these bleach poisoning symptoms: Difficulty breathing, Vomiting, Feeling dizzy, Agitation, Unusual heartbeat i.e., faster heartbeat, fits or seizures, drowsiness or loss of consciousness.

What are Some Bleach Poisoning Prevention Tips?

There are a few prevention tips to follow in your home to prevent bleach from ever entering the hands of children or vulnerable people. Always store bleach and bleach products away from children in high to reach cupboards or locked in childproof cupboards. Never leave a bleach bottle out in the open at home when using it. Always keep it closed and near to you or in its original out of the way place. Store the bleach in its original bottle which has a child safe lid. Never mix bleach with other chemicals as you could create a chemical reaction that could be toxic or fatal. If bleach is ingested, call for medical assistance immediately. Keep the child or person near to you and stay on the phone with the paramedic call centre until the paramedics arrive.

What is the Formal Treatment after Drinking Bleach?

If bleach is mistakenly ingested by a child, pet or person in your home, here are the steps you need to take to get immediate treatment: Call an ambulance or for medical help immediately. Tell the call centre what they have ingested and how much. Also let them know what bleach poisoning symptoms the child or person is currently experiencing. Keep the bleach bottle to show and give to the paramedics to enable them to know what the best treatment course is when they arrive. Always stay with the patient. Put them in the recovery position on their side if they are vomiting or unconscious. Remove any clothing that may have bleach on it and wipe any bleach off the skin as it may cause a chemical burn. DON’T try to make them vomit or give them anything to drink or eat.

Which Bleach Solution is Used to Disinfect Drinking Water?

It is inadvisable to mix liquid laundry bleach with water in order to disinfect it, especially if you do not know the exact quantities required. If you need to disinfect water, rather boil the water on the stove for at least 15 minutes or use a water purifying tablet.

How quickly does bleach poisoning set in?

Usually, symptoms of internal shock manifests right away. However, depending on the ingested dose, the effects may show after a few hours.

Can you get poisoned from inhaling too much bleach?

Yes, inhaling too much bleach fumes can also cause poisoning. So, make sure that you use this product in a well-ventilated area.

What happens if you breathe in bleach smell?

The faint smell of bleach wouldn’t cause any harm. However, breathing in high amounts of bleach fumes may cause fluid build-up in your lungs. Consequently, you may experience severe shortness of breath. If untreated, this problem can be fatal.

What should I do if I inhaled bleach and ammonia?

Leave the contaminated area immediately and go to an open space to breathe in fresh air. If you’re struggling to breathe, call your local emergency services.

Originally published