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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.


What happens if you drink bleach?

Bleach is a potent chemical with many effective uses around the home but its strength as a cleaner means it can pose risks to your health if not used or stored correctly. 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 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.

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Bleach poisoning symptoms

Bleach 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 straightaway. Some symptoms of bleach poisoning you can look for are:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Being sick
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Having unusual heart beats
  • Fits (seizures)
  • Drowsiness or loss of consciousness

Bleach poisoning treatment

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 any known medical problems that may cause complications, 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. DO stay with the person and try to calm them, place them in the recovery position if unconscious, and remove any clothing with bleach on it and rinse any skin that has come into contact with the chemical as it could cause burns.
  7. DON'T try to make them be sick or give them anything to eat or drink.

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.

Bleach poisoning prevention

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.
  • 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.
  • Originally published