When bleach and ammonia mix, a toxic gas called chloramine is released into the air which can cause potentially fatal harm if inhaled.
Dawn dish soap products do not contain ammonia.
In June 2020, Snopes received numerous inquires from readers wondering if mixing Dawn dish soap with Clorox bleach products during household cleaning sprees could emit a toxic gas that would kill them.
The question largely seemed to stem from social media posts and blog entries suggesting that that brand of dish soap contained ammonia and, when mixed with bleach, could create hazardous fumes. One Michigan-based DIY lifestyle blogger wrote:
Last week I was researching some unexpected homemade stain removers and that got me thinking about another homemade laundry product – my homemade no-grate laundry soap made with Dawn dish soap. ...BUT – not that long ago when I looked at the back of the bottle of Dawn dish soap I spotted these tiny words: “Do Not Add Bleach”. .. Apparently the warnings found on some dish soaps that you should not add bleach stems from this potential chemical reaction [of ammonia and bleach].
Upon our analysis of similar blog entries and posts, we determined the most popular claim to be this: Dawn dish soap contains ammonia even though it's not listed as an ingredient, and when mixed with Clorox bleach products, the results could be lethal.
Firstly, to investigate the assertion, let this be known: ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen (NH₃), is a colorless gas with a distinct, suffocating odor. It dissolves easily in water to create ammonium hydroxide, which is commonly used in low concentration to make a variety of household and industrial-strength cleaning products, specifically some glass and window cleaners.
Sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient in chlorine bleach and is similarly diluted and mixed with other ingredients to make several household disinfectants, including many Clorox products for stain and soil cleaning.
And when bleach is mixed with ammonia, yes, a toxic gas called chloramine is released into the air and can cause the following symptoms for people who breathe it in, according to the Washington State Department of Health:
- Shortness of breath.
- Watery eyes.
- Chest pain.
- Irritation to the throat, nose, and eyes.
- Pneumonia and fluid in the lungs
And in high concentrations, the gas can force people into comas or be deadly. Clorox states on its website:
Bleach and ammonia should NEVER be mixed since when the two combine, toxic gas is formed that could be fatal. And it’s not just ammonia or products containing ammonia (like window cleaner) that can be a problem. Therefore, as a general rule, bleach should not be mixed with other household cleaners such as toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers, and acids (vinegar, for example) since toxic gas can also form.
(If you do accidentally mix bleach and ammonia and feel one or more of the above-listed symptoms, immediately leave the contaminated area and call 911 or the American Association of Poison Control Centers 1-800-222-1222.)
Now, we move on to the part of the claim regarding the composition and ingredient lists for Dawn dish soap. To determine whether the soaps contain ammonia and, therefore, should not be mixed with Clorox bleach products, we reviewed dozens of Safety Data Sheets — which outline product ingredient information as part of the United Nation's system for classifying and labeling chemicals — for the following types of soap:
Dawn Ultra Lemon, Ultra Dawn Original, Ultra Dawn Peach Sunrise, Dawn Ultra Plus Heavy Duty, Dawn Simply Clean Original, Dawn Ultra Berry Time Blast, Dawn Original Non-Concentrated, Dawn Ultra Plus Advanced Power, Dawn Ultra Botanicals Lavender, Ultra Dawn Free and Gentle, Dawn Simply Clean Apple Blossom, Dawn Ultra Antibacterial Orange, Dawn Ultra Pomegranate Awakening, Dawn Ultra Apple Orchard Harvest, Dawn Ultra Botanicals Aloe Water, Dawn Professional Dish Detergent, Ultra Dawn Platinum Vibrant Fresh, Ultra Dawn Platinum Advanced Power, Dawn Apple Blossom Non-Concentrated, Ultra Dawn Platinum Advanced Power, Dawn Pure Essentials Lavender Wisp, Dawn Pure Essentials Lemon Essence, Ultra Dawn Platinum Refreshing Rain, Dawn Simply Clean Summertime Showers, Dawn Ultra Botanicals Cherry Blossom, Ultra Dawn Escapes Malibu Sunrise, Ultra Dawn Escapes Fuji Cherry Blossom, Dawn Ultra Antibacterial Apple Blossom, Dawn Pure Essentials Lavender Wisp, Dawn Summertime Showers Non-Concentrated, Ultra Dawn Escapes Thai Dragonfruit, Ultra Dawn Escapes Caribbean Breeze, Dawn Platinum Erasing Foam Fresh Rapids, Dawn Ultra Botanicals Hawaiian Pineapple, Dawn Powerwash Dish Spray - Apple, Dawn Ultra Power Dissolver, Dawn Ultra Gentle Clean Peach and Almond, Ultra Dawn Antibacterial Hand Soap Orange, Ultra Dawn Escapes Hawaiian Pineapple, Dawn Ultra Botanicals New Zealand Springs, Ultra Dawn Pure Essentials Sparkling Mist, Dawn Ultra Botanicals Fuji Cherry Blossom, Dawn Ultra Gentle Clean Pomegranate Splash, Ultra Dawn Hand Renewal Cucumber and Melon, Ultra Dawn Escapes New Zealand Springs, Ultra Dawn Platinum Oxi Invigorating Berry, Dawn Ultra Plus Power Clean Refreshing Rain, Dawn Platinum Dishwashing Foam Fresh Rapids, Dawn Ultra Gentle Clean Green Tea and Honey, Dawn Ultra Botanicals Mediterranean Lavender, Dawn Ultra Total Clean - Pomegranate Awakening, Dawn Ultra Platinum Stainfighter Lemon Burst, Ultra Dawn Escapes Mediterranean Lavender, Bounty with Dawn, Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray Apple Scent, Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray Fresh Scent, Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray Citrus Scent, Ultra Dawn Antibacterial Hand Soap Apple Blossom, Cascade Advanced Power Dishwasher Powder with Dawn, Dawn Ultra Gentle Clean Pomegranate And Rose Water, Ultra Dawn Platinum Bleach Alternative Morning Mist, Dawn Hand Renewal with Olay Cool Springs, Dawn Hand Renewal with Olay Refreshing Mint, Dawn Ultra Plus Hand Renewal Waterfall Mist, Dawn Professional Multi-Surface Heavy Duty Degreaser Concentrate, Mr. Clean Liquid Muscle Multi-Purpose Cleaner with the Power of Dawn, Dawn Professional Manual Pot and Pan Detergent Lemon Scent - Concentrate, Dawn Wash Away Bacteria Dishwashing Liquid Hand Soap Lemon, Dawn Platinum Bleach Alternative Dishwashing Liquid Fresh Rapids, and Dawn Platinum Bleach Stain Fighter Dishwashing Liquid, Lemon Burst
None of the documents listed any form of ammonia as part of Dawn products' composition or ingredients, which means it is false to assert that the dish cleaners contain the compound that causes a toxic gas when mixed with bleach. Additionally, it's false to claim that Dawn is nefariously putting ammonia in its products while omitting it from ingredient lists.
Supporting our analysis of the Safety Data Sheets, a representative Proctor & Gamble, which owns the Dawn brand, told Snopes via email:
Dawn dish soap is not formulated using ammonia. That does not mean it should ever be combined with other cleaning products. In general, combining two cleaning products can cause harmful reactions, so like all cleaning products, we always recommend using Dawn by itself to get the job done.
Public health officials ask people to heed similar advice in regards to DIY cleaning concoctions. The Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) states on its website: "avoid mixing chemical products" and "never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser".
In sum, since mixing bleach and ammonia can be deadly, it's accurate to state that people should not combine Clorox bleach products with cleaners that contain ammonia; however, it is false to assert that Dawn dish soaps contain ammonia and/or that the company is nefariously leaving the compound off ingredient lists. For those reasons, we rate this claim a "Mixture" of true and untrue information.