Clean Death

A man was going to bleach his socks because they had gotten muddy the day before. As he was pouring the bleach into the washing machine, he spilled some on the floor. He got some cleaning fluid and mopped it up with a rag. Minutes later he was dead. What killed him?

When the ammonia (NH3), found in cleaning fluids, is mixed with bleach (a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite, NaOCl), a deadly gas (monochloramine, NH2Cl) is produced that can kill a person instantly. The resulting chemical reactions are the following:

  1. Bleach decomposes, forming hydrochloric acid and subsequently chlorine gas:
    NaOCl → NaOH + HOCl
    HOCl → HCl + O
    NaOCl + 2HClCl2 + NaCl + H2O
  2. The chlorine gas reacts with the sodium hypochlorite in the bleach, releasing chloramine as a vapor:
    2NH3 + Cl2 → 2NH2Cl
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