As a kid, it was often fun to pretend to be a little witch brewing up potions, mixing lotions and soaps my mom no longer cared about in my bathroom sink. A popular TikTok trend seems to be playing on the same theme, with grown adults brewing up colorful concoctions in whatever basin they have available. The thing is, instead of combining leftover body washes and conditioners, they’re blending together massive amounts of cleaning products and potentially formulating toxic gasses and corrosive agents in the process.
On “Product Overload” and “ASMR Cleaning” TikTok, oft-anonymous creators film themselves dumping entire cartons of Ajax and Comet cleaners into their toilet bowls, pouring several bottles of Fabuloso, Lysol, dish soap and an array of other cleaning products on top. The result is a thick, messy paste that they then swirl around the bowl, typically using smiley-faced Scrub Daddy sponges to do so.
Sometimes, the videos follow a specific color scheme, where creators will only use products of one color family; other times, it seems the goal is simply to use as many products as possible. But in all cases, the creators are mixing various cleaners in extreme doses for the sake of ASMR (some people seem to find watching things be cleaned relaxing or enjoy the sound of scrubbing) or more general entertainment. Many of the top videos have millions of favorites and views apiece, with viewers often requesting certain color combinations or future cleaning “themes.” Because these videos never show the creators’ faces, it’s unclear whether they’re wearing a mask or other safety gear. Some don disposable or rubber gloves, but others go barehanded.
Either way, what they’re doing is both completely wasteful and adds environmentally harmful chemicals to the water supply. Oh, and it could easily kill them.
“I’ve seen this trend, and I, as well as other cleaning professionals I’ve talked to, find it very disturbing,” says Sara San Angelo, a professional cleaner who runs the cleaning site Confessions of a Cleaning Lady. “A lot of people know that mixing bleach and ammonia creates toxic fumes, but even mixing bleach with vinegar creates chlorine gas that can cause permanent lung damage and even death.”
There currently aren’t any reports of TikTok-related injuries or deaths from cleaning supplies, but they have occurred elsewhere. In 2019, for example, a restaurant manager died after combining products containing acids and bleach while cleaning the kitchen floor. And in 2020, a woman died from an asthma attack triggered by fumes produced from mixing bleach and other cleaning supplies while cleaning her own bathroom.
There are a handful of common household cleaner combinations that always need to be avoided — bleach and ammonia, bleach and vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar and bleach and rubbing alcohol chief among them. Even if they’re not producing enough gas to knock you unconscious or kill you, they can still burn your eyes, throat and lungs and damage both your skin and the items you’re cleaning.
Mixing products that seem similar can be dangerous, too. For example, many toilet bowl cleaners may contain a form of bleach but shouldn’t be mixed with pure bleach because the other acids and alcohols of the product can produce gasses from it. Not to mention, products that share a similar purpose can have entirely different formulations. “Mixing different drain cleaners can cause an explosion,” San Angelo warns.
As for exactly which noxious chemicals are being produced in these TikToks, there appear to be several instances of people mixing both toilet cleaners and bleach and Lysol and bleach. But any of the combinations shown has a potential to be dangerous. “It’s hard to say exactly what mixtures in those specific videos are unsafe as I’d need to see the ingredients lists of all of those products,” says Kevin Geick, a manager at biohazard and trauma cleanup company BioRecovery. “One thing that certainly jumps out after the initial shock of ‘Why are they doing this?’ is that several of these products appear to be bleach-based, which generally never needs to be mixed with other products.”
In addition to potentially creating chlorine gas, Geick says it’s also just pointless, at least from a cleaning standpoint — a single bleach-based product will do a perfectly fine job cleaning and disinfecting on its own.
Beyond the health and safety of the people creating these videos, what’s also concerning about them is that they might inspire others to create similar videos of their own. TikTok’s younger audience in particular may be unaware of the dangers of mixing common household cleaners, viewing the concoctions as a seemingly fun and easy way to amass a following. “The small rooms these people are mixing the chemicals in can fill up very quickly with fumes and before you know it, you are overwhelmed with toxic gases,” says San Angelo.
So while, like tween me, you might also enjoy pretending to be a caricature of a witch boiling up a Halloween potion in your cauldron, it’s probably best to avoid making chloroform in the process.