MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: Results of combining neutral disinfectant and bleach.

Date: Sat Mar 27 05:14:18 1999
Posted By: Jeremy Starr, Grad student, Organic Chemistry, ETHZ
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 922077428.Ch

Hello Robert,

The first two compounds you mention have the general structure:

       |    +    _
   [ R-N-R ]   X

Compounds of this general structure (like tetrabutyl ammonium halides) are 
used in organic chemistry as organic soluble halide sources or as phase 
transfer catalysts for biphasic reactions where one reactant is in the 
aqueous phase and another is in the organic phase. I suspect the 
particular compounds you cite are optimized for attacking a microbe's cell 
membrane which can be viewed as a very thin biphasic system, hence their 
disinfectant properties.

Bleach (also a pretty good disinfectant) is a strong oxidizer that can 
attack alcohols, amines, multiple bonds, as well as sulfides, phosphines, 
some metals, and many other electron rich species. However, it does not 
oxidize chloride ion and tetraalkylammonium species are fairly inert to 
oxidation as well. 

Bleach can also initiate radical processes. In a system like what you are 
talking about it would be impossible to predict the chemical outcome of 
such a process because most of the C-H bonds in each molecule would be 
roughly equally susceptible to attack and the radical intermediate formed 
could decompose by a number of possible pathways. If such a radical 
process occured it would likely lead to uncharacterizable mixtures and/or 
polymers. And, as temperature was increased any such process would be 

Finally, a third process must be considered. Bleach is formed by the 
reaction of sodium hydroxide with chlorine gas. This is a reversible 
reaction but under basic or neutral conditions the equilibrium lies toward 
NaOCl. However, under acidic conditions the equilibrium shifts back toward 
the chlorine gas/NaOH direction releasing deadly chlorine gas from the 

           2NaOH + Cl-Cl <===> NaCl + HOCl + H2O

Based on this equilibrium it can be predicted that increasing the chloride 
ion concentration would drive the reaction toward chlorine gas as well. 
Furthermore, at elevated temperature the chlorine gas would have less 
solubility in the water and would have greater tendency to leave solution 
which would also drive the equilibrium toward chlorine gas. I think this 
is the most likely outcome of the reaction you propose in your question.

Please be advised that chlorine gas is noxious and deadly!! Also, it is 
not a good idea to mix any household cleaners, particularly ones 
containing bleach.

I hope this information was helpful. Thanks for the question.

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