The hazards of bleach are well known today. But if you were raised as I was, you may have recently been tempted to use more bleach than ever before. We’ve been living with the COVID-19 disease for more than a year now. We spent the first half of 2020 madly cleaning and sanitizing and disinfecting — scared and desperate to keep our families safe.
So, what could be wrong with the tried-and-true remedy our mothers and grandmothers used? Well, a lot.
I want to remind you why using bleach at home, in general, is not a good idea.
There are good reasons why the (lots and lots of) fine print on a bottle of bleach cautions us to use gloves, masks, goggles, and proper ventilation. The hard truth is that, if not used properly, bleach can be extremely harmful to our health.
It is a common misconception that household bleach kills almost 100% of bacteria, as the labels on the shelf advertise. But not for the reasons you may think. For one – bleach only has a 3-month shelf life.
Bleach “may” disinfect. Nevertheless, countless scientific truths come into play when calculating what it actually takes for bleach to effectively eliminate bacteria.
Let me explain.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, bleach is undoubtedly successful in getting rid of “some” bacteria. However, its potency can be inactivated for a variety of reasons:
#1 – It decomposes quickly under heat and light.
#2 – Bleach will not disinfect if not left long enough (up to 60 minutes in some cases).
#3 – When mixed with some household cleaners, it will not kill bacteria.
#4 – Bleach will not kill germs if the surface is not cleaned first.
#5 – Unopened bleach expires and will degrade 20% after one year.
#6 – Opened bleach expires and will degrade 50% after six months.
Let’s not forget that bleach is poison:
The CDC reported a rise in poison control inquiries since the 2020 pandemic due to improper exposure to disinfectants such as bleach. In fact, more than one-third of bleach users stated they had no idea you couldn’t use bleach to decontaminate fruits and vegetables. Yes, you read that right!
As mentioned before, I do not have a grudge against bleach, but it’s no wonder we are missing the boat on the true hazards of bleach.
At this point, it may feel like you need a degree in chemistry for bleach to work the way you expect! Not true; but it is essential to at least understand the basics. When you do make the choice to use bleach, here’s how to do so safely:
Using bleach without goggles can cause retina damage!
True story: We’ll call her Betty for privacy. Little did Betty know that the small splash of bleach flying into her eye while cleaning the bathtub would cause a chemical burn on her retina. Her red eye, burning, and blurred vision symptoms were not immediate. So, she chalked them up to allergies (and continued to wear the contact lens that kept the chemical trapped inside her eye).
Long story short: Thankfully, Betty did not lose her eyesight, but there were consequences. Not only did the delay in treatment cause Betty retina damage from the chemical burn, but she also ended up with a corneal ulcer. She will never take her vision for granted again!
Breathing in bleach can be dangerous enough by itself. Mixing it with other disinfectants, especially those containing ammonia and other acids, can pose a severe hazard. Without proper ventilation (whether mixing it or using it alone), bleach products WILL trigger dangerous chemical reactions or fumes causing:
Heed my warning: It’s best to stick with only mixing bleach with water ONLY.
The hazards of mixing bleach and ammonia, vinegar, and acid found in commercial cleaners, detergents, and other disinfectants are eye-opening. Mixing it produces a toxic gas called chlorine gas. My friends, chlorine gas can cause grave danger to our health (including death). Even mixing rubbing alcohol with bleach can be as irritating and toxic as chloroform!
Seriously. Don’t mix bleach with other household disinfectants (and cleaners). This includes:
Although bleach is known for sanitizing a range of different surfaces, it is known to do more harm than good on a lot of them. You may not realize it until the damage is done.
Think of it this way. Most of us have experience with the dreaded bleach spot on a favorite piece of clothing. Although bleach chemically removes stains and germs, it also breaks down the chemical bonds of whatever else we put it on. This scientific process is known as oxidation. That said, any substance that bleach touches will be damaged.
Bleach can cause the sealant on natural stone and other porous surfaces to etch or stain. It is not recommended for use on common household materials:
This subject came up in 2020 when people were desperate to find protection from the Coronavirus and COVID-19. If bleach is such a good germ-killer, could it kill a virus? Not if you drink it. But it might kill you.
Here’s one reason there might be some confusion about this: New York City began using chlorine in their 1.2 billion gallon water supply back in 1985. This leads some people to believe that bleach — chlorine — isn’t that bad to swallow. However, New York’s huge water supply requires only a tiny amount of chlorine to kill germs and neutralize bacteria, making its water safe for the public.
Chlorine was first used in the United States as a disinfectant in 1908 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Chlorine use became more common in the following decades, and by 1995 about 64% of all community water systems in the United States used chlorine to disinfect their water. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/water_disinfection.html
Along the same lines, it may seem logical that if it’s okay to drink chlorinated water, it must be okay to decontaminate fruits and vegetables with bleach. It might seem okay to gargle with it, too, to kill viruses inside the body. Do not do this. It will burn your esophagus — and could even cause your death.
On top of all this, studies show that people who drink chlorinated water are more likely to develop cancer than those who do not. So, despite the obvious benefits – less germ- and virus-driven diseases and longer life in general – bleach is a double-edged sword.
An average rectangular pool at 7.5 feet uses 17,000+ gallons of water. This size pool requires a minuscule amount of chlorine to kill off germs, making it safe to swim in. So, do not think for one second that just because it’s safe to swim in a pool with chlorine that it is safe to take a bath in bleach. Bleach at anything but a minuscule concentration will irritate or burn your skin.
Have you ever noticed that using bleach in the laundry causes your whites to turn yellow? This is because you’re using way too much bleach during your wash cycles. Remember: Bleach residue irritates and absorbs into your skin, causing eczema and other skin rashes. To ensure your safety when laundering with bleach:
Ensure proper rinsing by using additional rinse and wash cycles. Otherwise, you’ll cause inflamed skin irritation and clothing stains.
Avoid using too much bleach. Always follow the instructions on the label exactly.
Avoid using Hypochlorite bleach on silk, wool, and spandex. You’ll burn holes in your clothes and cause discoloration.
Here at Park Avenue Cleaning, your health is important to us. So is our own health, by the way!
Decades ago, I used to think bleach was a necessary sanitizer. The hospitals used it to sanitize, so what could go wrong? Fast-forward to today, hospitals now use hydrogen peroxide — not bleach — to disinfect and sanitize. And our society is more green-cleaning than ever before.
During my more than 15-years of managing the best maid service in Howard County, I’ve discovered the many alternatives to bleach — and how to use bleach safely when I must.
We are your premier residential cleaning service in the counties of Howard, Baltimore, and Carroll. We believe that simple is best for most surfaces to avoid the hazards of chemical cleaners. Take cabinets, for example. Using plain dish soap gets the job done and is gentle on your surfaces, lungs, and hands! And we favor Melaleuca’s line of all-natural cleaning products for clients with allergies who are particularly sensitive to chemical cleaners.
For more information on cleaning without bleach, review our article on the subject: Clean All Your Surfaces Like a Pro (without the bleach).
Yes, the hazards of bleach are serious. If you are concerned that you or someone you know has been negatively affected by bleach, contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
Learn more about our services at ParkAvenueCleaning.com