Bleach has been around since the 1930s. While it has a lot of household uses, like most people you probably tend to use it most for cleaning your laundry. After laundry you use it for other cleaning needs around our home.
There are two different kinds of household bleach, chlorine bleach and peroxide bleach. I’m sure you’re familiar with with chlorine bleach. You’ve probably used it, a lot. It helps keep whites looking white. And it disinfects fabrics and household surfaces.
How does Bleach really work?
Chlorine bleach works by breaking down the stains on fabrics into smaller molecules that can then be washed away. It works best on white fabrics though because it can remove the color from dyed fabrics. And although chlorine bleach can disinfect and clean, it’s important to know that it can also break down the fibers of the fabric.
This means you only want to use it in a diluted form (in other words, don’t soak your undies in a straight bleach solution).
If you’re looking for a stain removing bleach type product for colored fabrics, there is an alternative formula. Similar to, but not as strong as, chlorine bleach, peroxide bleach can clean the stains from colorful fabrics without removing the dye.
It doesn’t have any disinfectant properties, so it’s only good for cleaning fabric.
How is bleach made?
Household bleach is made by combining two harmful chemicals, chlorine and caustic soda (a form of lye), with water. An electric current is run through the liquid and the reaction creates sodium hypochlorite — bleach. This is filtered to remove any impurities and then bottled for sale.
The fact that the label on the bleach bottle carries some pretty serious warnings should be your first clue.
Bleach label warnings
“PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS: hazards to humans and domestic animals.
DANGER: corrosive. Causes irreversible eye damage and skin burns. Harmful if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through skin. do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. Wear safety glasses and rubber gloves when handling this product. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco, or using the toilet.
Avoid breathing vapors and use in a well-ventilated area. Remove and wash contaminated clothing before reuse.
ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS: This product is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.
PHYSICAL AND CHEMICAL HAZARDS: STRONG OXIDIZING AGENT: Mix only with water according to the label directions. Mixing this product with chemicals (e.g. ammonia, aids, detergents, etc.*) or organic matter (e.g. urine, feces, etc.) may release chlorine gas and other hazardous gasses irritation to eyes, lungs, and mucous membranes. Prolonged contact with metal may cause pitting or discoloration.”
*Note: You should not mix bleach with hydrogen peroxide. This can cause a chemical reaction that can lead to injury. Heating bleach is not recommended either. This can create chlorates which may cause an explosion or fire.
Other warnings on the label
Eating, drinking, chewing gum, using the toilet. Breathing?!? That’s quite a laundry list if you’ll pardon the pun. And what’s with the organic matter warning? How are you supposed to clean diapers anyway if you can’t use bleach? (Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. There’s a great solution at the end of this article).
While it’s good that there are precautions on the label let’s be honest when was the last time you read all that teeny-tiny print? Want to check and make sure it’s there? Go ahead, grab your magnifying glass, and head to the laundry room, I’ll wait.
Great, you’re back.
Did you happen to notice that in addition to the warnings listed above, there’s also a first aid statement with the direct number for the Poison Control Center? (1-866-366-5048 in case you ever need it)
Plus there are instructions telling you what to do in a number of health impacting situations. This includes the recommendation to call an ambulance. It makes you stop and think about what this stuff is really doing if they need that kind of information on the label.
Bleach and breathing
Bleach is not just for laundry though. Lots of folks use it to sanitize bathrooms, kitchen counters, etc. And while you know that breathing bleach is not good for you it turns out you may be inhaling without realizing it.
According to a study published in Atmospheric Environment, chlorine bleach products used in the home can create halogenated volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Using these bleach-enhanced cleaning products in the home increases the level of VOCs (which, by the way, is higher in the fragranced variety than in plain bleach). Because of added surfactants, these VOCs are actually highest in the bleach products created for the bathroom.
The study indicated that there is an increased risk for cancer due to the use of these types of products. In fact it concluded that consumers should avoid the use of household cleaners that have bleach in them.
Another study, this one from New Zealand, looked at those who work in the cleaning industry in a number of countries around the work. Researchers examined the link between those working in the cleaning profession and the risk of asthma. It found an increased risk of asthma among professional cleaners and hypothesized that both new-onset asthma and increased pre-existing asthma came from the exposure to cleaning products including bleach.
While those working in the cleaning industry are going to potentially have a higher exposure than the average household consumer, the consumers are still breathing all of those bleach-derived compounds. And studies do show an increased risk and link for adult onset asthma not related to allergies due to bleach. That’s pretty scary stuff.
But how do I clean without bleach?
If you’re concerned about the impact of bleach on your health and your environment you’ll be glad to know there is a non-toxic alternative. It’s called Oxyboost. Eco-friendly, non-toxic, and hypoallergenic, it’s a great way to whiten whites without the downside of bleach.
Made with three simple ingredients, Oxyboost is 100% chlorine bleach free. And it’s great both in the wash and for pre-soaking those heavy stains. And you don’t need a separate formula for whites versus colors. One simple product does it all.
So what’s it made of? Sodium Percarbonate, Sodium Carbonate, and Lots of Love! The first two ingredients are essentially salt and hydrogen peroxide. The love? Well, that comes straight from our heart to your home.
Like this article? Be sure to check out the dirty little secret about your clean laundry.
Brooks, C. et al. Respiratory health in professional cleaners: Symptoms, lung function, and risk factors. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. Vol. 50, Issue 5, May 2020, Pages 567-576.
Clorox Company, The. Safety Data Sheet. February 13, 2019. https://www.thecloroxcompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Clorox%C2%AE-Regular-Bleach1-Bilingual.pdf.
Matulonga, B., et al. Women using bleach for home cleaning are at increased risk of non-allergic asthma. Respiratory Medicine. Volume 117, August 2016, Pages 264-271
Odabasi, M, et al. Halogenated volatile organic compounds in chlorine-bleach-containing household products and implications for their use. Atmospheric Environment. Volume 92, August 2014, Pages 376-383
NY State Department of Health. The Facts About Chlorine: technical information.