7 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Bleach (Hypochlorite)

Many a mom, like myself, rely on bleach for household cleaning and disinfecting. What many moms don't know, however, is that bleach is probably not the safest nor the most effective cleanser in our kits. Here are seven things you probably didn't know about bleach and some ideas as to what you can use instead of this highly caustic chemical.

Bleach Has A Shelf Life Of 3-5 Months

Bleach is kinda touchy about temperature. When a company makes bleach the amount of hypochlorite used depends a lot on the season and the weather. Hotter months mean most manufacturers use more hypochlorite. So, if you buy a bottle of bleach and it says it's a 6% solution of hypochlorite, you should keep in mind that that percentage can fluctuate a bit. It takes about 4-8 weeks from the time chlorine bleach is made to when it gets to a store. Then it sits on the shelf for who knows how many months until you take it home. Bottom line? What you pay for is probably not exactly what you're getting.

Bleach Doesn't Kill Mold

Bleach can do many things: kill most bacteria, a few viruses, and take the color out of most any surface. But one thing it can't really do is kill mold.  From http://www.moldforce.com:

"Mold's hyphae (root structures) actually grow into wood and drywall like roots. The hyphae are not killed by bleach because bleach's ion structure prevents chlorine from penetrating into porous materials such as dry wall and wood. It stays on the outside surface, whereas mold has protected enzyme roots growing inside the porous construction materials. When you spray porous surface molds with bleach, the water part of the solution soaks into the wood while the bleach chemical sits atop the surface, gasses off, and thus only partially kills the surface layer of mold while the water penetration of the building materials fosters further mold growth.
Chlorine bleach causes long term breakdown of wood products like studs, sheathing, plywood, OSB, and other building materials over time."

Bleach Is Not Safe To Use Around Pets Or Small Animals

 That being said, many people will say "Wait, the animal shelter/rescue group/vet clinic/etc etc uses bleach to disinfect stuff!" Yes and no. Most pet places in need of a disinfectant will reach for something specifically designed to be used around pets. In extreme cases (parvo or distemper outbreaks) a bleach water solution may be used, then rinsed thoroughly, and then allowed to air out to prevent any damage to upper respiratory systems. From www.dogster.com:

"Used in disinfectants, toilet bowl cleaners and automatic dish detergent to name a few, chlorine is also used to bleach coffee filters. It can cause everything from dizziness to vomiting to laryngeal edema. Avoid this ingredient and be careful about letting your pet swim in the pool."

Bleach Is Not Safe To Use Around People With Asthma Or Chronic Allergies

Bleach really irritates the mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, eyes, and lungs. People who are already dealing with sensitive and inflamed airways shouldn't be around bleach. From Dr. Anna Feldweg via http://www.everydayhealth.com:

"Bleach and other chlorine-based cleaning supplies are known to be irritating to the nose, eyes, and lungs. People differ in their sensitivity to these things; but those with underlying nasal allergies, sinus problems, or asthma are more susceptible because the tissues in their noses, eyes, and lungs are already inflamed — and the bleach exposure just makes the condition worse."

Bleach Can Actually Make Your Whites Yellow

That's right, folks. For your whitest-whites, bleach is probably not your best bet. Over time, bleach sometimes can wear out your clothes and, if you use too much, it can turn them yellow. Some people prefer oxygen bleach (OxiClean) as an alternative to chlorine bleach. Baking soda also acts as a whitening agent, and adding a cup to your whites will keep them white over time.

Bleach Is Highly Toxic

Well, there's a "duh" statement, right? But seriously: chlorine bleach reacts with other minerals and elements to form a host of dangerous toxins. These toxins, including dioxins, furams and PCDDs are often referred to as "persistent organic pollutants" because they linger in the water or soil and take many years to disappear. Greenpeace believes dioxin to be one of the most dangerous chemicals known to science, and warns that it can contribute to cancer, endocrine disorders and other serious health effects. Dangerous chlorine-based compounds such as dioxins have the ability to mimic human hormones and can cause low sperm count, testicular cancer and breast cancer.

Bleach Is Highly Reactive

I'm just going to let www.infobarrel.com take it on this one: 

"Chlorine bleach is a product that causes some issues on its own, but it has some really dangerous potential reactions with other chemicals and materials.

  • Gas- Chlorine easily has chemical reactions with ammonia and urine (which is primarily ammonia). This causes a gas which can cause harm to the person breathing it in and can even cause death. Mixing of chlorine bleach often happens on purpose with cleaners, on accidents with left over cleaners, and even on accident when bleaching the toilet (where urine may be lurking). Large amounts of the gas is easily visible, but small doses can go unnoticed and cause a great deal of harm, especially were there is poor ventilation.
  • Mustard Gas- Mustard gas is the chemical that was used in the trenches during World War I. It worked well because it was lethal and had some fairly quick reacting side effects. This gas is easy to create. All you need to do is mix bleach and common household dish detergent (soap). A lot of people do it for "strong" cleaners and for disinfecting dishes!
  • Chloroform- Bleach also mixes with organic matter (of several different types) to produce chloroform. Chloroform is a toxin and a known carcinogen. Mixing bleach with organics is easy to do while cleaning up blood, mud, pet accidents, and the bathroom. It is also easy to do while washing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, and the floors. However, the danger of this toxin doesn't stop there. Chlorine bleach is released into the environment where it readily mixes with a whole world of organic products producing chloroform which then builds up in the environment."

 So, what the hell do I use instead?!

Well, you have a myriad of choices, my friend!
  • Vinegar – be it white, malt or rosemary-infused – is about 5% acetic acid. It's the acid that kills bacteria and viruses, most probably by denaturing (chemically changing) the proteins and fats that make-up these nasties. Also a great degreaser.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide -Hydrogen peroxide is active against a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and spores, according to the CDC.
  • Rubbing Alcohol (from the CDC): "Ethyl alcohol, at concentrations of 60%–80%, is a potent virucidal agent inactivating all of the lipophilic viruses (e.g., herpes, vaccinia, and influenza virus) and many hydrophilic viruses (e.g., adenovirus, enterovirus, rhinovirus, and rotaviruses). Studies also have demonstrated the ability of ethyl and isopropyl alcohol to inactivate the hepatitis B virus(HBV) and the herpes virus, and ethyl alcohol to inactivate human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), rotavirus, echovirus, and astrovirus. In tests of the effect of ethyl alcohol against M. tuberculosis, 95% ethanol killed the tubercle bacilli in sputum or water suspension within 15 seconds."

    This is all great, but what's with the disinfection-tirade?

    The Bug pooped in the tub tonight. While he was rather horrified and appalled, The Husband and I were just a little put out and giggling at his reaction. My first thought was "Ugh! BLEACH EVERYTHING!" And then I stopped and realized two things:
    1. I don't have any bleach
    2. I don't have any bleach because I don't use bleach because I find other products work better and are safer.
    So, what did I use to clean up the poo? Rubbing Alcohol followed by a scalding-hot rinse. The tub was clean, sanitized, and no one was coughing, gagging, or tearing up from the fumes. Happy times were had by all!