Many household cleaners contain chlorine bleach because of the whitening power bleach possesses, but there are many hazardous and inconvenient factors involved in bleach-based cleaners that should be considered. Bleach is a disinfectant with germ-killing properties, but the potential toxicity of the product leads many consumers to find alternative household cleaners. The effects of products containing bleach are both negative and positive.
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Chlorine bleach contains sodium hypochlorite. Sodium hypochlorite is a chemical compound that takes the form of powder, pellets and liquids. The odour of chlorine bleach is distinctive and often discernible in pool cleaners, household cleaners, laundry and dish detergents and disinfectants. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease list sodium hypochlorite and bleach as a toxic substance. Bleach is not flammable by itself but when mixed with other materials, such as ammonia, can have explosive results. Bleach is poisonous and corrosive when ingested and corrosive to skin and soft body tissues.
Potential Toxic Fumes or Gases
When bleach and household cleaners containing bleach are mixed with ammonia-based products, ammonia, pool chemicals, oven and drain cleaners, and acidic-based products such as vinegar, toxic fumes and gases are produced. When an acid-based product, such as certain rust removing products or vinegar variations, mix with bleach, it will form chlorine gas. Chlorine gas at least is an irritant and at worst is fatal.
When mixed with ammonia, bleach causes chloramine gas. Ammonia isn't just found in cleaning products, it can be naturally occurring in urine, such as pet or baby urine. Never mix bleach with anything other than water.
Discolouration and Corrosive Properties
The factor that bleach is primarily used for -- making things white and bright again -- is also one of the biggest downfalls of using bleach and household cleaning products containing bleach. Bleach can "bleach out" coloured fabrics, upholstery, carpet and even other types of flooring. Bleach can eat through finishes on wood floors, linoleum and certain cabinet finishes.
Household cleaners with bleach possess all of the corrosive properties of straight bleach. If cleaners with bleach whiten greying fabric and dingy surfaces, just think what those substances do to your skin. Bleach-based cleaners can burn flesh and irritate eyes and mucous passages.
Bleach-based cleaning products, as well as bleach, are disinfectants. Coastwide Laboratories says that household bleach is 94.75 per cent water, and only 5.25 per cent sodium hypochlorite. Bleach by itself is not a cleaner; it doesn't remove dirt. Bleach is a germ-killing solution. However, many bleach-based household cleaners incorporate cleaners so the consumer gets the power of bleach combined with an effective cleanser. Household cleaners are labelled to indicate whether they are cleaners, disinfectants or both. Bleach-based cleaners kill viruses, such as influenza A and B, bacteria and fungi, such as athlete's foot.
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- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; Calcium Hypochlorite/Sodium Hypochlorite; March 2011
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; Medical Management Guidelines for Calcium Hypochlorite; March 2011
- Website of the State of Maine: U.S. Department of Health Bleach Fact Sheet
- The Official Web Site of the State of New Jersey: Common Cleaning Products May Be Dangerous When Mixed
- Green Home Living Magazine; Safer Cleaning Products; Phillip Dickey; 2010
- Coastwide Laboratories; Cleaning and Disinfecting the Indoor Environment: Chlorine Bleach, Quats and Phenolics; Roger McFadden