Bleach typically means chlorine bleach, but any chemical combination that removes colour, cleanses or disinfects fabrics and surfaces can be considered bleach. Non-chlorine bleach doesn't contain chlorine, an oxidising agent. Instead, it contains an alternative oxidising agent, such as hydrogen peroxide.
You might elect to use a non-chlorine bleach because it isn't toxic to people, pets or plants like chlorine bleach. Chlorine can cause irritation if you inhale the fumes during use, and it's especially dangerous for curious children. Non-chlorine bleach for clothes won't remove colour like chlorine bleach does. Instead, it brightens colours. Non-chlorine bleach doesn't harm the environment like chlorine bleach does. It breaks down into borax and/or other natural compounds after use.
Non-chlorine bleach can be used to clean and disinfect surfaces and objects. Non-chlorine bleach won't remove colour, so you can use it on coloured clothing, upholstery and carpet. Non-chlorine bleach may take longer to work, however, than chlorine bleach and its effects won't be as strong.
Non-chlorine bleach always has a label indicating what it is. Some brands that make non-chlorine bleach include Clorox, Seventh Generation and Oxyclean. Clorox also makes one of the most popular chlorine bleaches and it might be easy to get mixed up, so read the labels carefully.
Because most people use the term "bleach" to describe an agent that whitens fabrics and surfaces, and kills mould, bacteria and viruses, it's easy to assume that a product labelled "non-chlorine bleach" will have the same effects. Non-chlorine bleach, however, is not as strong of an oxidiser as chlorine bleach and therefore does not remove colour from fabric or kill as many microorganisms. Although still a useful disinfectant, its lower strength sets it apart from chlorinated bleach.
Homemade Non-chlorine Bleach
You can easily make your own non-chlorine bleach solution. For cleaning surfaces and disinfecting, mix 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide with 1 gallon of water. For laundry, simply add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide to the wash. You can buy hydrogen peroxide at almost any drugstore or grocery store.