What is bleach and how do I clean with it safely?
Bleach is a powerful cleaner and disinfectant with a long history of safe use. Here are some important health and safety tips to ensure it does its job safely and well.
Common household bleach is usually based on a chemical solution called sodium hypochlorite, which has been around since the 18th century thanks largely to the work of scientists in Sweden and France. It is highly effective in killing off infectious bacteria and viruses, but you need to use it properly.
Bleach health and safety tips
Read and follow the instructions
The regulations governing use of cleaning products in Europe are among the most stringent in the world. They require manufacturers to give clear instructions on how to use the products. Following these will help you use the product safely and effectively.
Use the recommended amount of product
Using too much of a bleach or bleach-based product can damage the surface or fabric you are trying to clean, while using too little may be ineffective. Check the label, and follow the instructions.
Keep out of the reach of children
Like any cleaning product, store it safely away from anyone who should not get access to it, especially children. Drinking or touching bleach can cause injury, and the fumes can also be harmful.
Use only on appropriate surfaces
Check the instructions to see what surfaces should and should not be cleaned with the bleach product. If in doubt, do a test in a small, inconspicuous area first. Bleach cleaning should be highly effective in the right circumstances.
Keep it away from your carpet!
Spilling bleach on your carpet, or getting it on other fabrics, can leave unsightly marks which might be impossible to remove. Mix and use bleach in an area which does not have carpets, and it's probably best to not wear your favourite t-shirt and jeans while doing so.
Never mix hypochlorite bleach with other cleaning products
This is particularly important for acid-based products like limescale removers and even vinegar, as well as products which contain ammonia. The reaction between these products can release toxic fumes.
So, what's in bleach?
There are two main types of bleach used in the UK: sodium hypochlorite and hydrogen peroxide
Bleach is usually based on sodium hypochlorite, which is baed on chlorine, and most of the bleach on the UK market also contains substances called surfactants. These enhance cleaning performance, and may also thicken the bleach to resist flushing, which makes it effective for longer when used in toilets. There are also various surface cleaning products and mould and mildew removers which incorporate bleach.
Sodium hypochlorite (common household bleach) is highly effective in several ways:
- It effectively removes a wide range of stains at low temperatures
- It removes unpleasant odours
- It provides excellent germ killing performance against all kinds of germs: bacteria, viruses and moulds
Another type of bleach is hydrogen peroxide, which can be used as a bleaching agent in laundry products. Labels will usually say which type of bleach a product contains and how much.
How should bleach be used in the household?
Bleach can be very effective at cleaning and disinfecting household surfaces, toilets and drains, floor and kitchen surfaces. It can be used either neat or diluted, and is excellent for removing tough stains from white textiles and other materials.
UKCPI advocates a targeted approach to home hygiene and you can read more about this here.
The key is to use bleach safely, according to the manufacturer’s instructions on the label.
Concerns over bleach use and childhood infections
A 2015 study in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine linked the use of bleach in the home to higher childhood infection rates. However, this study provides no evidence that household bleach use is leading to infections in children.
The American Cleaning Institute notes: "The associations described were based on observational surveys of heads of households, and as the researchers themselves admit, ‘no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause-and-effect’."
More information can be found in the American Cleaning Institute’s response to the study on household use of bleach.