Written by Stacey Kelleher.
Reviewed by Board-Certified Pediatrician Dr. Ryan Blackman DO, FAAP.
From bathrooms to burp cloths, bleach is a cleaning and disinfecting “heavy-hitter” often used to neutralize life’s toughest messes. But in many cases, the dangers of using bleach may actually outweigh the benefits, especially if you have small children and pets at home.
If bleach is part of your regular cleaning routine, you might want to consider swapping it for safer alternatives that are just as effective.
What Is Bleach Used For?
Depending on the use, bleach is often diluted with water in various concentrations to make it less hazardous. Contrary to popular belief, diluted bleach is also more effective at killing germs than using pure bleach straight from the bottle.
Bleach is primarily used to:
- Clean and disinfect surfaces
- Control and kill algae, bacteria, mold, mildew, and viruses
- Lighten and/or whiten fabrics and surfaces
Check out our article on natural tips on whitening fabrics without bleach.
What Is Bleach?
Bleach isn’t a single substance but a large group of compounds that are used in a variety of ways. There are, however, two kinds of bleach: chlorine bleach and non-chlorine bleach.
The active ingredient in chlorine bleach, sodium hypochlorite, is found in many household disinfectants. It works by breaking down the chemical bonds that create pigment or color, making them non-reactive to visible light. By chemically altering the molecules in stains, they no longer reflect light the same way. This is how bleach makes white fabrics appear lighter and brighter.
Bleach also has antimicrobial properties. Hypochlorous acid in chlorine bleach disrupts bacteria proteins until they become ineffective, similar to how hypochlorous acid in our own bodies’ immune cells target viruses.
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Non-chlorine based bleach (also referred to as oxygen bleach) works in a similar way. When the peroxide in oxygen bleach breaks down after water exposure, it releases free radicals that dismantle (or oxidize) other molecules so they become colorless.
Oxygen bleach isn’t as powerful as chlorine bleach for removing stains but it is gentler on fabrics. The hydrogen peroxide within oxygen bleach also kills viruses, mold and bacteria.
Is Bleach Harmful?
Bleach has been a staple in many household cupboards for generations. But bleach toxicity does carry some risk – especially if you have young children and pets in your home.
Board-certified pediatrician Dr. Ryan Blackman states, “In a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, over a 16-year period, more than 250,000 children under 5 were rushed to the ER for household cleaner exposure.”
Dr. Blackman continues: “The most common exposure was bleach, either through ingestion or spray bottle accidents. Children under 3 were found to be particularly at risk. Keeping bleach and other dangerous chemicals out of your household – and out of reach of children – is smart planning for parents with young children.”
Direct Reactions to Bleach
Exposure to bleach can happen through breathing, ingestion, or skin contact. Upon direct contact, bleach reacts with biological tissues, causing irritation and cell breakdown. This is especially true for more sensitive tissue in the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin.
Depending on how you were exposed, you might experience some of the following symptoms:
- Red, tearing, or irritated eyes
- Blurry vision
- Throat irritation
- Skin irritation
- Coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
Bleach Can Be More Harmful When Combined with Other Chemicals
Indirect reactions occur when bleach is intentionally or unintentionally mixed with other chemicals (like ammonia), which can create more toxic chemicals. The effect on humans and pets depends on the chemicals involved.
Bleach is highly-reactive and – if combined with other chemicals found in many household cleaners – the results can be extremely serious. If you’re unsure of the ingredients in your cleaning products, inadvertently mixing them can be a dangerous mistake.
Bleach and Ammonia
When the sodium hypochlorite in chlorine bleach is mixed with ammonia, it produces toxic chlorine gas, which can lead to:
- Coughing and shortness of breath
- Chest pain and wheezing
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
Ammonia is commonly found in glass cleaners, paints, as well as human and animal urine. Therefore, avoid using bleach to clean litter boxes and diaper pails.
Bleach and Acids
Many common household cleaning products contain acids, including glass cleaners, dishwasher detergents, drain cleaners, and toilet cleaners. Mixing these products with bleach can release chlorine gas which can cause:
- Breathing problems
- Chest pain
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
Bleach and Alcohol
By mixing alcohol and chlorine bleach, you risk creating chloroform and hydrochloric acid:
Chloroform irritates the eyes and skin and can cause serious damage to the nervous system and bodily organs. At certain levels, it acts as a sedative, causing a person to pass out. Sudden, fatal cardiac arrhythmia has also been linked to chloroform exposure. If you suspect chloroform exposure, immediately leave the contaminated area and seek medical attention.
Hydrochloric acid is highly toxic and exposure can cause a host of serious health problems, depending on the type of exposure (e.g. skin contact, inhalation, ingestion). The most concerning side effects include damage to mucous membranes, severe chemical burns, and pulmonary edema.
Is Cleaning with Bleach Safe for Pets?
Bleach exposure can be toxic to pets. If you’re cleaning the floor with a bleach solution and leave the room for a moment, your pet may lick the wet floor or even take a drink from the bucket. Just because the floor has dried doesn’t mean that licking bleach residue is safe either.
While small quantities of diluted bleach aren’t usually fatal for pets, they can certainly be irritating. Concentrated bleach – especially professional forms – is more dangerous and can cause painful lesions on the skin, stomach, and esophagus. These can take weeks or months to heal.
Bleach and the Human Microbiome
A diverse microbiome helps to support our immune system and produce essential vitamins our body uses to function well. Poor diets, antibiotics, and the overuse of disinfectants are a few reasons that we have less contact with these important microbes.
Bleach might impact the human microbiome, or the “good” microorganisms which live in (and on) our bodies in perfect harmony. These bacteria, fungi, and viruses actually help us stay healthy in a variety of ways.
Researchers are exploring the concept of compromised microbiomes leading to health conditions including allergies, celiac disease, inflammatory diseases, and obesity.
When Should I Use Bleach?
Bleach does have a place in your home, but there are rare instances when it can be used on:
- White towels if they’ve become moldy and mildewy
- Pool systems
- Mold remediation
- Disinfectant (if you’ve run out of your usual one)
You Don’t Need Bleach for a Cleaner Home
With all of the possible risks of using bleach, it makes sense to consider using safer cleaning products. And that’s exactly why we’ve created the 2-in-1 Puracy Disinfecting Surface Cleaner.
Our hydrogen peroxide disinfectant cleans visible grime and stickiness without leaving residue behind. When used correctly, it also eradicates more than 99.99% of bacteria and viruses like:
- Rhinovirus (ie. common cold)
- Influenza (e.g. influenza A, H1N1)
- Pseudomonas (pseudomonas aeruginosa)
- E. coli (escherichia coli)
- Staph (staphylococcus aureus)
- Listeria (listeria monocytogenes)
- Trichophyton (trichophyton mentagrophytes)
Is Puracy Disinfecting Cleaner Safe?
So how does Puracy Disinfecting Surface Cleaner’s safety record stack up against bleach?
- Skin: This product isn’t a known skin irritant, but certain individuals may experience irritation or itching. Simply rinse with lukewarm water for five minutes (or until the product is flushed away).
- Eyes: If this cleaner gets sprayed directly into the eyes, it may cause stinging, itching, or irritation. Remove contacts (if present) and apply flowing, lukewarm water for 15 minutes while holding eyelids open.
- Ingestion: Health injuries are not expected if this product is ingested. Do not induce vomiting and ensure that the person drinks large amounts of water. If vomiting occurs, contact poison control or seek medical attention.
- Inhalation: Though no health symptoms are expected from inhalation, seek medical attention if you are concerned or feel unwell.
Pro tip: No matter what types of cleaning products you use, it’s always best to keep them out of the reach of children and pets.
Other Benefits of Puracy Disinfecting Surface Cleaner
Our hydrogen peroxide-based cleaner a great bleach replacement, and it does things that bleach simply can’t:
Safe for Greywater and Septic Systems
Our hydrogen peroxide disinfectant is biodegradable and designed to be used in homes with greywater and septic systems.
Can Be Used as a Food Wash
Due to its gentle, biodegradable formula, our product has been approved for use as a food wash in organic food kitchens. Spray fruits and vegetables, let the product sit for a minute, and your food is safe to eat (rinsing is optional).
Can Be Combined with Puracy Cleaners
We’ve designed our Disinfecting Surface Cleaner to be an effective cleaner and disinfectant, so you won’t have to worry about mixing two conflicting cleaning formulas. You can also use the entire range of Puracy cleaning products without the risk of adverse reactions (like toxic gases).
Choose Puracy Products for a Cleaner Home
At Puracy, we’re always looking for new ways to make life easier and safer. With all of our home, personal care, baby, and pet products, you’ll never have to worry about exposing your loved ones to toxic chemicals. We’re so confident that you’ll love our products, we offer a 100% Pure Love Guarantee.