Medically 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.
If bleach is part of your regular cleaning routine, you might want to consider swapping it for safer alternatives that work just as well.
What Is Bleach Used For?
Depending on the use, bleach is often diluted with water in various concentrations to make it less toxic to eyes and skin. Diluted bleach is also more effective at killing germs than 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
What Is Bleach?
Bleach is not a single substance. It’s a name that refers to a large group of compounds that are used in a variety of ways. There are two kinds of bleach: chlorine-based 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 (much like how hypochlorous acid in our own bodies’ immune cells target unwanted invaders like viruses).
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 is not 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.
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Why Is Bleach Harmful?
Bleach has been a staple in many household cupboards for generations. The dangers of bleach for humans and pets, however, might make you think twice before using it in your home. This is particularly true if you have young kids in your home, due to the risks of accidental poisoning.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.”
“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
Indirect Reactions to Bleach
An indirect reaction occurs when bleach is intentionally or unintentionally mixed with other chemicals (like ammonia), creating more toxic chemicals. The effect on humans and pets depends on the chemicals involved.
Bleach Is More Toxic When Combined with Other ChemicalsBleach is highly-reactive when combined with other chemicals. When mixed with ingredients in many common household cleaners, the results can be serious and even fatal. If you aren’t sure which ingredients you’re using to clean, 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. Exposure to toxic chlorine gas 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. 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
Never mix alcohol and chlorine bleach. When sodium hypochlorite is mixed with rubbing alcohol or ethanol (a solvent found in gasoline and alcoholic beverages), it forms 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. Some people experience a sudden, fatal cardiac arrhythmia when exposed to chloroform. If you suspect chloroform exposure, leave the contaminated area immediately and seek medical attention.
Hydrochloric acid is highly toxic to humans and exposure can cause a host of serious health problems, depending on the type of exposure (e.g. skin contact, inhalation, ingestion). Some of the most concerning side effects include damage to mucous membranes, severe chemical burns, and pulmonary edema.
Bleach Is Toxic to PetsBleach exposure can be toxic to pets. Since they’re curious by nature, animals often get into things they shouldn’t. 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 are certainly irritating. Concentrated bleach – especially professional forms – is more dangerous and can cause painful lesions on the skin. Bleach can also irritate an animal’s stomach and esophagus, where lesions may form. These can take weeks or months to heal.
Hydrogen peroxide in oxygen-based bleach products can induce vomiting in small amounts and can cause more serious internal damage in larger amounts.
Bleach Affects the Human Microbiome
Another way bleach might impact our health and wellness involves the human microbiome. This is the name for all of 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.
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.
Researchers are exploring the concept that compromised microbiomes may lead to a host of conditions including allergies, celiac disease, inflammatory diseases, and obesity.
Is Bleach Necessary Sometimes?
Bleach does have a place in your home, but there are rare instances when it can be used such as:
- After leaving white towels in the wash for a week (that are moldy and mildewy)
- Pool systems
- Mold remediation
- Disinfectant (if you’ve run out of your usual one)
You Don’t Really Need Bleach for a Cleaner Home
With all of the risks of using bleach, it makes sense to consider safer, non-toxic cleaning products. And that’s exactly why we’ve created the 2-in-1 Puracy Disinfecting Surface Cleaner.
Not only does our hydrogen peroxide disinfectant clean visible grime and stickiness, but within 10 minutes of dwell time, 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)
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.