Avoid These 6 Bleach Mistakes
Misusing bleach can have more serious consequences than ruining your favorite jeans
It’s likely a staple among your cleaning supplies for its disinfecting power and ability to whiten even the dirtiest tube socks. Childcare centers rely on it as an inexpensive way to sanitize tables and toys each night to prevent germs from spreading among grabby kids. But used the wrong way, chlorine bleach can burn your skin, irritate your eyes and even make you sick.
Here are six mistakes you may be making when using household bleach.
Related: Tips for Greener Housekeeping
Mistake 1: Using bleach to clean instead of disinfect. Cleaning and disinfecting aren’t the same. Cleaning means to get rid of debris. Disinfecting means killing 100 percent of germs. Bleach should be used to disinfect, not to clean. Why? Because cleaning must be done before sanitizing, as it removes oils and particles that can prevent the disinfectant from working.
Mistake 2: Adding too much bleach to disinfecting solutions. Bleach is a highly concentrated chemical irritant that can, well, irritate your lungs, eyes and skin. If you’re cleaning countertops, toys and other surfaces that will make contact with food or your mouth, use only 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, advises the Department of Health Services in Berkeley, California. For cleaning bathroom fixtures or other nonporous surfaces, use ¼ cup of bleach per gallon of water. Since bleach degrades fairly quickly, make a fresh solution each day.
Mistake 3: Over-bleaching your laundry. Keeping your whites bright white may require less bleach than you think. Use only ½ cup bleach for a large load, according to Clorox. If you have an extra-large washing machine and you’re filling it up, you can go up to 1 cup of bleach. Clorox also has guidelines on how to add the bleach, depending on whether or not your washing machine has a bleach dispenser.
Mistake 4: Mixing bleach with other cleaners. Don’t worry about mixing bleach with laundry detergent — that’s safe, according to the Water Quality and Health Council. But never mix bleach with toilet bowl cleaner, ammonia (found in many all-purpose cleaners and some window cleaners), acids (like vinegar or lemon juice) or rust remover — or even use the products at the same time. This may create poisonous gases that could cause breathing problems. Side note: Make sure you’re working in a ventilated area when using bleach. Open a window or turn on a fan.
Mistake 5: Not wearing gloves. If you don’t wear gloves when handling bleach, you not only risk irritating your skin, you risk getting it on your hands — and therefore on your face and in your eyes. Plus, those big one-gallon jugs can be hard to handle, and your hands are first in line to receive spills and splashes.
Mistake 6: Using splash-free or scented bleach. Anyone who’s ever ruined a pair of jeans or a favorite blouse with an accidental bleach splash knows how frustrating that can be. But for household cleaning, resist the temptation to use splash-free bleach. The sodium hypochlorite concentration is only 1 to 5 percent (compared to 8.25 percent in regular bleach), which isn’t strong enough to disinfect. As for scented bleach, fragrance is added to cover the smell of chlorine, but the chemicals that produce the smell can cause breathing problems and asthma for some children and adults, according to the Oregon Office of Child Care.