Bleach is present in thousands of products, from toilet cleaners to disinfectant wipes. Bleach, which also goes by the names “chlorine bleach” or “sodium hypochlorite,” is one of the oldest and most common household cleaning products in the market today. Bleach is made by combining chlorine and caustic soda (also known as lye), which are both very potent chemicals themselves.
It is used to whiten, brighten, as well as disinfect surfaces and clothes. It is also effective in removing tough stains, especially in the bathroom and kitchen. In terms of disinfection, bleach often destroys most bacteria upon contact.Large amounts of bleach are being poured from our homes and into our drainage each day.
Bleach often causes accidents in households when small children accidentally swallow or inhale the substance from poorly-labelled containers kept within the little ones’ reach. But aside from the many poisonings that occur each year, bleach has a more subtle way of harming our health. Many people are unaware of its capacity to form noxious gases that can cause DNA damage, cancer, asthma, and a host of other illnesses.
So why is bleach so harmful? Bleach is highly irritating and corrosive to the skin, lungs, and eyes. Fumes from bleach are very potent, as you can tell by the smell, and when inhaled they can cause a wide variety of health problems. Bleaches that come in thick liquid form or gel often produce the most harmful fumes. One European study showed that bleach can react to produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), most of which are toxic. Inhaling these fumes is potentially carcinogenic.
Individuals with respiratory problems should completely avoid the use of bleach, as it has been shown to exacerbate asthma and allergies. People often report a stinging sensation in the eyes and nose, as well as coughing and feeling short of breath. Pets and children are even more susceptible to the negative effects of bleach fumes because they have smaller lungs that can easily fill up with toxic fumes.
Besides making allergies worse, bleach can cause allergies in children and those who were allergy-free to begin with. Using bleach in a home increases a child’s risk of developing wheezing by up to 40%, according to a study published in the European Respiratory Journal.
The worst part is that fumes or noxious gases from bleach can easily accumulate and linger in poorly-ventilated homes. Indoor air becomes polluted with toxins, endangering the health of all those who breathe it in. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 11,000 people will die this year alone due to indoor air pollution caused by toxic cleaning products, one of which is bleach.
Keep it out of the air. Don’t use bleach in closed areas such as cabinets and cupboards, as vapors from the bleach can linger and concentrate in the air. If you plan to use bleach in these spaces, wear a face mask and dilute the bleach with water. After using bleach, be sure to keep your home well-ventilated and let indoor air out.
Never combine bleach with other products. Many people make the mistake of mixing bleach with other chemicals, thinking this could make it more effective. The truth is, this creates hazardous vapors that irritate the respiratory system in small doses and can be lethal in higher doses. One example is mixing bleach with vinegar for use in the home. Although this solution works well to kill bacteria, it also gives off a toxic chlorine gas. If you use bleach and experience shortness of breath, throat swelling, dizziness or blurred vision, vomiting or presence of blood in your urine or stool, call your local poison hotline immediately.
Bleach and outdoor furniture don’t mix. If you have wooden furniture such as wooden decks in your backyard, you should be careful when using bleach and deck brightening solutions. Outdoor wood products contain CCA, a chemical which combines with bleach to form an even more dangerous substance.
Avoid using bleach altogether. No matter how careful you are, bleach can still cause harm to you and your family. If you use bleach to clean your toilet, it can reach with ammonia in urine to form toxic chlorine gases. Bleach chlorine mixed with dishwashing soap can actually interact to form mustard gas, the lethal gas used as a weapon in World War I. To be completely safe, it’s better to stop using bleach for regular household cleaning.
In this day and age you no longer have to continue using toxic products to maintain clean and sanitary conditions in your home. Modern technology has made it possible to create safer alternatives in the form of green or eco-friendly household products. Green and eco-friendly cleaning products can be just as effective as the silent killers we usually stock under our kitchen sinks.
It’s just a matter of making wiser decisions for your health and the health of those around you.