How Bleach Works

Proper Use of Chlorine Bleach

When used improperly, bleach can be an extremely harmful substance. Many people wear gloves when using bleach to protect their hands.
When used improperly, bleach can be an extremely harmful substance. Many people wear gloves when using bleach to protect their hands.
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Since chlorine bleach is a strong oxidizing agent, it's hazardous if not used properly. You should never mix chlorine bleach with any other household product, because it can react to form very hazardous substances. For example, mixing chlorine bleach with ammonia or vinegar can release poisonous chlorine gas. Cleaning and disinfecting products that aren't called "bleach" may also contain sodium hypochlorite as one of their active ingredients, so you should always read the label before using a cleaning product.

If you are using bleach to disinfect household surfaces, make sure the area is well ventilated and do not inhale any fumes. Fumes from chlorine bleach can cause coughing, sore throat and airway irritation, and it can also irritate the eyes. Keep chlorine bleach from coming into contact with your skin, since it can cause redness and irritation, especially after repeated exposures. If bleach gets in your eyes, rinse them immediately and call your doctor. Ingestion of chlorine bleach can be very dangerous, especially to children. If you or your child accidentally swallow bleach, don't induce vomiting, and call the Poison Control Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222 [source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry].

When using chlorine bleach for laundry or cleaning, you should dilute it. For whitening white clothing, The Clorox Company recommends washing the clothing on the hottest setting recommended on the fabric label and adding 3/4 cups of bleach to the wash. Certain fabrics, such as mohair, wool, silk and Spandex will be damaged by chlorine bleach, so always read the clothing label before bleaching. For colored garments, you can use a "bleachability test" on a non-visible, colored part of the garment. Mix two teaspoons of bleach with 1/4 cups of water, and put a drop of the solution on a hidden part of the fabric. Wait one minute, blot with a towel and check for any color change.

For pre-soaking a white item of clothing, you can mix 1/4 cups of bleach with one gallon of water and soak for 15 minutes before washing. For disinfecting clothes, pre-soaking with chlorine bleach and washing in hot water with chlorine bleach is effective, but washing with non-chlorine bleach is not adequate, because active ingredients like hydrogen peroxide aren't powerful enough to disinfect laundry. For disinfecting dishes or hard surfaces, use a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach mixed with one gallon of water [source: The Clorox Company].