Friday, November 21, 2008

To bleach or not to bleach...

NOT my bathroom, thank goodness! If it was, the answer to this post wold be more straightforward - hose and bleach! But most of us don't have bathrooms like this, so let's talk about bleach in a calm and rational manner.

Just the other morning on the BBC Breakfast show, they were talking about the "hygiene hypothesis"... a term used to describe the clean and hygienic state of our homes leading to more allergies because children aren't exposed to enough microbes. Now I know that I have blogged about 'whitening whites' wherein I said that chlorine bleach is unnecessary, but what about around the rest of the house? Should we abandon bleach for good? Well on the same breakfast show, the had a hygiene specialist who brought along all sorts of cleaning products - many of them containing bleach, and she was saying that there really are only two areas of our homes where dangerous bacteria lurch and that we should be disinfecting these areas. She was of course talking of the bathroom and kitchen.

I cannot write about liquid chlorine bleach without going into the health risks. Chlorine bleach is not to be taken lightly, and you really should never use it without wearing gloves to protect your skin. It can cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, chest pain, and vomiting, coughing, and excess fluid in the lungs. People most susceptible to these symptoms when exposed to chlorine bleach are the young, the elderly and anyone with health concerns such as respiratory problems. A colleague of mine once decided to spring clean his bathroom with bleach. The bathroom was just off the bedroom where he sleeps and he woke up the following morning after a night of nightmares, with a painful headaches and dizziness and as a result had to take the day off work he felt so ill.
So why would anyone even use chlorine bleach, or a product containing chlorine bleach? Well, bleach is a disinfectant, Chlorine bleach is effectively a pesticide since it kills of viruses (2). And truth be told, household bleach isn't all bad, it is a relatively weak solution of sodium hypochlorite. The trouble with household bleach is that it poses a risk due to carelessness and misuse and of course it's not great that so much of it is going down the drains into the water system because of the environmental impact it has (1).

So as with many things in life, I think it's best not to get radical. By all means, keep the bottle of bleach, but remember, it's your home you are cleaning, not a hospital. So don't over use the bleach. Remember that the best way to keep you and your family safe from bacteria is good old hand washing with warm water and soap!

But here are some safety tips if you decide to keep the bleach:

  • Always avoid direct skin contact with bleach, wear gloves for goodness sake!
  • Dilute as per the instructions and use the diluted solution immediately since diluted chlorine bleach loses its antibacterial properties after a couple of days.
  • Never, ever mix anything else with bleach, especially ammonia based products. That goes for toilet bowl cleaners, wash away all traces of other cleaners before adding bleach to the toilet bowl and don't even think about making your own concoction of vinegar and bleach -it's lethal!
  • Try to only use bleach around the toilet area and in your kitchen where necessary, and in the kitchen, make double sure you have properly rinsed off any traces of bleach with water.
  • Avoid using bleach in confined spaces. The oven is one example, this is a space that is hard to ventilate, you would be better off with some bicarbonate of soda for that job.
  • Don't buy scented bleach - on it's own it's nasty enough, it certainly doesn't need any extra chemicals to make it worse.
  • ALWAYS ALWAYS store bleach, or any products containing bleach well out of reach of children and pets!!!

Now, if I've scared you enough with the talk of respiratory problems and headaches and you would like to give bleach a miss, there are some alternatives, although perhaps not as powerful. But once again, some hand washing will do more to protect your family than that bottle of bleach.

  • White vinegar can help to keep surfaces clean and bacteria free.
  • Hot soapy water is the best way to kill off salmonella and e-coli, so if you're washing your dishes in hot soapy water you're already doing a good job of getting rid of them.
  • There are some non-chlorine bleach products out there such as from the Ecover range to use in and around the toilet bowl.
  • Scrubbing sinks, tubs, and counter tops with a paste of baking soda and water effectively removes dirt rings and some stains (3).
  • A steam cleaner effectively kills bacteria and is a wonderful device if you or any members of your family suffer from Asthma or allergies.
  • Bacteria and mould grow in moist conditions, so use a used towel in the bathroom to dry off any surfaces after a bath or shower, and you'll hardly ever need to disinfect your bathroom again.
I hope you've been informed by this post, and that you will all avoid reaching for the bottle of bleach every time you clean. I think with a bit of caution and careful dilution, using bleach once in a while is not such a bad thing. But consider using gentler products for everyday cleaning, and by that I mean avoid any general household cleaning products that may also contain chlorine bleach (so many of them do), it just isn't necessary and not worth the risk.

For some more facts on the uses of bleach:


MelMel said...

I do use bleach but only very rarely....mainly when the bath gets very mouldy....odd....only happens sometimes...oh and in the loo if any ones tummy is dicky!

Apart from that....just hot soapy water!

Have great weekend!xxx

Lesley (Notesfrommydays) said...

well done you - this is a pet subject of mine - I detest the overuse of bleach its just so not necessary and so many other good alternatives especially if you have children in the house like I do !
Lesley x

Willow said...

What a great, informative post - thanks. I rarely use bleach at all now, except once in a while to give the loo a really good clean. The rest of the time I use the ecover products, or vinegar solution. I used to suffer from headaches and nausea after using certain cleaners, so I'm careful what I use now.
Willow x

The Vintage Kitten said...

I do use bleach, but I have to be careful as it does affect my chest, it makes me wheeze (Im not asthmatic whereby I use an inhaler, but I do suffer every so often with it)Bleach also gives me headaches so I use a small amount quickly. I always use it down the loo with the lid down and keep the window open. I know we are supposed to be more 'green' these days but I dont think you can beat bleach for keeping a bathroom clean. I use other products in the kitchen except for the butler sink, being ceramic the bleach works best for keeping it sparkly. Sorry about showing you the Dibor website Hee Hee......It has gorgeous things though doesnt it? All I need is a french farmhouse and a Dibor catalogue and Id be happy! X

Judy said...

I don't like to use bleach, I like to use hot soapy water to clean. I'm so glad that isn't your bathroom. Great post as usual.

Lorilee said...

I have had some nasty headaches from bleach. I stopped using the Chlorax Bleach drop-ins for the toilet because I would get headaches after bathing. (I would use and flush the toilet before my bath) I have also used bleach to clean mildew off a house with a pump sprayer. It caused a horrible headache for me that night.

MelMel said...

Hi....nice of you to pop by...thank you for the lovely comment, guess Olly is a bit of a sweetie!xx

MaryPoppins said...

Not to bleach here ehcchhh, the smll reminds me of something, never in my years have I bought a bottle of bleach, well only the once and that was for my hair :)

Mary X

SARAH said...

I used bleach ,accident, on my tan carpet. what can I do

Anonymous said...



LaundryBasketCase said...

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for your comment. I'm afraid once the bleach has taken effect there is no way of reversing the damage. You will need to patch your carpet, the way to do this is cut a neat square around the damaged area, lifting that piece of carpet out. You then use a remnant, cutting it exactly the same shape as the piece you have take out, making sure the design, pile direction and shape matches precisely. Apply carpet adhesive to the underside and set the patch into the hole. Brush the pile gently to allow the repaired section to blend. Wait several hours before vacuuming. You might want to test this method first on some carpet off-cuts before doing it on your actual carpet.
Your other choice is to buy a rug to cover the damaged area.
Best of luck, and let me know how you get on.

A note on perfection

Many of the posts featured on this blog are about doing household chores the correct, or so to say perfect way. My intention is not to make readers feel that the way they are running their households are wrong. So if making the bed, or ironing shirts in a certain way doesn't fit your lifestyle, do not feel guilty about it. But by learning the correct way of doing things it might just come in handy for those times when special guests are staying, or when you need to iron that shirt perfectly for a job interview. So enjoy the learning, but skip the guilt and LOVE your homes. x

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