Bleach is one of the most effective and cheapest sanitizers available. It’s a life-saver after disasters and in the developing world where it can disinfect water and foods and clean up after natural disasters that would spread disease without it.
But concerned citizens have been raising alarm about the use of bleach for some time, saying it’s harmful to the environment and to our health.
A new study from Europe is sure to fuel the debate:
Passive exposure to cleaning bleach in the home may have adverse effects on school-age children’s health by increasing the risk of respiratory and other infections. The high frequency of use of disinfecting irritant cleaning products may be of public health concern….
The study looked at data for 9000 school children in The Netherlands, Finland, and Spain, based on parent questionnaires. Parents were asked about the number of respiratory infections their children suffered and about their use of bleach in the home.
According to Science Daily, the researchers, themselves, caution against assuming the small correlation implies causation. They say that more information is needed, but the results MAY indicate that “irritant properties of volatile or airborne compounds generated during the cleaning process may damage the lining of lung cells, sparking inflammation and making it easier for infections to take hold.”
One thing that must be noted is that there was no information in the study about how much bleach or in what way bleach was used in the homes or schools. It is common for people to believe that “more is better,” when this is not the case with bleach.
In fact, bleach should not be used in some cases:
- Bleach does not work well in the presence of organic matter (oil, dirt, or food particles).
- Bleach will not work well in very alkaline water.
- Bleach should not be used on metals that are prone to rust.
- Bleach does not need very hot water and using it in hot water will cause more gas to be released into the air.
- Bleach should never be mixed with other chemical cleaners, such as ammonia.
Using Bleach Safely
Always use bleach in a well-ventilated area. Use bleach for sanitizing, not for cleaning. Clean soil, dirt, food particles, etc. first, then wipe with bleach using the proper concentration.
For use with food items or kitchen areas, always clean surfaces first with appropriate detergents. Do not use bleach on non-stainless steel, aluminum, silver, or chipped enamel. Mix just 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, wipe down surfaces or soak. Very infected surfaces may need as much as 10 minutes of contact with bleach to be sanitized. Rinse and allow surfaces and equipment to dry before using with food again.
Bleach can be used to disinfect fruits and vegetables if they are rinsed with potable water afterwards. Normally, clean vegetables can be disinfected with 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon of water in just a few minutes.
For normal use in an otherwise clean bathroom, use as above. For very contaminated areas where you may need to kill fungi, mold, or disease-causing bacteria, a stronger mixture may be needed, as much as 1 cup per gallon. Use masks and gloves and remove animals and children from the area if high concentrations are used.
For emergency situations where serious health concerns exist, where vegetables may be contaminated with disease-organisms, seek advice of emergency specialists.