Chlorine bleach is a common cleaning agent, but has a long list of health hazards. Learn about the dangers of bleach, plus what natural alternatives to use.
Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is one of the most common cleaning substances found in homes, offices, and schools around the world.
In fact, if you read the labels on the cleaning products you have in your home right now, I’ll bet you have at least one (if not more!) product that contains bleach.
Toilet cleaners, tile and grout cleaners, scrubbing cleansers, stain removers…cleaning products are loaded with them.
Or maybe you just keep a standard gallon jug of bleach in the cabinet for disinfecting and whitening different areas of the home.
Wherever you use it, one thing is for sure: That stuff is powerful, isn’t it? It kills germs, it whitens fabrics, and you can use it to disinfect pretty much any surface in your home.
It’s almost magical!
But in reality? Bleach can be a little too powerful for everyday jobs. And with repeated exposure to this powerful substance, over decades of time, I have to ask:
What sort of longterm effects does bleach have on our health and the environment?
The Dangers of Bleach
As it turns out, bleach comes with quite the list of side effects and health hazards.
If you’ve ever used bleach to clean or disinfect your home, you know just how strong the smell can be!
Inhaling these strong fumes can cause damage to your lungs and other organs. And if you already suffer from asthma and allergies, bleach can aggravate and worsen your symptoms.
Bleach can also irritate the nose and throat, with symptoms like coughing, stinging sensation, shortness of breath, headaches, and lightheadedness commonly reported.
Poorly ventilated rooms can be extra hazardous, as the fumes linger in the air and contribute to indoor air pollution.
Bleach has also been found to irritate the skin and eyes. Left on the skin long enough, it can cause chemical burns, rashes, and permanent tissue damage. If it gets in the eyes, it can lead to vision damage.
Children and Pets
Accidental poisonings can be prevented by keeping cleaning products out of reach of children and pets. But just the act of cleaning with these products exposes them to the harmful effects.
Recent studies have shown that using bleach in the home is associated with higher rates of respiratory illness in children.
Children and pets have smaller lungs and weaker immune systems which are more adversely affected by the effects of bleach. Since bleach remains on surfaces, children and pets are more likely to ingest the residue left behind on floors, counters, and other surfaces.
Natural Alternatives to Bleach
Instead of using harsh, toxic cleaners containing bleach, there are several ways to replicate the cleaning and disinfecting properties of bleach with natural alternatives.
With a very low pH level of 2 and a high acid content, vinegar, or acetic acid, is a very unpleasant environment for the growth of microorganisms.
Vinegar is also a great degreaser and buildup fighter. It cuts through mildew and soap scum, and can kill mold in the bathroom.
Peroxide – or H2O2 – is one of the most common disinfectants in the world. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists hydrogen peroxide as a stable and effective disinfectant and recommends its use in hospital settings.
Peroxide is typically used for cleaning small cuts, but you can actually use it for cleaning and disinfecting most surfaces in your home, as well as whitening stains on clothing or furniture.
Baking soda makes a great, versatile cleaning agent. Because it’s a base, it absorbs and neutralizes odours, especially acidic odours like those from food. It also has great, gentle abrasive action, making it great for scrubbing tough spots.
Good old water and soap will clean pretty much any surface in your home. Castile soap is a natural, non-toxic vegetable oil-based soap. It’s super concentrated, so you only use a small amount and your bottle should last you a while.
Here’s a short list of select cleaning recipes that use these natural alternatives. For a complete list of recipes on the blog, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Making Non-Toxic Cleaners.
- All-Purpose Cleaner
- Floor Cleaner and Disinfectant
- One-Ingredient Disinfectant
- Powder Scrubbing Cleanser
The laundry section of my book, Your Non-Toxic Home, also has detailed instructions for making a laundry stain remover and pre-treater (made with peroxide and dish soap), as well as a pre-soak solution (made with peroxide and washing soda). You can check it out here.
Now that you’ve learned about some of the dangers of bleach, you can now make more informed decisions about what products you bring into your home.
If you just can’t let go of the bleach, at least try phasing it out slowly by replacing it with one cleaning product at a time. For example, instead of using bleach to disinfect your bathroom surfaces, switch to the one-ingredient disinfectant mentioned above, and go from there.
Bleach might be common and readily available, but it’s not the only option we have, and the dangers of bleach outweigh the benefits in many cases.
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