I received a concerning email yesterday that made me realize it was time to send this post out again as a reminder.
This is the first in our series on household chemicals.
Over the past few years, I have gotten the impression that many people are using chlorine bleach in an unsafe manner. Chlorine bleach, aka sodium hypochlorite, is a powerful disinfectant and is one of only a few widely available, inexpensive sanitizing agents. It is so powerful that it should only be used in fairly low concentrations.
Chlorine bleach should always be used in a well-ventilated area.
If your eyes are watering, you are using too much bleach.
If your skin is peeling:
- You should have worn gloves
- You are using too much bleach
Chlorine bleach is concentrated and needs to be diluted before use, depending on what you need it for. (keep reading, we’ll get to that).
If you use hot rather than warm water, chlorine gas can be released, which isn’t recommended.
Never mix bleach with other household chemicals, such as ammonia or vinegar, as both can cause dangerous chemical reactions.
Please remember that there is a difference between clean, sanitary, and sterile. Your living room is not an operating room, and sanitary is good enough. If no one in the home has a compromised immune system, some exposure to germs is actually a good thing. It gives your immune system practice so it doesn’t freak out over things it shouldn’t (hi, fellow allergy sufferers, I feel your pain).
Don’t waste the power of your bleach on cleaning; reduce your use and save it only for sanitizing.
What does this mean?
There are only so many bleach molecules in the water, and they can only go so far. You want them doing their job on surface bacteria and viruses, not on dirt particles that could have been wiped, swept or mopped away.
In other words, if you try to use bleach water to clean a heavily soiled surface, meaning there’s a lot of dirt or grime on the surface, the bleach won’t work.
Get rid of the dirt first.
Chlorine bleach works both as a cleaning and disinfecting agent. However, many less corrosive and dangerous household items also work as highly effective cleaning agents:
- hot water
- scrub brushes
- dish detergents
are but a few examples.
Chlorine bleach is a highly effective sanitizing agent, but it needs to be used properly. Repeat after me:
Clean, rinse, sanitize.
When disinfecting clear water (without dirt or other particulates) to drink during an emergency, use 8 drops of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Stir the bleach into the water and let it sit for 30 minutes before consuming.
If you are preparing for an emergency, get a new bottle of bleach, you’ll want bleach that has been opened for less than 4 months for this.
Pro-Tip: Tape an eyedropper to the bottle so you don’t have to search for one during an already stressful situation.
When sanitizing food preparation areas: counters, tables, sinks, knives, and cutting boards. All surfaces should be washed to remove organic materials (food bits and dirt) and rinsed. It is only at this point that the items should be sanitized with a bleach solution of approximately 200ppm.
This is about 1 TBSP of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Did you catch that?
Let me repeat it.
The proper dilution of chlorine bleach for sanitizing food preparation surfaces is 200ppm or 1 TBSP per gallon of warm water.
Get yourself a spray bottle and mix up a batch whenever you’re going to need a sanitizing agent. Be aware that chlorine evaporates, so only mix a small amount at a time. It won’t be effective tomorrow.
If you’re making 1 quart of sanitizing solution, estimate ¾ teaspoon per quart, which will get you in the neighborhood of 200 ppm. Just be sure to rinse after use. It’s okay to be in the neighborhood of ¾ teaspoon. Slightly underfilling a teaspoon will work perfectly.
Bleach and stainless steel are not good playmates. However, dilute bleach solutions are still usable. Rinse the surface after sanitizing to avoid the corrosive effects.
Allow the 200ppm bleach solution to sit on the surface for at least a full minute to give the bleach time to work. With a 200ppm dilution, rinsing is not necessary, and it’s actually best to allow most surfaces to air dry rather than re-contaminating with a cloth towel. If you are using a new paper towel, you’re fine.
Chlorine bleach is an effective sanitizing agent outside of the kitchen.
When sanitizing other surfaces, such as in the bathroom, bleach may be used in a 500ppm dilution.
A 500ppm dilution is 2½ tablespoons of 5.25% chlorine bleach per 1 gallon of warm. not HOT water.
While bleach is a cleaning agent, milder methods are highly recommended. Save the bleach for the final sanitizing step, just as you would in the kitchen.
If you weren’t aware, urine evaporates, leaving behind ammonium salts.
Always clean and rinse any area that may have urine:
- near toilets
- cat boxes
- dog kennels etc, before sanitizing.
Parents of young boys… we are talking to you.
How to use chlorine bleach in the laundry
When bleaching a load of whites, use 3/4 cup of liquid bleach in a standard washer and those with high-efficiency washers should consult their appliance manuals or call the manufacturer. Typically the amount of bleach per load in a high-efficiency washer is equivalent to the maximum fill line of the bleach dispenser, but check to be sure.
When pre-soaking laundry bleach-safe fabrics, first remove as much soil as possible, then use 1/4 cup per gallon of warm water. Anything stronger can damage the fabric.
So for the TL: DR crowd, here’s a quick summary:
- Clean, rinse, sanitize, wait 1 – 5 minutes. Rinse again if it’s stainless steel
- Food prep surfaces require a 200ppm or 1 TBSP of chlorine bleach per gallon of warm water.
- Other surfaces may use a 500ppm dilution or 2½ TBSP chlorine bleach per gallon of warm water.
- Laundry pre-soaks 1/4 cup per gallon or 3/4 cup for a full load in a standard, top-loading washer.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org