Many of us have learned our cleaning habits from our child caregivers. And while some of those caretakers were more aware of the dangers of certain chemicals, others did not have access to the kind of information we have these days. A particular disinfectant has infiltrated many of our homes in the guise of the strongest antibacterial cleaner that can remove almost any stain or dirt. The ever-powerful bleach is used to bleach clothes and sterilize countertops, floors, and even toilets. Plus, you can get a gallon bottle with change that you find hidden on your couch. So what is the catch?
The bad news about bleach
The seemingly magical cleaner known as bleach can be quite dangerous. Unfortunately, many companies that sell it don't do a great job of emphasizing the dangers that accompany the caustic compound. But with increasing consumer awareness, the once persuasive 1950s marketing tactics that sent bottles flying off the shelf are being challenged.
Household bleach uses sodium hypochlorite (also known as chlorine) as the main ingredient. It is derived from salt, which may seem harmless, but it can actually wreak havoc on your body. Chlorine is a gas at room temperature. On its own, it has the potential to irritate your eyes and upper respiratory system, especially if you have asthma or other respiratory problems. And when mixed with certain other household cleaners (for example, acids) and even certain messes (for example, ammonia found in vinegar or urine), chlorine bleach can raise acid levels in the blood and have severe impacts on vision, skin and more.
Pet Exposure and Animal Testing:
Our furry (and sometimes non-furry) friends generally don't ingest enough of the toxic household cleaner to cause great concern. However, various animals will react differently to bleach, depending on the concentration of bleach they are exposed to and their level of exposure. Most industrial ultra-concentrated bleach can cause internal and external chemical injuries and burns, and diluted household bleach can cause a lot of drooling, skin irritation, and even vomiting.
Also, cruelty-free brands of chlorine bleach are very difficult to find, if they exist at all. Fortunately, the disinfectant / stain remover market is growing green with a wide variety of eco-friendly, non-toxic, vegan and super effective products.
In addition to harming ourselves and our animal friends, chlorine bleach can seriously affect the environment and our ecosystem. On a larger industrial scale, when chlorine is released into local water bodies along with other forms of waste, it can cause dangerous reactions that release toxins (eg dioxins) that take years to disappear. According to Greenpeace, “Dioxins are among the deadliest toxins known to man. They have been found to […] cause cancer and reproductive disorders ”. Dioxin contamination is so widespread these days that "almost everyone has some level of dioxin in their blood because the toxic chemical is so widespread in the environment and accumulates in the food chain."
The good news: alternatives to bleach
If you want your whites to be even brighter, there are natural ways to whiten your clothes without using toxic chemicals. Try these natural clothing bleaches for an eco-friendly alternative to bleach.
Soda crystals are great for removing fat. Just add a tablespoon to your normal laundry detergent. If you need to do a local treatment, make a paste of crystals and water, apply and leave for 10 minutes before washing normally. Shop the ethical store.
Another of my favorite household cleaning and laundry products. Apply as a paste for 30 minutes to remove butter and oil marks from items such as tablecloths. Then just wash as usual. I also use baking soda as a deodorizing treatment if the clothes have a little odor just by adding a little bit to my laundry detergent.
This citrus fruit is great for cleaning and can even remove tough stains like rust. Saturate the stain with lemon juice, allow to dry and wash normally. (Read my other posts related to lemon juice.)
I always have plenty of white vinegar around the house because it can be used for so many things in a green home. White vinegar contains acetic acid that has deodorizing and bleaching properties. Add half a cup along with your regular laundry liquid or washing powder to revive your whites. Don't worry about smelling like vinegar as the scent will disappear once the items are dry. (Read: Green Ways To Remove Lime From Your Toilet)
How to bleach delicate fabrics
- Bleach silk clothes. To prevent these garments from turning yellow, wash them regularly inside out and in warm water. But if they are already yellow, dip it in cold water with two tablespoons of milk and hydrogen peroxide per liter of water. Then rinse it off and let it dry in the shade.
- Bleach wool clothing. You can do it in one of two ways: with hydrogen peroxide or milk. Put the garment in cold water with hydrogen peroxide –one tablespoon for every 3 liters– and leave it for a whole day. Afterwards, rinse it and wash it as you normally do. If you make it with milk, put the whole garment in a bowl of unpasteurized milk for an hour or two. Afterwards, wash it regularly.
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