Next time you go to the swimming pool, take a deep breath. Smell that? That’s chlorine. Chlorine is one of those chemical substances that seems to be with us wherever we go. Primarily, it’s used to kill germs in water – which is why you get that faint swimming pool taste when you drink a glass of water straight from the tap (unless you’re lucky enough to live in an area where you don’t have a chlorinated water supply).
Chlorine bleach is also used widely in our homes and most households will probably have at least one bottle of it sitting in the cleaning cupboard. And the justification for doing so is understandable:
* Chlorine bleach does get grass stains and other stains out of white clothing very effectively. Great for cloth nappies!
* It is relatively cheap.
* It kills germs.
* It gets rid of grotty stains inside the toilet bowl.
* Teenagers can have a bit of fun customising a pair of old jeans by trying a bit of acid washing or “reverse tie-dyeing” (tie-bleaching?).
However, chlorine bleach can also be a real hazard in your home and elsewhere.
* The gas can be very irritating to the sensitive linings of the nose and throat, as well as to the eyes.
* One has to be ultra-careful not to mix chlorine bleach with other cleaning products. This is particularly the case with ammonia based cleaning products. Otherwise, the result is ammonium chloride, the notorious gas used in the trenches of WWI. People have killed themselves by trying to clean the toilet with a mixture of these common household cleaners.
* Chlorine can be a menace on coloured clothes, as if a drop of bleach spills onto them, it strips the colour away.
* If used too often, chlorine can actually turn white clothes yellow (an all-too-common fate for cricket whites). Cotton can also get damaged by over-use of chlorine.
* Chlorine is awful on your skin, and will leave it dry, itchy and cracking. If you’ve ever felt a slippery feeling on your fingers after spot-cleaning with bleach, this is because the cleaner has taken off the top layer of your skin.
* You don’t want to know what producing the bleach does to the environment.
* Chlorine doesn’t break down all that quickly (if at all) once it’s in the water system.
So what do you do? How can you keep things in your home white and germ-free without resorting to chlorine bleach or other chlorine-based cleaners? What are the natural alternatives?
* For cotton nappies: Sunshine bleaches whites and kills germs, so after washing the nappies as usual, hang them to dry in the sunshine. If you want to soak them, boiling water kills germs. Adding vinegar to the final rinse also helps get rid of some of the nasty residues.
* For bleaching whites: Again, sunshine is good. However, stains can be spot-treated with an appropriate natural stain remover. Lemon juice is one good option, but blood (or any other protein stain) should be removed by flooding with cold water. Grass stains can be removed with alcohol, with eucalyptus oil being another alternative. And a good soak in soapy water should remove most other stains. And this doesn’t just apply to whites, either.
* Removing mildew: Vinegar and lemon juice.
* Disinfecting toilets: Frequent and regular scrubbing will prevent unsightly yellow rings. To kill germs on the seat and the top of the bowl, use a mix of tea tree oil and vodka, or else a mix of tea tree oil and vinegar.
* Removing ink stains from skin: Lemon juice. However, unlike chlorine, lemon juice is good for the skin.