The Pros And Cons of Chlorine Bleach | Anyclean

updated: 17/05/2024


Bottles of chlorine bleach on a supermarket shelf

Chlorine Is Everywhere

A few of us will have got through our lives without knowing what chlorine smells like.  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).

However, chlorine does have its “dark side” and can be extremely dangerous if mishandled.  Should you have chlorine bleach in your household?  Read the pros and cons and decide.

Pros

  • Chlorine is extremely effective as bleach. A good soak in a chlorine bleach solution (not concentrated bleach – that’s too tough on materials) will completely strip most stains from white cotton (the exceptions this writer has encountered have been oil stains and grass stains on cricket whites). Be careful what you soak in chlorine bleach. It strips colour completely, so chlorine should never come near coloured items. Also, read the care labels on anything that isn’t cotton to check for “do not use chlorine bleach” warnings. However, this bleaching action of chlorine makes it suitable for adding creative effects to darker-coloured cotton clothing, e.g. acid-washing or reverse tie-dyeing denim jeans.
  • Chlorine is a very effective germ killer. It is three times as effective as bromine at killing nasties like E. coli and is six times as effective as iodine. This is why chlorine is added to water supplies and swimming pools to prevent infections and water-borne diseases. It also kills amoebas, viruses, and bacteria.
  • It gets rid of grotty stains inside the toilet bowl.
  • Teenagers can have fun customising a pair of old jeans by acid washing or “reverse tie-dyeing” (tie-bleaching?).

This germ-killing and whitening ability makes chlorine very good for soaking cloth nappies from towelling or bleach (chlorine bleach is usually cheaper than oxidising powders often sold for whitening nappies).  It is also helpful in killing germs around the toilet and on bathroom surfaces.  Because chlorine does not bleach the colour out of plastics, it is perfect for cleaning things like shower curtains. It can also be used to clean the insides of fridges and microwave ovens, but you will need to rinse well afterwards.

Cons

  • Chlorine can be fatal if the gas is inhaled. Do you know how the fumes from swimming pools smell? You need to be very careful when using chlorine in a small enclosed space where you are likely to have your head down low – the typical example would be if you are cleaning around the outside of a toilet. Chlorine gas is heavier than oxygen and sinks to the bottom of the room, and if the room is poorly ventilated, you can get in trouble. The gas can irritate the sensitive linings of the nose and throat, as well as the eyes.
  • Chlorine is lethal when mixed with other household cleaners. Never, ever mix any chlorine-based product with an ammonia-based product, as the two will combine to make ammonium chloride, which was used in chemical warfare in the trenches of WWI. This gas reacts with the mucous membranes of the throat, eyes and lungs to become a highly corrosive hydrochloric acid. Those of you who have read Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum” will have read a description of the effects of inhaling this gas. You probably need to be careful when soaking nappies in a chlorine solution, as urine can give off a bit of ammonia, but as long as you’re not using straight chlorine bleach or too strong a solution, and you change the solution daily, you shouldn’t have any problems – this writer didn’t).
  • Chlorine is an irritant on your skin – many people often complain of itchiness and dry, flaky skin after swimming in a chlorinated swimming pool. Chlorinated water can also have an interesting effect when it comes in contact with bleached blonde hair (which includes hair bleached by the sun), as it can form a greenish deposit on the hair that is very noticeable in lightened hair. While a chlorine bleach solution is very effective at getting ink stains off your hands, you need to rinse it off well and use a rich hand cream afterwards. If you use chlorine for general house cleaning, use rubber gloves.
  • Chlorine can be a menace to coloured clothes; if a drop of bleach spills onto them, it strips the colour away.
  • If used too often, chlorine can turn white clothes yellow (an all-too-common fate for cricket whites). Cotton can also get damaged by the overuse of chlorine.

Chlorine-based gases are implicated in destroying the ozone layer and as a greenhouse gas. The most notorious offenders are CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) in aerosols. Some of these are released by household bleach.

Organic 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 eliminate some 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, and eucalyptus oil is 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 bowl’s top, mix tea tree oil and vodka or vinegar.
  • Removing ink stains from the skin: Lemon juice. However, unlike chlorine, lemon juice is good for the skin.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.