Tips for Disinfecting Effectively and Safely
The pungent smell of bleach in the air is often a reassurance that an environment is clean and sterile. However, bleach itself is generally a poor all-purpose cleaner and is unsuitable for many scenarios and situations. Additionally, bleach can be extremely dangerous if not used properly. This article will provide tips and advice on how to use bleach properly to safely and effectively disinfect appropriate surfaces.
How To Use Bleach Properly
So, what is bleach?
Bleach is the generic name given to any chemical product which is used to remove stains from fabrics and surfaces. Most commonly, bleach refers to a diluted solution of sodium hypochlorite. Household bleach generally contains between 3% and 8% sodium hypochlorite by weight. Additionally, household bleaches contain anywhere between 0.01%–0.05% sodium hydroxide by weight, which is used to slow the decomposition of sodium hypochlorite.
What does bleach do?
A lot of people don’t understand exactly when and how to use bleach properly and therefore don’t always get the best results from using it. Bleach, generally speaking, doesn’t clean dirt from surfaces. In fact, bleach has been shown to lose effectiveness in the presence of dirt. Rather, bleach is a disinfectant, meaning it kills or deactivates germs on inert surfaces. As such, it is generally insufficient for cleaning tasks, which should be undertaken using an All-Purpose Cleaner or Detergent, some hot water and a bit of elbow grease! To get the best disinfectant results from bleach, it is highly recommended that surfaces are scrubbed with a cleaning agent prior to disinfecting.
Once a surface is clean, bleach can be utilised to sanitise and disinfect it by removing bacterial and fungal microorganisms. This sanitises the surface and, in turn, eliminates odours.
Additionally, bleach can be used as a stain remover for laundry fabrics such as sheets, duvets and other white fabrics. Bleach works as an oxidiser meaning that, in scientific terms, it changes the chemical properties of an atom, molecule or ion by removing one or more electrons. In layman’s terms, this essentially means that bleach acts to remove stains by destroying their colour pigments, thereby restoring fabrics to their original vibrancy. Remember to always check the labels on your fabrics first, as bleach is a strong and potentially destructive chemical solution that may not be appropriate for all fabric types.
When not to use bleach.
We’ve already covered the fact that bleach is not a cleaning product and should not be used for cleaning surfaces. But there are other instances in the disinfecting process where bleach should not be used. We’ll explore these scenarios now.
Untreated wood is porous, which means that bleach struggles to effectively get into the material in order to sanitise it. Avoid bleach on wooden countertops, chopping boards, walls, and tables.
Earlier, we covered oxidisation and the oxidising properties of bleach. This oxidisation process is responsible for corrosion on materials such as stainless steel. Avoid bleaching your favourite pots and pans or else they may rust.
Like wood, stone is also a porous material. Granite is a very popular material for modern kitchen countertops and chopping boards, and the density and solidity of the material suggests it may be suitable for bleaching. However, bleach should only be used on stone in the event that a heavy-set stain needs to be removed and not for general disinfecting.
Occasionally, a bleach may be used to sanitise food in a commercial setting. In this instance, the dilution proportions are specifically measured and often mechanically distributed via a dispenser. For safety, do not attempt to use bleach to sanitise food. Alternatively, consider a specific Veggie Wash product or simply rinse under cold water for 1-2 minutes before cooking properly.
Never, EVER mix bleach with other chemical products.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this article is the fact that bleach should only ever be used in isolation, diluted with water, and kept away from all other chemicals. If mixed with other common household chemicals, bleach can transform into a highly volatile and dangerous concoction capable of causing severe illness, injury and even death. Always refer to the product label and follow the instructions closely.
For example, when combined, bleach and ammonia, create potentially deadly chloramine gas vapours (not mustard gas as is commonly believed). When mixed with vinegar, bleach produces highly toxic chlorine gases and creates chloroform when mixed with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. While on the topic of common household cleaning chemicals that should not be mixed, do not mix any hydrogen peroxide solution with vinegar, as this creates peracetic acid which can be highly corrosive. All of these substances are extremely harmful to skin, eyes and internal organs and can create a lifetime of health complications to any individual who ingests these vapours.
Ultimately, bleach is a highly effective disinfectant and is perfectly safe when used as directed. However, as is the case with many chemicals, misuse of bleach can have potentially devastating impacts. By always following the advice given on the product label before using bleach and ensuring that you take the utmost care to avoid spills and other accidents, you can ensure you are aware of exactly how to use bleach properly for the most efficient and safe results.