Bleach – the Dangers and the Alternatives
What’s Really in Them?
Sodium hypochlorite is the scientific name for what we normally refer to as chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleaches, like Clorox are usually a diluted solution of sodium hypochlorite. Laundry bleaches, such as “all-fabric” bleach or “oxygen” bleaches, usually contain sodium perborate or hydrogen peroxide, washing soda, and detergent. Other bleaches, such as Purex, can contain silicate and washing soda, too.
What Harm Can They Do?
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, bleach is the number-one poisonous substance to which children under the age of 6 are exposed. Bleach is a stomach irritant, and most cases of ingestion just end up with the child simply vomiting, but it can be serious, particularly if it involves a very small child. The fumes can be irritating to the lungs and should generally be avoided by those with respiratory or heart conditions.
“I Use Bleach So Much I Don’t Know if I Could Ever Give it Up.”
For many, chlorine bleach is a handy all-purpose cleaner. It disinfects, removes stains, makes whites white, even cleans counters. It’s in our drinking water and our swimming pools, so it must be safe, right? WRONG. Bleach is a very strong chemical and should be used with caution. Too many dangerous accidents happen with bleach. We were astonished to find out that bleach is involved in the number-one call to Poison Control Centers about children under the age of 6. And the statistic does not include the exposures related to the mixing of bleach with other chemicals.
“But I Use Bleach Regularly in the Wash to Get Out Stains.”
Most laundry whites do not need bleaching. It’s much more effective to take care of spots and stains as they happen and treat each fabric and stain appropriately. Many people include a chlorine bleach in the wash simply out of habit. Talk to professional cleaners, and they will tell you that the regular use of chlorine bleach in your wash is not suggested. Over time, the chlorine bleach can weaken your fabrics, thus causing unnecessary tears and rips. It’s not necessarily good for your washing machine, either. If you use an excessive amount of bleach, it can cause metal parts to corode and wear out, even causing rust stains on your clothes. Chemical bleaches also give you clothes and unnatural blue tint rather than a true-beauty white. But, dirty, dyes, and permanent stains will fade significantly with bleaching.
“Okay, I’m considering Giving it Up. What can I use Instead?”
In most situations, you can just do without it. Many people use bleach for stains because they don’t know how to handle them. We make simple mistakes, such as letting a stain sit around for hours and hours while it sets, or trying to remove grass stains with detergent (detergents can actually make grass stains permanent instead of getting them out). If you want to fade a color or permanent stain, then white vinegar, lemon juice and sunlight are all mild bleaches you can enjoy using. If you want to take out the grays or yellows, then try adding a vinegar rinse at the end of the wash.
If you do decide to use a commercial bleach, try using sodium percarbonate! Sodium percarbonate is very neat stuff. It is a powder that releases hydrogen peroxide, and it is very concentrated. It is very effective and inexpensive! This is an ingredient used in many of today’s oxygen bleaches and it is non-toxic to people or the environment. It’s basically hydrogen peroxide in a dry, granulated form. It’s better to use a pure form of this ingredient than any of the oxygen bleaches found in the store because many of these products come combined with other additives that may be toxic to you and the environment. (You can find 100% pure sodium percarbonate on Amazon.com.) If you’re using the SmartKlean Laundry Ball, you will only need to use very little to keep your whites brilliantly white! We use a tiny spoonful of it for our white laundry washes.