Dangerous chemicals: sodium hypochlorite (caustic soda and chlorine), calcium hypochlorite
Household bleach (sodium hydroxide) is not technically speaking considered corrosive or toxic, even if ingested. However, bleach exposure can cause irritation in the eyes, mouth, lungs and on skin. Individuals with asthma or other breathing problems are particularly susceptible. It can burn human tissue, internally or externally, especially in small children. The accidental swallowing of bleach is the most frequently received call at Poison Control Centers involving children under the age of six (The Naturally Clean Home, Pg 19). Bleach manufacturing also produces dioxin, a chemical that is harmful to the environment (http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com).
Bleach is also hazardous because it is very reactive. Sodium hypochlorite reacts with ammonia, drain cleaners, and other acids. When toxic bleach is mixed with ammonia, toxic gases called chloramines are produced. When chlorine bleach is mixed with an acid (as can be found in some toilet bowl cleaners, glass and window cleaners, dish detergents, vinegar, and drain cleaners) chlorine gas is given off. Chlorine gas exposures, even at low levels, almost always irritate the mucous membrane and causes coughing and breathing problems, burning watery eyes, and a runny nose. Higher levels can cause chest pain, severe breathing problems, fluid in the lungs, pneumonia, and vomiting. Very high levels can cause death. (http://www.state.nj.us/health/eoh/cehsweb/bleach_fs.pdf)
- Use and storage (from greenhome.com):
- Never mix bleach with other cleaners
- Always wear protective gloves when using bleach
- Use only in well-ventilated areas with plenty of fresh air
- Store bleach in a well-ventilated area away from children
There are many safe and natural alternatives for removing stains and keeping whites white. If you prefer purchasing an alternative solution to making your own, look for non-chlorine in the laundry section of your supermarket or opt for an oxygen-based whitener. The best way to know exactly what is in the products you’re using is to make them yourself. There are several items around the house that can be used to whiten your clothes:
Hydrogen peroxide: Add 1 cup to a load of whites as you would bleach. To further its whitening effects, soak clothes in a 1:8 mixture of hydrogen peroxide to water, and then wash as usual.
Lemon juice: Add to your regular load of laundry in ½ cup to 1 cup depending on the load, or rub on a particular bad stain and hang outside and let the sun do the rest of the work.
Washing soda or borax: This form of baking soda acts as a whitener and detergent booster and can be added your load of laundry with your detergent in quantities between ¼ cup and 1 cup, depending on the size of the load of laundry.
Vinegar: White vinegar is another natural cleaning substance that cleans and deodorizes. Add between ¼ cup and ½ cup to your laundry, along with detergent, and wash as usual.
The following recipes from The Naturally Clean Home can be used to make your own homemade bleach alternative:
Bleach Alternative Formula
This recipe makes enough for one load of laundry. Keep lemon juice separate until ready to use. Combine all ingredients into a plastic container, and shake once or twice before adding to the wash.
- ½ cup Basic Liquid Formula (see below)
- ¼ cup borax
- ¼ cup lemon juice or vinegar, plus 6 drops lemon essential oils
Basic Liquid Formula
- 2 ¼ cups liquid castile soap
- 1 tbsp glycerin
- ¾ cup water
- 10-15 drops essential oil of your choice