Chlorine bleach in that familiar white bottle is a mainstay in most laundry rooms. We use it to whiten clothes, remove stains and disinfect clothes. With the growth in high-efficiency washers that use less water to flush away soil, chlorine bleach sales have also soared to disinfect washers and help remove foul odors from front load washers. But are you sure you're using it correctly, safely and getting the most bang for your money and efforts?
What is Chlorine Bleach?
Chlorine bleach is a 5.25% solution of sodium hypochloride. It is quite powerful and must be diluted with water for safe use on some fabrics. When chlorine bleach is used for laundry, the chemical ingredient oxidizes helping to remove soil and organic matter. It acts as a disinfectant on bacteria and viruses and generally whitens cotton, linen and natural fabrics.
While a dry form of chlorine bleach is available in stores and from Amazon.com, the liquid version is the most common form on store shelves. Liquid chlorine bleach can not be purchased online due to shipping restrictions.
Clorox is, perhaps, the most recognizable brand of chlorine bleach. However, most retailers carry a house brand. It is worth your time to read the fine print on the bleach bottle labels especially if you need to disinfect clothes. To be effective as a disinfectant, there must be a 5.25%–6.15% concentration of sodium hypochlorite in the product.
Not all chlorine bleach formulas are that strong; so read the labels.
Tip #1: Test Items before Bleaching
Before you use chlorine bleach on a garment, test the fabric to see how it will react to the bleach. First, mix one part bleach to two parts warm water. Find an inconspicuous spot on the garment like an inside seam or pocket of the same fabric.
Use a cotton swab dipped in the solution to dab the fabric. Allow the spot to dry completely before moving forward. If you see any change in color on the fabric or a transfer of color to the swab, do not use chlorine bleach on this fabric.
This is particularly important for fabrics like polyester, nylon and any man-made fibers. Chlorine bleach can actually turn white polyester yellow. The bleach eats away the outer coating of the threads and reveals the inner core that is yellow.
Tip #2: Never Mix Bleaches or Other Cleaning Products
Never mix chlorine bleach and oxygen bleach (often called color-safe bleach). You can cause a chemical reaction that is harmful to your clothing and, more importantly, your lungs. This also applies to other cleaning cleaning chemicals like ammonia.
Tip #3: Dilute for Best Results
Chlorine bleach should never be poured directly on clothing. It can cause weakening of fibers - even eat holes in the fabric - and extensive color removal. Mix 1 cup bleach in one quart of warm water before adding it to any washer drum or soaking tub. Begin filling the drum with more water before adding dirty laundry.
If you are using an automatic dispenser, the bleach will be added to the washer tub at the correct time so the bleach is diluted with the water already in the drum.
Tip #4: Wait to Add the Bleach
To allow the enzymes in the laundry detergents time to do their job of whitening and brightening, wait about 5 minutes after the wash cycle begins to add your diluted bleach. Automatic washer dispensers will add the bleach at the correct time.
Tip #5: Make it Hot, Hot, Hot
If you aren't getting the whitening results you want, change the water temperature you're using. Chlorine bleach works most effectively in hot water. It can be used in warm and cold water but you won't see the results you expect.
Tip #6: Keep it Fresh
Chlorine bleach is light and temperature sensitive. That's why chlorine bleach is always sold in a solid white bottle. Excessive heat also affects the stability so it is important to store bleach around 70 degrees F. Skip the hot garage.
Whether the bottle is opened or not, it will lose potency within 3 to 6 months after purchase.
It will not "go bad" and cause excessive harm. It just won't be effective at disinfecting and cleaning. You're just adding more water to the wash.