How to Use Bleach to Clean

Bleach Safety, Dilution, & Uses

using bleach to clean a bathroom wall

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

A bleach solution can be used in place of household disinfectants for killing germs on surfaces. However, it’s important to know how to clean with bleach correctly, including safety concerns and how long to wait after cleaning with bleach for the surface to dry. Here’s what you need to know about the best ways to clean with bleach.

How to Dilute Bleach for Cleaning

Opt for unscented household bleach with 5% to 9% sodium hypochlorite. Otherwise, its disinfecting capabilities can be questionable. 

Bleach bottles typically have directions for how to dilute bleach for cleaning. If your bottle doesn't have these instructions, here's a general bleach-to-water ratio for cleaning: Add 5 tablespoons bleach per every gallon of room temperature water, or for smaller jobs add 4 teaspoons bleach per every quart of water. You should mix a new solution daily, as it will lose effectiveness over time.

Uses for Bleach in Cleaning

Bleach is an oxidizing agent, not a surface cleaner. Oxidizing agents react with surfaces and break chemical bonds, which helps to kill germs and whiten pigments. But they don't actually remove soil on their own. So you will need to scrub and rinse the surface first, and then apply a bleach solution to disinfect.

Besides adding it to laundry to whiten clothes, remove stains, and disinfect fabrics, many people use bleach to clean kitchen and bathroom nonporous surfaces, including sinks, toilets, and bathtubs. Those areas are prone to bacteria and fungal growth, against which bleach can be effective. A bleach solution also can be used to sanitize nonporous surfaces after an emergency, such as a flood.

Warning

Because it is an oxidizing agent, bleach can remove color from surfaces and otherwise damage them. It's best to test your bleach solution on an inconspicuous spot first before using it all over a surface.

How to Clean With Bleach

Prior to using your bleach solution, scrub away any visible dirt on the surface. The dirt can prevent bleach from making good contact with the surface and fully sanitizing it. You can use a household cleaner or simply a wet cloth with dish soap, depending on the residue.

Then, here are a few basic tips for how to use bleach to clean:

  • Ensure good ventilation, as bleach fumes can be harmful. You also can wear a face mask when cleaning with bleach to reduce the amount of fumes you breathe in.
  • Wear gloves to clean with bleach, as it’s harsh on the skin. Also, wear eye protection if there’s a risk of splashes. Note which protective gear the bleach bottle label recommends. 
  • Follow the bottle label for how to apply the bleach solution and which surfaces it is good for. In general, the bleach solution should remain visibly wet on a surface for at least a minute to disinfect.
  • You usually will need to rinse after cleaning with bleach, though check the product recommendations. 
  • Keep kids and pets out of the area until the surface has dried.

Warning

It is generally safe to clean with bleach, but you should never mix bleach with household cleaners. Bleach can have a dangerous reaction with ammonia, acids, and other cleaner ingredients that can produce toxic gases.

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Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleaning and Disinfecting With Bleach. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Cleaning and Sanitizing With Bleach After an Emergency. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. Dangers of Mixing Bleach with Cleaners. Washington State Department of Health.