How to Use Bleach to Clean Safely and Effectively

using bleach to clean a bathroom wall

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

The heavy scent of bleach in the air must mean that something is really clean, right? Not necessarily. Bleach may be great for a lot of things, but cleaning is, technically, not one of them. Should you try cleaning with bleach, and can bleach have other benefits in your home? 

Uses

First, bleach is a oxidizing agent, not a cleaner. Oxidizing agents react with surfaces and break chemical bonds, which helps them to kill germs and whiten pigments—but they don't actually remove or clean away anything on their own. To do that, you need to scrub and rinse the surfaces first, and then apply a bleach solution. Once oxidized, the soils that were creating your dirty stains are still right there, they are just white and no longer visible to the naked eye.

Most of us smell bleach and think that it is cleaning a surface, but really, it is probably being used to disinfect the surface instead. For example, many people use bleach in their bathrooms to wipe down their toilets and bathtubs. Those are areas that are prone to bacteria growth. If there was a stain on a sink, the bleach may not remove it, but it would kill any bacteria or viruses on the surface.

Warning

For many simple household cleaning jobs, bleach isn't the right cleaning solution: It has heavy fumes, and skin contact with bleach can be harmful. Mixing it with many other cleaners can produce dangerous results. Bleach can also damage surfaces and remove color.

Bleach is a good disinfectant and stain remover but not a great general cleanser. So how can you use it in your home? Are there some instances where it is better to use than others?

Cleaning With Bleach

It is important to pre-clean surfaces before disinfecting with bleach. If there is dirt on a surface, it not only protect germs from coming in contact with the bleach and getting killed, it also "consumes" the bleach, wasting the bleach's power by whitening the dirt instead of killing the germs around and under it. Leaving dirt and oils on a surface is a near guarantee that germs will remain under inside the unwashed muck and residue.

Here are a few tips for safer bleach cleaning:

  • Dilute the bleach with water for safer cleaning. The dilution should be about 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water, or one part of bleach to 10 parts of water.
  • Bleach can be poured into a washing machine, but it will eventually be diluted with water there.
  • Clean a surface before you begin sanitizing. Use detergent and water to clean a surface, and then use bleach and water to disinfect it. Let the bleach/water solution sit on the surface for at least 5 minutes, then rinse it off and let it air dry.
  • Color-safe bleach uses hydrogen peroxide, instead of sodium hypochlorite or chlorine, to help remove stains. It can brighten colors.
  • Household cleaning products often are made of chlorine bleach. There are other types of bleach, such as peroxide bleach.
  • Bleach is used to whiten clothing. It can also remove mildew and mold. 

Warning

If you use hot water with bleach, it can release chlorine gas. Don't mix bleach with household chemicals such as vinegar or ammonia, as it can cause unsafe reactions.

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

  2. Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.