photo of cleaning doorknob
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Don't Use It All the Time

Bleach is very strong. Reach for it to whiten laundry or clean up body fluids like blood, vomit, or poop. It’s also a good way to disinfect surfaces you touch a lot. That’s things like doorknobs, countertops, or light switches. Always cut it with water.

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photo of cleaning glass in home
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Don't Mix With Ammonia

This forms a toxic gas called chloramine. It can hurt the tissue in your eyes, throat, nose, and lungs. It can also cause breathing problems.

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photo of woman carrying basket of clean towels
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Don't Put Too Much in Your Laundry

Don’t pour it directly on your things. And don’t use more than directed. That could damage them. Bleach is a good stain remover, but you can’t use it on everything. It’s not good for spandex, wool, silk, or leather. Always check the label for directions on how to wash your clothes.

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photo of cleaning smartphone
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Don't Clean Your Phone With Bleach

Bleach can damage the screen’s fingerprint-resistant coating. It might be OK to use an alcohol or disinfectant wipe. Check with the company that makes your phone to be sure. No matter what you clean with, don’t get any moisture near the openings.

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Do Protect Yourself

Bleach can burn your skin if it’s really strong. The fumes might bother your eyes and lungs. Wearing goggles, a mask, and gloves helps. You should also cover your feet and wear long sleeves and pants. Remember that bleach can stain your clothes, so don’t wear anything you really like. 

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photo of scrubbing tile
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Don't Mix With Acids

Chlorine gas forms when you mix bleach with acids like vinegar or drain cleaner. It’s dangerous to breathe in too much of it. It might make you cough or wheeze. Your eyes, nose, and throat may burn.

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photo of refrigerator door
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Don't Use It on Metal

Bleach is corrosive. It can eat erode, or eat away, metal surfaces. Don’t use it on copper, stainless steel, aluminum, or other metals. And don’t use bleach to get rid of rust, especially on fabric. It’ll just make the stain permanent.

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photo of open window
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Do Open Windows and Doors

You should be extra careful with bleach if you have allergies or a health condition that makes it hard to breathe. That includes asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Opening windows or doors helps air out your home. Turn on a fan to give the fumes an extra push.

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Don't Use an Old Bottle

You’ve got 24 hours to use bleach mixed with water. Pure bleach is good for 3-5 months. Keep the bottle away from heat and sunlight. Always toss it 1 year after it was made. Look for a string of letters and numbers on the label. For instance, you might see MR20106. That means it was made in 2020 on the 106th day of the year. Don’t worry about the letters.

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Don't Pour It Down the Drain

It might hurt your pipes or mix with other chemicals. Try baking soda instead. You can toss a handful down the drain and follow that with a rush of hot water. You can also pour 1 cup of vinegar down the drain. Let it sit in your pipes for 30 minutes, then run the hot water.

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photo of man cleaning countertop
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Do Clean With Soap and Water First

Bleach can’t power through dust and dirt. That’s partly because a thick layer of grime  protects germs. Use soap and water to clean. Then coat the entire surface with your bleach mix so it’s visibly wet. Let it air dry.

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Don't Use It on Food

It’s OK to use bleach mixed with water on eating utensils or surfaces like countertops. But don’t wash your fruits and vegetables with it. Just scrub them under running water.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/30/2020 Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on June 30, 2020

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) vusta / Getty Images

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5) Left to right:  Liliboas / Getty Images, Octavian Lazar / Getty Images, TShum / Getty Images

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SOURCES:

Erica Hartmann, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University.

California Childcare Health Program (UCSF): “Sanitize Safely and Effectively: Bleach and Alternatives in Child Care Programs.”

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: “Working with Household (Chlorine) Bleach.”

Connecticut Department of Public Health: “The Nurse’s Office: Cleaning the Safe and Healthy Way.”

CDC: “Coronavirus Disease 2019, Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting: Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes; Detailed Disinfection Guidance: Interim Recommendations for U.S. Households with Suspected or Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” “Natural Disasters and Severe Weather: Cleaning with Bleach” “Food Safety: Fruit and Vegetable Safety.”

Michigan Department of Community Health: “Bleach Fact Sheet.”

Washington State Department of Health: “Dangers of Mixing Bleach with Cleaners,” “Disinfecting and Sanitizing with Bleach Guidelines for Mixing Bleach Solutions for Child Care and Similar Environments.”  

Benzoni, T., Hatcher, J.D. Bleach Toxicity, StatPearls, 2020.

U.S. Fire Administration (FEMA): “The dangers of mixing household cleaners.”

National Research Council (US) Committee on Acute Exposure Guideline Levels. Acute Exposure Guideline Levels for Selected Airborne Chemicals: Volume 8, National Academies Press (US), 2010.

North Dakota State University: “Chlorine Bleach Safety.”

Respiratory Medicine: “Women using bleach for home cleaning are at increased risk of non-allergic asthma.”

National Capital Poison Center: “Laundry Products: How to Protect Kids from Unintentional Poisonings.”

PubChem (NIH): “Sodium hypochlorite.”

University of Kentucky: “The Chemistry of Stain Removals.”

The State University of New York: “Quick & Easy Stain Removal Tips.”

University of Illinois Extension: “Stain Solutions.”

New Jersey Department of Health: “Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet.”

College of Family and Consumer Sciences (UGA): “Remove Stains from Iron, Rust.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Sanitize Your Mobile Phone With These Helpful Tips.”

Michigan State University: “COVID-19 — Disinfecting with Bleach.”

Northeastern University Environmental Health & Safety: “Using Bleach as a disinfectant.”

Duke University: “Duke OESO Guidelines for Safe Use of Bleach.”

State of Colorado: “Keep Your Drains Draining.”

California Department of Pesticide Regulation: “What’s the problem with bleach?”

FDA: “Shopping for Food During the COVID-19 Pandemic-Information for Consumers.”

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on June 30, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.