Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bleach: When do I use it and how much?

By Kateri Wimsett, Education & Outreach Specialist

As a mom of young children, I try to be careful with hazardous products in and around my home. I do my best to keep household hazardous items, such as cleaners and polishes, locked and in upper cabinets so they are out of reach of my little people’s busy hands. And because I want to limit their chemical exposures, for daily cleaning projects I use non-toxic, green cleaning methods.  It costs less, it’s safer, and it gets the job done.

But there are situations when I need not just to clean, but to sanitize or disinfect.  If you’ve had a kid down with the flu, or even worse if your whole household has been down with the flu, you can appreciate where I’m coming from.  Cleaning has to do with removing dirt, dust, and spills. This can be accomplished with soap and water. But sanitizing and disinfecting are about killing germs and in many homes this means using bleach. 

Bleach is a common household chemical. It is used widely in the home in laundry as a whitener and elsewhere as a disinfectant and sanitizer.  If used correctly bleach is both an economical and an effective way of killing harmful bacteria and viruses.  But we need to remember that bleach is a hazardous product. There is nothing worse than holes in your clothing or getting bleach, which is harmfully corrosive, in your eyes or on your skin—yikes! 

How much bleach do I need?

Bleach is powerful stuff —but add too little and it won’t do the job, add too much and you expose yourself and your family to harmful irritants. 

Sanitizing: for anything that has contact with food – this means refrigerators, freezers, countertops, high chair trays, or my favorite, toys that have been or are likely to be mouthed
  • ¼ teaspoon of bleach per 1 quart of water (1 teaspoon of bleach per 1 gallon of water)  
 Disinfecting: for anything like a diapering area and a hand washing area
  • 1 tablespoon of bleach per quart of water (¼ cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water) 
And let’s not forget the final step (this is a biggie) — once you apply the bleach solution let it air dry.  If you can’t wait until it is completely dry, wait at least two minutes then wipe dry.  If you don’t wait the appropriate time, the bleach won’t adequately kill the germs.

Tips for using bleach:

  • NEVER (Notice the bold and underline here!) mix bleach with any other household or cleaning product.  Mixing it can cause poisonous gasses to be released. 
  • Wear gloves and eye protection when mixing bleach.
  • Add bleach to the water, not water to the bleach.
  • Mix bleach with room temperature water.
  • Purchase fragrance-free, regular strength bleach.
  • When using bleach at home, open doors and windows to let fresh air in.
  • Clean surfaces with soap and water first.  If an area is dirty it stops the disinfectant from working properly.  Rinse the area with clean water, then sanitize or disinfect.

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