Should We Be Using Bleach?

How To Use Bleach? To bleach something means to whiten it. The chemical in bleach (usually sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide) oxidizes organic compounds within dyes, thus rendering them soluble so that they can be washed away. If not used correctly, bleach can seriously fade and weaken cloth or make it go into holes. Should we be using bleach? In short, no – at least not in every wash as a matter of course.

Modern automatic washing machines wash so well that heavy bleaching should really be a thing of the past. This can only be a good thing. Bleach is extremely toxic, so should be used only when really necessary.

Where bleach does come in handy is for heavily stained garments, or if you need to sanitize something – e.g. kitchen cloths, or clothes or linens that have been used by someone who has been ill. Do not get into the habit of using bleach all the time.



One of the most powerful bleaches is sunlight. The same action that causes your curtains, pictures and soft furnishings to fade can be put to good effect when laundering. Sunlight has the same drawbacks of yellowing of whites (in the long term) and fading of colors, but has the huge bonus of being completely free.


Chlorine bleach. This cheap product is the strongest household bleach. It whitens whites (though too much will cause them to go yellow), brightens colorfast colors, removes stains and mildew, sanitizes and deodorizes. But it also fades colored fabrics; it is highly toxic, poisonous if swallowed, and can give off choking fatal fumes if mixed with other substances.

It should never be used on silk, wool, leather, nylon, many of the synthetic fabrics used to make sportswear (e.g. triacetate, polyamide, lycra) and fabrics with special fnishes, and is not recommended on any other sheer or delicate fabric.

Before bleaching, check for colorfastness. Make a solution (1 tsp of bleach to 1 teacup of cold water) and soak a small, inconspicuous corner of the garment to be bleached in it. Wait 10 minutes to see if the color fades or changes in any way, and then press between two pieces of kitchen towel to check for color run. Allow to dry, then check again.



Do not use more bleach than is recommended by the manufacturers (normally 90 ml to 5 litres of water). Add bleach to water and mix thoroughly before adding items to be bleached. Do not pour neat bleach on to them. Soak for the recommended time (usually 30 minutes). If it is more convenient to soak overnight, use half as much bleach. After soaking, rinse thoroughly in clear water before washing.


Oxygen bleach. This is a more recent addition to the cleaning repertoire. It is sometimes called ‘all-purpose’ or ‘all-fabric’ bleach. It is gentler than chlorine bleach, thus it can be used on a wider range of fabrics; and it is safe on non-colorfast fabrics. But it cannot restore whiteness once it has been lost.

Oxygen bleach is normally added to the wash at the beginning. Put a scoop of bleach either directly on top of the wash or in the special plastic dispenser
that comes with some makes.

Tags: bleach, cleaning supplies

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