How to Safely Use Bleach as a Cleaner

When disinfecting surfaces in your apartment to minimize your chances of spreading or catching COVID-19, you might turn to bleach as your disinfecting product of choice. Bleach is a viable last-resort option if you don’t have disinfecting wipes, disinfecting sprays, isopropyl alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide on hand – and since most stores haven’t been able to supply enough of these items to meet customer demand, that large jug of bleach you keep with your cleaning supplies might be your only choice. If you need to use bleach as your disinfectant, follow these steps to ensure you safely use bleach as a cleaner.

safely use bleach

Never mix bleach with ammonia – or anything

Bleach’s reputation as a dangerous chemical is largely due to its reactivity with other substances. When mixed with ammonia or toilet bowl cleaners, bleach can produce chlorine gas that can kill you if it comes into contact with your eyes or lungs. Even hot water can react with bleach to produce chlorine gas. Thus, if you’re going to use bleach to disinfect surfaces around your apartment, you can only safely use bleach as a cleaner if you’re using no other substances.

Combine bleach with lukewarm water

Although bleach can produce chlorine gas when combined with hot water, it’s such a potent substance that you’ll need to combine it with lukewarm (room temperature) water before using it. This way, the bleach is diluted enough that it won’t cause serious harm to you while you use it. Leading health agencies recommend that your bleach solution comprise one cup of bleach added to five gallons of water, whereas others recommend a much weaker combination of one part bleach to ten parts water. If you’re concerned about safety, err on the lower side.

Clean, then disinfect

To safely use bleach as a cleaner, you’ll actually want to clean any surfaces you’re planning to bleach before applying your bleach. Though bleach is a powerful disinfectant, the presence of surface contaminants such as dirt and dust can lessen its effectiveness, so instead, make sure to first clean surfaces with soap and water. Then, let these surfaces fully dry before applying your bleach solution. Once you’ve applied your bleach, let it sit for 10 minutes before wiping down the surface with lukewarm water – again, hot water should never be mixed with bleach.

Protect yourself

Although bleach can disinfect your apartment, you should handle it as with any other dangerous substance. Wear gloves whenever you use bleach, whether disposable gloves or reusable gloves dedicated solely to cleaning and disinfecting. You should also open windows near the surfaces you’re cleaning to ensure proper ventilation, as the less bleach you inhale, the healthier you’ll be. Lastly, when you finish using your bleach solution, you should thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 

This handwashing technique is the same one you’re likely already using to limit your exposure to COVID-19 – the same reason you’re bleaching your surfaces. When it comes to a pandemic, you’re always better overdoing it on hygiene than winding up sick.

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