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Coupon Abbreviations
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organic living journey the dangers of bleach

The following is part of an Organic Journey Guest Post Series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

Houston, we have a problem.  My girls had a humidifier in their room this winter and their beautiful roman shades have stayed down.  My initial thought was that this was a great way to add a little extra insulation to our poorly insulated house.  Well, it backfired.  Big time.  When the girls went to raise their blinds, we discovered that the windows had collected moisture, and now there is mold all over the windows, blinds and window panes.  Since we are heading out of town, I thought I’d take care of the problem with some bleach before we left so that their room would have some time to air out, but in the back of my mind, I remembered something I had read about bleach being not so great for us.  So, it is time to explore the scoop behind bleach and it’s effects and decide what to use to kill the mold.

What’s the Difference between Chlorine and Bleach?

Bleach is any chemical used to lighten or remove color.  So, based on this definition sunlight and lemon juice are also bleaches.  Chlorine was used in the past as the main ingredient of most household cleaning bleaches.  Here is where it gets vastly confusing for those of us who aren’t chemists.  According to the NY State Department, chlorine is formed by the electrolysis of sodium chloride brine.  Sodium chloride is salt.  Brine is salt water.  My friend google tells me that electrolysis is, “Chemical decomposition produced by passing an electric current through a liquid or solution containing ions.”  So, it sounds like they are talking some salt water and sending an electrical charge through it thus decomposing it and changing the cellular structure of the solution.  Are you still with me?

The leading maker of what I think of when you say “bleach” is Clorox.  The ingredient list on their bleach includes sodium chloride and water amongst other things.  Does it have to be listed as chlorine if you put an electrical charge through it, or is it possible to list chlorine as their parts instead of what they are post-electrolysis?  Probing a little further though, their corporate website says this, “In 2011, Clorox completed its transition of all U.S. bleach manufacturing operations from using chlorine to high-strength bleach as a raw material. The transportation of chlorine has now been eliminated from our end-to-end U.S. supply chain.”  Which would lead you to believe that it doesn’t contain chlorine at all, right?  Well, then on another link from Clorox’s site, I found this description of their bleach, “This product is a 6.0% sodium hypochlorite solution, containing approximately 5.7% available chlorine by weight. The purity of its ingredients and the carefully supervised process of its manufacture make this product a quality source of chlorine for water treatment in swimming and wading pools.”  So the product that doesn’t contain chlorine is apparently a quality source of chlorine.  Yep, that doesn’t make any sense at all!  I personally, am going to err on the side of caution and assume that if their product is a quality source of chlorine, that it must contain some chlorine.

Dangers of Chlorine

There are long lists everywhere on the hazards of chlorine to our health.  My favorite fact on why we should avoid it is from the New York State Department of Health: “Chlorine was also the first poison gas to be used as a weapon during World War I.”  They go on to share that chlorine destroys cell structures and can result in pulmonary edema.  Another source shared this tidbit, “When mixed with ammonia, it [chlorine] creates a deadly gas. Remember that urine contains ammonia, so using the products in the toilet increase the risk of creating a toxic gas that can actually stop lung function.”  Mercy.  According to the NY State Department, even if it isn’t mixed with ammonia, just inhaling chlorine (which is where you are most likely to be exposed since at room temperature, chlorine is a gas) can result in, “eye/skin/airway irritation, sore throat and cough…At higher levels of exposure, signs and symptoms may progress to chest tightness, wheezing, dyspnea, and bronchospasm.”  (Fyi, dyspnea is shortness of breath and bronchospasm is a tightening of the muscles of the bronchioles and is often related to asthma.)  They also go on to share a larger concern for our little munchkins who are no doubt running around the house as we clean.  “Children may receive a larger dose than adults exposed to environments with the same levels of chlorine gas because they have greater lung surface area-to-body weight ratios and increased minute volumes-to-weight ratios. In addition, they may be exposed to higher levels than adults in the same location because of their shorter height and the higher levels of chlorine gas that may be found nearer the ground.”  So chlorine hangs around nearer the ground where my munchkins are hanging out, breathing deep.  Good to know.

Regardless of whether or not bleach actually contains chlorine, the warning label alone should be a heads up: “Danger: Corrosive.  May cause severe skin and eye irritation or chemical burns to broken skin.  Causes eye damage.  Wear safety glasses and rubber gloves when handling this product.  Wash after handling.  Avoid breathing vapors.  Vacate poorly ventilated areas as soon as possible.  Do not return until strong odors have dissipated.”  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been pulling out my safety glasses and rubber gloves when using bleach.  Also, I’ve just discovered that bleach isn’t the best at cleaning mold on porous surfaces.  A source said this, “Some of the mold on the surface might be killed but the roots of the mold are left intact meaning the mold soon returns, leaving you in a cycle of repeated bleaching. Perhaps this is why some people believe that spraying bleach on mold doesn’t affect it but instead just bleaches its color so you can no longer see it.”  I think I’ve learned all I need to know.  It’s time to look for an alternative to eliminating the mold in my girlies’ room.

Next week, we’ll look at alternatives to bleach for killing mold.  For now, have you ever experienced negative side affects from using bleach or chlorine?  Or, if you are a chemist, feel free to enlighten us where my understanding is limited!

    • nancy

      I used baking soda and vinegar on our carpet after our dog had a bad stomach virus. Well it worked so well it actually bleached out the carpet everywhere I cleaned. Try it first before you use it on any large areas.

    • Rachel B

      On our windowsills, over the winter, we get mildew on our glass panes and on the sills. I use citrus vinegar or straight vinegar but, as you said, it doesn’t get rid of the stains. I’ll have to try the peroxide after the vinegar to see if the stains can be removed and may even throw in a spritz of tea tree oil just to be beligerant:)

    • noahcat

      Check out Grapefruit Seed Extract. it must be diluted and is not cheap but it is an awesome thing.

    • Leajz

      Bleach shouldn’t be used to kill mold anyway. It doesn’t get to the “roots” and just adds more moisture where there’s obviously already too much. You can end up creating a larger mold problem.

      • Jennifer W

        I’ve also heard this. Bleach shouldn’t be used on mold.

    • Catherine B

      Hi! Just to clarify before anyone panics. Chlorine gas is actually Cl^2, or two molecules of chlorine bonded together. This makes it significantly different than chlorine ions or hypochlorate acids, which are ionic. Being ionic makes them more stable, and stable ions or molecules are generally safer for your health than reactive molecules. You’ve said household bleach, like Clorox, is sodium hypochlorite. In water, that’s fairly stable stuff.

      As long as what you mix your household bleach with is fairly neutral, you’re safe. As a general rule, you shouldn’t mix it with anything except basic soaps and water. Most other cleaning agents are reactive with bleach, so they are potentially going to react with your bleach to make chlorine gas. Which would be bad.

      You can panic all you like about whether acids like sodium hypochlorite are toxic, but honestly as that point you need to stop using any cleaning products, as anything that is able to clean is also somewhat toxic. It’s simple chemistry. Besides, if you’re trying to kill things like mold, don’t you want something that kills things? Personally, I would just use the bleach then open the windows and get the kids out of the house for a few hours. With little ones, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using vinegar (not strong enough) or tea tree oil (toxic when ingested). With mold, I generally use scalding water as hot as I can stand with a decent amount of bleach, but then I have horrible respiratory problems.

      • radiogal

        I am severely asthmatic, so ANY bleach or chlorine containing product could put me in dire straights. I HAVE actually made the transition to all natural cleaners and find they work very well. I make a solution with white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, orange essence, and water that cleans and degreases quite thoroughly. For larger, more difficult mold issues, it has been recommended to me to use denatured alcohol. I have yet to try it, and will research it more thoroughly before attempting to breathe the fumes while cleaning, but it makes perfect sense.

      • cakewalkingmother

        Vinegar does kill mold spores…and my respiratory problems ended when I switched to natural cleaners…just sayin’.

    • Jules

      Have you heard of Norwex?

      • amysanders

        I haven’t. What is it?

    • Kathy

      I will never use bleach again,4 yrs ago my window in our bathroom did the same as yours mold,I did clean it with bleach and ended up with pneumonia I was sick for two months .now I use vinegar, baking soda and peroxide to clean with no more bleach for me or my family.

    • TheChapLeigh

      I appreciate this post. I’ve not really transitioned into safer cleaners yet, since I’ve got such a mess of kids (stinky boys being the WORST) and farm life… I definitely need the bathrooms to be CLEAN!! Bleach has been one of my closest friends, LOL!!

      However, after cleaning FOUR toilets on my cleaning sprees (yes, FOUR), I say to myself that I’ve GOT to find a better cleaner that won’t leave me holding my breath for a minute, ducking out to take a few gasps, then hurrying to swirl that toilet brush around and get outta dodge before the next breath…

      And meat juices in the kitchen drain… can anyone tell me if the safer stuff is REALLY killing the germs we don’t want around? I hesitate to use the 7th Generation stuff in my kitchen sink or toilets… is vinegar a better option to guarantee the germs to go?

      • jenn

        I too have farm life. And I have never used anything but vinegar. I use full strength white vinegar to clean everything. I will mix it with some baking soda to clean bath tubes etc. But yes it does the job and it is proven to kill the germs. And if you don’t like the smell it goes away pretty quickly. Much much safer for you

    • Jaclyn

      Thank you for these post’s!!

    • Wow! I am 62 years old and had a strange red rash/ swelling around my eyes and had already made an appointment with an allergist. I am prone to allergies anyway. The rash/swelling are gone now, but realized that I had my hands in an off brand” bleach” and am convinced that it was the one thing that I was doing differently! I will not use from now on!

    • Concerned

      “So, it sounds like they are talking some salt water and sending an electrical charge through it thus decomposing it and changing the cellular structure of the solution. Are you still with me?”

      Actually, no; I’m not with you. Cells make up living organisms. Bleach is not a living organism, so there is no “cellular structure” to be changed.

      • jason

        She means atomic structure

    • tori729

      My mom can’t use bleach; she breaks out.
      What does all of this mean about going swimming? You are submersed in chlorine!