The risks of cleaning with bleach and other disinfectants

walterbell | 142 points

From the article: "The chemicals in bleach “are persistent in the environment, and they’re also very corrosive,” she added."

This seems incomplete at best and disingenuous at worst.

It's my understanding that chlorine bleach breaks down into oxygen, NaCl, and water.

So, sure, you can argue that salt water is persistent in our environment and also corrosive, but that statement strikes me the same way as how people have long warned about the dangers of ever present dihydrogen monoxide in almost everything we consume these days.

insaneirish | 3 months ago

I thought bleach and alcohol were thought to not create pressure for resistance because of their nature.

It is interesting they talk about benzalkonium chloride, that stuff absolutely destroys my hands.

When the FDA shut down triclosan all the soaps for paranoid people switched to Benzalklonium Chloride. That stuff absolutely destroy my skin. No matter what anyone complains about they won't stop putting it in all the bathroom soap dispensers in our office. I can go in with my skin fine, if I wash my hands 3x in a day they are almost bleeding by the end of the day.

Also interesting Benzalkloium Chloride last time I looked was in limbo with the FDA, they couldn't decide whether to officially approve it or ban it. They know it causes contact dermatitis. It is currently in a state where the manufacturers are preparing evidence to get it approved but yet it is allowed to be on the market.

ben7799 | 3 months ago

I agree with the risks stated in the article but I would add that people on well water should still use bleach and other strong chemicals in their bathroom from time to time. Well water does not contain Chlorine bleach and there are a number of bacteria that can grow out of control in a bathroom when Chlorine is not present in the water. Some feed off the fats in soap scum, commonly on the bottom of the shower curtain. A home I bought came with this little gift and I've had to cycle through bleach, Lysol and high powered UVC lamps to get rid of it. And UVC lamps come with the risk of converting O2 to O3 Ozone which requires good ventilation.

LinuxBender | 3 months ago

This strikes me as more of a scare piece than useful. Certainly overuse of cleaning agents is a problem. But that sounds like more of a problem with education or a mental issue than a problem with the cleaning agents, per se.

I used to swim all the time in chlorinated pools as a kid. The only consequences were hair getting bleached to an greenish tint, and irritated eyes.

Sodium and chloride are the constituents of plain 'ol salt. You body deals with it well. Your stomach acid of hydrochloric acid, and it doesn't seem to be an issue, either.

I'm not worried about bleach at all, as long as it's used with common sense. So don't go overboard. Dont drink it. Don't take a both in concented bleach. I'm sure you'll be fine.

I'm sure that there are exceptions, like maybe the fumes are too much for someone with asthma or whatever. There used to be problems with dioxins that were the redult of bleaching agents. But, again, if people exercise common sense, then I'm sure that society will muddle along.

webnrrd2k | 3 months ago

If you ever have to move into a cabin in the American Southwest that's been a mouse and rodent playground, saturating it with a solution of 10% chlorine bleach in water is not a bad idea (hantavirus is the general issue in that case). You will want to rinse with a lot of water to get residue out, though.

However, such scorched-earth tactics are a bad idea on a regular basis, just use simple non-toxic cleaning agents like sodium percarbonate aka 'chlorine-free oxygen bleach', sodium citrate (basically citric acid + sodium bicarbonate cooked together in solution), and simple soap (vegetable oil + lye). The latter two are not hard to make yourself if you want to, just find a reliable recipe and instruction set online (gloves and eye protection recommended).

photochemsyn | 3 months ago

After all the clickbait, here's the EPA's Safer Ingredients List for antibacterials.[1]

* Chitosan

* Citric acid, anhydrous

* Ethanol

* Hydrogen peroxide

* Isopropanol

* L-Lactic acid

* Peracetic acid

* Sodium bisulfate

Citric acid cleaners are widely available and cheap. They work as as degreasers, and they are not flammable.


Animats | 3 months ago

I like this article because it seems to be like a lot of people in the US equate the smell of bleach or lysol with cleanliness, which is far from the case and we now know, could be harmful. You should not let the floor dry with cleaning product, you should first rinse it with water.

Plus, there is increasing recognition that our mucosal surfaces are covered by 'helpful bacteria' and when you get rid of them the pathogenic bacteria are in more direct contact with your epithelium.

I don't see why a similar mechanism would not exist for inanimate surfaces - maybe having a thin coating of 'good dust' is better than letting a pathogen stick directly to the tiles?

In a few years maybe cleaning products will come with a post-cleaning/pre-biotic solution which includes 'good bacteria' or 'good fungi' to form a new barrier on your clean home surfaces.

pazimzadeh | 3 months ago

Bleach wasn’t commonly used for bathroom cleaning in the US ore-covid? It’s quite common in Europe and much of the rest of the world…

dogma1138 | 3 months ago

.. since I just used some dilute bleach to de-stink a kitchen sponge (yes, I will buy some more sponges next time I think of it):

You do have to be careful. I soaked the sponge in several changes of water, soapy and clean. But come on! Bleach is a mainstay. Just don't overuse it.

AlbertCory | 3 months ago

> Calls to poison control centers about cleaning chemicals also increased during the pandemic, primarily for accidental or intentional ingestion.

I seem to recall a prominent American recommending the ingestion of bleach as a treatment for Coronavirus.

denton-scratch | 3 months ago

Serious question, what do people clean their bathroom with then…I used to never use bleach but it’s the most effective thing to clean bath and toilets.

syntaxing | 3 months ago

Yes, bleach is great when you dilute it properly, ventilate, wear gloves, and don't mix it with other chemicals, thanks article!

jrootabega | 3 months ago

What the New York Times thinks will happen: Enhanced labeling and regulation of dangerous chemicals in household cleaners leads to a safer world for all.

What will actually happen: Common chemicals like bleach, borax, vinegar, and ammonia will be banned from direct sale to consumers; you'll be forced to buy whatever brand name from one of two major manufacturers, with as little insight into its composition and dangers as you have today. A decade from now they'll run an exposé about the multi-generational environmental impact of some exotic chemical these products used. Lawyers get paid $millions in a class action. You get lung cancer and a coupon for $5.95. Cleaning products still cost $10 per quart.

ericbarrett | 3 months ago

I've purchased a little water electrolyzer from Amazon to use as a bleach alternative, and it seems to work quite well. I wonder why this isn't more popular. A little less convenient (takes a little time to make, shelf life of days) and more upfront cost perhaps?

micromacrofoot | 3 months ago

Sorry, but saying hydrogen peroxide is safer than bleach and therefore you should swap them is leaving out a massive caveat.

It is still corrosive and an irritant. Yes, the decomposition products are much less of a problem, but thats kinda less of the point.

KaiserPro | 3 months ago

What about iodine based sanitizers? I see those were missing from the list. Obviously those aren't great on things that can stain. I understand the risk with those is that some people are sensitive to iodine.

giantg2 | 3 months ago

I see this time and again and people need to know that bleach is not a cleaner. It is a disinfectant at most and an oxidizer that can turn some things white but, no, it does no cleaning of its own.

assimpleaspossi | 3 months ago
| 3 months ago

Any reason to not just give things a quick wipe down with isopropyl alcohol, besides flammability?

StrangeATractor | 3 months ago

author gives worse-than-real arguments for bleach causing COPD while grouping it with actual disinfectants that leave nasty residue which grows resistant bacteria.

Forestessential | 3 months ago

Low quality, low science article.

exabrial | 3 months ago


ReaderView | 3 months ago


tyronehed | 3 months ago

I don't use disinfectants - not because I fear the chemicals - but because I believe that your immune system needs to be exposed to germs. It's necessary to keep it fit IMO.

grammers | 3 months ago