The Dark Side of Bleach + 3 Safe Alternatives that Go Toe-to-Toe

Kimberly Delaney by Kimberly Delaney | April 9th, 2009 | 5 Comments
topic: Green Living, Healthy Home

bleachBleach is one of those household items that has been around for so long no one can remember when we didn’t use it. So it’s often assumed to be non-toxic and even natural. While bleach isn’t the worst toxin you could have in your home, it is an EPA-registered pesticide that is bad news for the environment and human health — and there’s really no reason you need it around.

This ultimate whitener has a real dark side

The most well-known danger of chlorine bleach comes into play when it’s mixed with ammonia. The toxic brew combines to produce chloramines and chlorine gases that are extremely toxic. But the EPA reports that bleach on its own was responsible for the poisoning of over 25,000 kids in 2000. It can also quite seriously irritate eyes, nose, throats and lungs.

While household bleach is not very concentrated, it still causes environmental damage. When bleach in wastewater comes in contact with organic materials like wood and soil, it can release the known cancer-causing and hormone disrupting chemicals dioxin and furans. It can also produce suspected reproductive toxins called trihalomethanes, a chemical group that includes cancer-causing chloroform.

Seventh Generation makes the point that if every household reduced its chlorine bleach use by just one 64 oz jug, it would keep 11.6 million pounds of chlorine out of the environment. Given the health and environmental hazard here, that sounds like a pretty good idea.

What you need is a bleach alternative wonder-cleaner

In the average household, bleach is used for many different tasks. This Reader’s Digest article gives a snapshot of how diverse and alarming these tasks are. The list includes fighting mildew and mold on a variety of surfaces, cleaning cutting boards and countertops (which you will then prepare food on), polishing your glassware (which you will then drink out of), and killing weeds.

You can do all that with nontoxic alternatives including:

  1. White vinegar goes toe to toe with bleach in terms of germ-killing power and versatility. Straight white vinegar can kill weeds on your sidewalk, mold in your shower and bacteria on your cutting board; and, you guessed it, it can even take the spots off your drinking glasses. It’s also an excellent stain remover. While I don’t recommend drinking or pouring the whole jug in your fish tank, it’s not the poison or pollutant that bleach is.
  2. Oxygen bleaches typically use hydrogen peroxide to whiten and also have antibacterial properties. While a little more toxic than vinegar, borax is another age-old product that does a great job whitening (even diapers) and is effective for scrubbing away mold and mildew.
  3. For whitening tubs, sinks and other household surfaces, try this homemade, nontoxic, whitening softscrub formula.

Bleach may not be as bad as some of the most toxic cleaners, like certain oven or toilet cleaners on the market, but it is an easy toxin to do without. It’s worth trying these alternatives to reduce your impact on the environment and keep your home both clean and health-safe.


  1. Good work – There’s a lot of doubt surrounding which methods/products are truly sustainable and which are just green washing. Check out our myth-busting video “What’s Your Big Green Lie?!” which gives a taste of the widespread ignorance of green issues including cloth VS disposable diapers at (We do not allow links in comments)

    Kyle | April 19th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. Great article. However, I have search all over and cannot seem to find out how much hydrogen peroxide to add to a regular load of laundry. Seventh Generation’s non-chlorine bleach is a good product. I have used quite a bit of it. Unfortunately, it is a little on the pricey side. I think that more people would ditch the chlorine bleach if they had a cheaper alternative. So if anyone out there knows the answer to this question they would be doing a service to us all.

    Chrissy | April 30th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. I think you’re right and whitening clothes without bleach does not need to be expensive at all. Add 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide to the rinse cycle to whiten. And don’t forget that borax is another cheap solution. Add a 1/4 cup to your wash. I even use it for cloth diapers and it works really well!

    Kimberly Delaney | April 30th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. I have butcher friend who is looking to stop using Chlorine Bleach to clean and disinfect his slicer and other equipment. Can someone help me find an affordable alternative?? Maybe using vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.

    Angie | June 22nd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  5. I think you might have your facts mixed. According to this, vinegar is not a good bleach alternative:

    “• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against relying on ammonia, baking soda, vinegar or Borax. None of these products are registered as disinfectants with the Environmental Protection Agency, and they are all ineffective against Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that is the most common cause of staph infections. Borax, baking soda and standard detergents also won’t kill salmonella or E.coli. On the other hand, vinegar and undiluted ammonia kill both salmonella and E.coli.”

    Hydrogen eyroxide might not be any better:

    “• Hydrogen peroxide can cause severe burns at high enough concentrations to be effective disinfectants.”


    Jessica Bosari | September 24th, 2012 | Comment Permalink

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