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

Posted By Kimberly Delaney On April 9, 2009 @ 12:50 pm In Green Living, Healthy Home | 5 Comments

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 [1] 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 [2] 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 [3] 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 [4]. 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 [5].

Bleach may not be as bad as some of the most toxic cleaners [6], 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.


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URLs in this post:

[1] EPA-registered pesticide: http://life.gaiam.com/gaiam/p/Are-Disinfectants-Overkill.html

[2] Seventh Generation: http://www.gaiam.com/category/eco-home-outdoor/household/seventh-generation.do?SID=WG107SPRTAPEMACS

[3] Reader’s Digest: http://www.rd.com/advice-and-know-how/extraordinary-uses-for-bleach/article23760.html

[4] excellent stain remover: http://blog.gaiam.com/blog/the-top-five-kitchen-cupboard-ingredients-for-non-toxic-cleaning/

[5] homemade, nontoxic, whitening softscrub formula: http://blog.gaiam.com/blog/a-nontoxic-way-to-whiten-sinks-tubs-and-more/

[6] some of the most toxic cleaners: http://life.gaiam.com/gaiam/p/MopClosetMakeoverGetthechemicalsout.html

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