Have you ever felt ill after inhaling too much bleach? Do you feel that tickle in your throat when you clean with it? Do you wonder if it’s actually safe to clean with bleach, or wish there was a natural alternative?
Bleach kills germs and mildew, whitens fabric and is a great all-around, frugal cleaner, right?
But imagine if you could get your countertops just as clean and disinfected with a natural product that wouldn’t make your nose burn.
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to eradicate bleach from your kitchen.
Bleach is as much of a toxin as it is a cleaner. Here are some of the hazards:
- Respiratory issues
- Skin burns
- Damage to nervous system
- Exacerbates Asthma
- Accidents that cause the skin to come into direct contact with bleach or people ingesting it (as many as 700 adults per year)
- Linked to cancer
Many sources say that chlorine by itself is not hazardous and will break down before it reaches the environment, which may be true (but it sounds a little too good to be true). The real hazard of bleach is that it can’t be mixed with ammonia, vinegar or other acids, and even organic matter (and what would you normally clean up with bleach? Organic matter, of course.). Each of these compounds causes a reaction with bleach that emits toxic, potentially carcinogenic fumes.
The Story that Woke me up to the Hazards of Bleach
I read a story a few years ago about a boy doing his homework in his room. He was concentrating and writing a delightful essay about such-and-such and so-and-so (can you tell I can’t find the exact source for this story?), when rather suddenly he began to feel less focused and his handwriting actually changed and became sloppy, as did his line of thinking. The only thing that changed in his environment was that his mother was using bleach in the laundry room below, connected to his room by the ventilation system. Inhaling bleach fumes actually decreased his concentration, motor control, and cognition. As a teacher, I was shocked by the handwriting sample and even more shocked to think about how much bleach was used in my old school building.
Did you know that housewives have some of the highest rates of air-pollution-caused disease? The indoor air quality in many homes is some of the most hazardous around, in part (in most part?) because of fumes from cleaning products.
Is Bleach Even Effective?
First of all, bleach has to dry on the surface you’re trying to disinfect in order to kill all the bacteria. That may make you think twice about adding a glug of bleach to your dishwater. Besides that, some dish soaps have ammonia in them – major death-wish no-no!
Secondly, bleach becomes ineffective when it touches organic matter, which means that any food or gunk on whatever you’re trying to disinfect must be completely cleaned off first, before spraying a bleach solution on.
Bleach is overkill. It’s not necessary in your kitchen. Please accept the Monday Mission this week to eradicate bleach from your kitchen, and learn about the easy, frugal, natural cleaners I employ in my kitchen.
How to Replace Bleach in Your Cleaning Routine
Here are some of the most common places you’ll find bleach in the kitchen:
- To disinfect the counters/dishes after cutting raw meat
- In dishwasher detergent
- In dish soap
- Some add bleach to their dishwater
So now you need to know what to do instead of bleach, right?
- To wash dishes: You simply don’t need bleach. Just use dish soap. If you feel the need to disinfect your dishes, either use the sanitizing cycle on your dishwasher or pour boiling water on them.
- Dishwasher detergents: This is a sticking point for me. There are good natural commercial detergents out there that don’t use bleach. Because the dishwasher sends out steam that would otherwise be laden with bleach fumes (and heating it makes it easier for your body to absorb, unfortunately), dishwasher detergents are a really important area to “go green”.
- Don’t buy products “with added bleach”. Yuck! Just wash stuff.
- To sanitize after cutting raw meat, especially chicken? Use two totally harmless products, one after the other. Keep reading and I’ll tell you more.
Natural Alternatives to Bleach
Did you know that the EPA tested some natural disinfectants and found one that is just as effective as bleach? Read all about the natural disinfectant that the EPA rates as highly as bleach!
Research even shows that vinegar and hydrogen peroxide sprayed separately is “more effective at killing …Salmonella, Shigella, or E. coli bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.”
I’ve seen this study quoted many, many places, but here’s the trick: the two solutions MUST be in separate containers and sprayed one after the other. I always try to let stuff like this dry on the surface, because I believe that’s where most of the sanitizing action happens. It takes time to wage war on bacteria. When you’re talking stuff like fish and raw chicken, it’s worth the wait.
When Is It Worth Using Bleach?
There are some instances where bleach has a place. Feces all over your laundry room (where you stock food), for one. Putting a dark green tablecloth in with white socks and underwear, and nothing else works to get the socks back white, for two. At least, that’s when I’ve used bleach in the past year at my house! (The feces in the laundry room would have been a fabulous blog post if I had been blogging at the time. Seriously. Yuck.)
For many jobs, it’s just overkill. For others, there are simply other, less toxic ways to achieve the same end. For a curious child, bleach could spell the end. Wouldn’t you rather have food in the kitchen and be a little less prone to memorizing the poison control number? (By the way, I memorized it anyway.)
Why take a risk with your health and that of the environment if you don’t have to?
I challenge you to commit today to wean yourself from any bleach you might have in your kitchen. Move it up and out of the way, especially if you have little ones. They’re too precious to risk getting hurt by something that’s not even necessary. I’m happy to have one bottle of bleach in my house, on a high shelf in the laundry room. I will never let it be under my kitchen sink or stored in my bathroom again. Will you join me?
Need Some Baby Steps?
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.
That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and made a printable checklist so you can track your progress.
Sign up to get the checklist and weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.