Bleach - Using chlor-alkali chemistry safely to protect our health


Chlorinated bleach (or just “bleach”) has been an important household chemical for over two hundred years. Whilst most people know it as a disinfectant, used to keep drinking water and pools healthy, it began its life in keeping white clothing from turning yellow during washing. Amongst experts, its chemical name is hypochlorite.

Bleach is also used every week in homes and hospitals for its role in removing bacteria and viruses. It has even been recommended for helping to inactivate the COVID-19 virus. Here, global health experts advised diluting 20 mL of household bleach (approximately 6%) in 1 L of water before use on rinsed surfaces, floors and bathrooms.

However, like any household chemical, it must be sensibly and safely used:

  • Bleach must be handled with proper care and protection for the hands and face as it can irritate skin and damage our eyes;
  • It should never be drank or injected, even when diluted, as a treatment for infections or in online ‘dares’ as this can be fatal;
  • Bleach should be kept in a dark, secure place away from children. Careful attention should be given to any expiry date;
  • Finally, bleach should never be mixed with other cleaning fluids (such as vinegar, ammonia, rubbing alcohol or peroxide) as these chemicals can react and cause toxic and corrosive gases to form.

There have also been some suggestions that inhaling small volumes of bleach fumes (or even chlorine gas) could help treat infections. This could also be fatal, as people who are suffering from such infections have damaged lungs that could be made even worse by inhaling such gas.

Hypochlorite is also used to disinfect drinking water. Here, water purification experts carefully add it at very low levels to keep water free of microbes that can cause life-threatening illnesses such as cholera.

Bleach has been safely used for centuries to help keep us healthy. When stored, handled and used correctly, bleach is an essential tool to help protect our homes, hospitals and communities. It is one of several chlor-alkali chemicals that help keep us healthy. Discover more at