Chlorine bleach has been around for a couple of centuries. No one thought of using it as a cleaning agent until about 100 years ago. The company now known as Clorox began operations in 1913 making bleach for industrial use.
It was not until 1916 that Annie Murray, the wife of the general manager, suggested making a less concentrated bleach for household use. She and her husband had invested in the Electro-Alkaline Company, Clorox’ original name, and watched it almost go bankrupt.
As a successful grocery store owner, she had proven talent as a marketer. She gave away bottles of Clorox at the store and touted its virtues not only for bleaching, but cleaning and disinfecting. It caught on.
Why use bleach for cleaning?
Chlorine bleach is powerful for killing not only germs, but mold and mildew as well. The same whitening power that whitens fabric washed in it removes stains from other surfaces as well. It works.
It also stinks. It’s caustic. Clorox and other companies therefore have mixed bleach into other cleaning products where it works its magic without being so unpleasant to use.
Still, it’s hard to separate the success of that stinky product from the marketing that made Clorox a household name. The public has come to trust the brand.
People in this country have also become irrationally scared of germs — more scared of germs than they are other, more immediate and dangerous hazards. How many modern homemakers clean their bathrooms with bleach straight from the bottle?
“I can’t breathe while I’m doing it,” says one, “but I feel like it’s cleaning. It’s disinfecting. I see it. Whereas if I use something environmentally healthy it isn’t as harsh, but I feel like it’s not doing its job, keeping my baby safe.”
Why you shouldn’t use bleach for cleaning
You can’t breathe while you’re using bleach because chorine gas is a deadly poison. You’re endangering your health.
Bleach vapor causes irritation to the eyes at a concentration of 3-6 ppm in the air. Nose and throat irritation takes place at 15 ppm.
Unless you live in a very old house, it is sealed. Because exchange of indoor and outdoor air is limited, air pollution rise higher levels indoors than outdoors. So what happens to the bleach vapors that keep you from breathing while you use it? They stay in the house and accumulate. The baby may be safe from germs, but not from the accumulation of bleach vapor.
Environmentally safe cleaners
I admire the Clorox company. Chlorine bleach is their signature product. Companies that market tobacco, high fructose corn sweetener, genetically modified organisms, and other dangerous products have circled the wagons to defend them. Some have even interfered with the dissemination of scientific studies in the news media.
Not Clorox. Clorox now sells an entire line of household products, Green Works, that do not contain chlorine bleach.
And yet many consumers still seem to think, or rather feel, that if something is touted as good for the environment, it must not work very well! If something is harsh, it feels like it’s working. If something isn’t harsh, it no longer feels like it’s working. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t.
Meanwhile, the harsh cleansers are as harsh on your body as they are on germs. They are less dangerous to others in the household than they are to whoever directly uses the bleach, but arguably more dangerous than most of the germs. Safe products clean and disinfect effectively. They really do.