Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Bleach Bad For You?

Also Known As: chlorine bleach



Short answer

Chlorine bleach is bad for you. Though this common household cleaning product is great for sanitizing the environment around you, the effects to your health can be catastrophic.



Long answer

Chlorine bleach, or more commonly referred to as simply bleach, is a chemical that is normally used for cleaning purposes, as well as a multitude of additional household uses. This chemical is very effective for whitening clothes, sheets, showers, toilets, and much more. For cleaning purposes, bleach is often used as a disinfectant cleanser for bathrooms, countertops, and floors. Many times, it is used in the kitchen to disinfect dishes and cookware, to decrease the chance of harmful bacteria infecting any food or surface. Bleach has some assets outdoors as well, especially when it comes to killing weeds. The chemicals in bleach act as a toxin to plants, normally killing them within 24 hours. Yet, as useful as bleach can be, it contains a lot of harmful chemicals that can attack our respiratory, and digestive systems.

Chlorine occurs in nature under normal atmospheric pressure and temperature as a gas, described as a greenish-yellow gas with a pungent and irritating odor. It is used in various industrial processes and has many different applications. In its gaseous state, it is classified as immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH), as it is acutely lethal by inhaling 430 parts per million (ppm). Even doses as low as ten ppm will cause discomfort to the eyes and respiratory system. In order to make into a liquid, it is first made into a solid in the form of calcium or sodium hypochlorite. This is a white powder that is also used in the form of compressed tablets and put in swimming pools to “shock” the water. This powder is then mixed with water to make household bleach. Even though this liquid bleach is highly diluted, it is still very dangerous. Bleach in its diluted liquid for can still poses a dangerous inhalation hazard. Acute exposure can cause eye irritation as well as respiratory irritation with symptoms such as red burning eyes, coughing, choking, and eventually death.

Bleach can also be dangerous when it comes in contact with our skin. Since bleach is a strong base, it feels very slippery to the touch, but when left on too long, it starts to burn through your skin. This is why it is very important to wash your hands after handling bleach. If ingested, bleach can cause severe medical issues like kidney and liver failure because of the high concentration of chlorine in the chemical. The strong concentration of chlorine in bleach is enough to impair motor coordination, cause respiratory issues, and even death when inhaled for long periods of time.

Bleach cannot be mixed with most cleaning chemicals, especially any containing ammonia. Ammonia is a basic household cleaner that can be used for just about everything safely. However, when you mix the two, they create a reaction that lets off a toxic fume that, when inhaled, can cause respiratory issues, severe coughing, gagging, (and in extreme cases) total suffocation. If you are ever unsure about using bleach and another cleaning product, read the label to see if it contains ammonia, and that will give you a good idea of whether it’s safe to use or not. 

The only real way to go when using bleach is to dilute it according to the instructions given by the manufacturer and use it in moderation when cleaning. The Clorox company recommends using one tablespoon of bleach for every gallon of water. Also, refrain from using it for things other than its intended use to avoid any possible harm that can come from any accidents. Though using bleach as an everyday cleaner is unadvisable, it is a great idea to keep a couple of bottles on hand in case of emergency. Bleach is one of the most useful tools in a long-term emergency situation, because of its multitude of uses. The most important use of all is turning contaminated water into ingestible drinking water. However, be sure that you have familiarized yourself with the proper procedure, as the internet may not be available in a time of emergency.

Possible short-term side effects

  • chemical burns (when in contact with skin)
  • choking
  • coughing
  • irritated eyes, nose, and throat
  • death in very serious cases

Possible long-term side effects

  • kidney failure
  • liver failure
  • pulmonary edema

Ingredients to be aware of

  • chlorine gas (fumes)
  • calcium hypochlorite
  • chlorine dioxide
  • sodium hypochlorite


  • anti-bacterial disinfectant

Healthier alternatives

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by DeeAnne Oldham
Published on: 04-27-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by DeeAnne Oldham
Published on: 04-27-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

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