How to Use Bleach Safely

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Heather says:

I received a concerning email, yesterday, that made me realize it was time to send this post out again as a reminder.

This is the first in our series on household chemicals.

Over the past few years, I have gotten the impression that many people are using chlorine bleach¹ in an unsafe manner. Chlorine bleach aka sodium hypochlorite is a powerful disinfectant and is one of only a few widely available, inexpensive sanitizing agents. It is so powerful in fact that it should only be used in fairly low concentrations.

How to Use Bleach Safely


Chlorine bleach should always be used in a well-ventilated area.

If your eyes are watering. You are using too much bleach. If your skin is peeling: A) you should have worn gloves and B) you are using too much bleach. If you use hot, rather than warm water, chlorine gas can be released and this isn’t recommended. Never mix bleach with other household chemicals such as ammonia or vinegar, both can cause dangerous chemical reactions.

There is a difference between clean, sanitary, and sterile

Don’t waste the power of your bleach on cleaning; reduce your use and save it only for sanitizing.

Chlorine bleach works both as a cleaning and a disinfecting agent. However many less corrosive and dangerous household items also work as highly effective cleaning agents: hot water, scrub brushes, and dish detergents are but a few examples.

Chlorine bleach is a highly effective sanitizing agent, but it needs to be used properly. Repeat after me:

Clean, rinse, sanitize.

When sanitizing food preparation areas: counters, tables, sinks, knives, and cutting boards. All surfaces should be washed to remove organic materials (food bits) and rinsed. It is only at this point that the items should be sanitized with a bleach solution of approximately 200ppm. This is about 1 TBSP of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Did you catch that? Let me repeat it.

The proper dilution of chlorine bleach for sanitizing food preparation surfaces is 200ppm or 1 TBSP per gallon of warm water.

Get yourself a spray bottle and mix up a batch whenever you’re going to need sanitizing agent. Be aware that chlorine evaporates so only mix a small amount at a time. If you’re making 1 quart of sanitizing solution estimate ¾ teaspoon per quart, and that will get you in the neighborhood of 200 ppm. Just rinse after use.

Bleach and stainless steel are not good playmates. However dilute bleach solutions are still usable. Rinse the surface after sanitizing to avoid the corrosive effects.

Allow the 200ppm bleach solution to sit on the surface for at least a full minute to give the bleach time to work. With a 200ppm dilution rinsing is not necessary and it’s actually best to allow most surfaces to air dry rather than re-contaminating with a towel.

Chlorine bleach is an effective sanitizing agent outside of the kitchen.

When sanitizing other surfaces, such as in the bathroom, bleach may be used in a 500ppm dilution.

A 500ppm dilution is 2½ tablespoons of 5.25% chlorine bleach per 1 gallon of warm water.

While bleach is a cleaning agent, milder methods are highly recommended. Save the bleach for the final, sanitizing step, just as you would in the kitchen.

If you weren’t aware, urine evaporates leaving behind ammonium salts. Always clean and rinse any area that may have urine: near toilets, cat boxes, dog kennels, etc before sanitizing.

How to use chlorine bleach in the laundry

When bleaching a load of whites, use 3/4 cup of liquid bleach in a standard washer and those with high efficiency washers should consult their appliance manuals or call the manufacturer. Typically the amount of bleach per load in a high efficiency washer is equivalent to the maximum fill line of the bleach dispenser, but check to be sure.

When pre-soaking laundry bleach safe fabrics, first  remove as much soil as possible, then use 1/4 cup per gallon of warm water. Anything stronger can damage the fabric.

So for the TL:DR crowd here’s the quick summary:

  • Clean, rinse, sanitize, wait 1 – 5 minutes. Rinse again if it’s stainless steel
  • Food prep surfaces require a 200ppm or 1 TBSP chlorine bleach per gallon of warm water.
  • Other surfaces may use a 500ppm dilution or 2½ TBSP chlorine bleach per gallon of warm water.
  • Laundry pre-soaks 1/4 cup per gallon or 3/4 cup for a full load in a standard, top loading washer.

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¹♪♫Let’s talk about bleach baby, let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and all the bad things bleach may be. ♪♫ Yeah, I woke up with a song in my head.


guide to chemical cleaners

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Living Room Or Family Room: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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The living room, or family room, often becomes a catch all place. At my house it’s where we love to crash, watch a movie, have a snack, play with toys/games, and more. I’ll confess that we let the dog on the couch in there too. A lot of use of the room means a lot of wear and tear, dirt and dog hair, crumbs and chaos. Following are some articles about taking care of your living room. Click the title of the one you want to read more about!

how to take care of your living room

Do You Dust or Vacuum First?

Settle this for me, please. My mother says you dust after you vacuum, my mother-in-law says you dust then vacuum. I’d rather knit sweaters for my cat from the dust bunnies, but could you settle the debate?

How to Clean Baby Toys

When cleaning toys that are going to go into a baby’s mouth (which is everything baby gets her hands on), you want to go with cleaning products that are both natural and safe.  I have two recommendations.

How to Clean Ceiling Fans

How do you clean ceiling fans? I’m especially wanting to know how you manage to clean them without dust bunnies falling down onto the furniture.

How To Clean Throw Pillows

Can you tell me how to clean throw pillows? A friend made me a pillow cover for a throw pillow on my couch, but she sewed it shut over the pillow, so there is no way to remove the pillow to wash it.   Are there any options as far as cleaning the cover?

iRobot Roomba 530 Review

It is the first appliance I’ve had that has reduced the net amount of work in my life. For the record, I’m counting appliances invented in my lifetime, washing machines and dishwashers have been around a lot longer than me.

Spring Cleaning the Living Room / Great Room / Family Room

My living room or family room or great room or whatever you want to call it is also my office, sewing room, dining room, etc, etc, etc. So the way I spring clean my living room wouldn’t necessarily be the same as yours. Anyway, I hope this suits most people’s needs for living room spring cleaning.

Couch Cleaning Questions

The couch slips and slides all over the tile and drives me crazy. How do I stop the couch from sliding? And the cushions, don’t get me started on the cushions, why won’t they stay on my couch? While we’re talking about couches, is there a specific way I should be cleaning mine?

There is another guide on How to Take Care of Your Furniture!

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home organizing tips

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furniture care guide

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Home Organization: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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When I think of my dream home it is perfectly organized from floor to ceiling, basement drain to roof vent. Real life organization is a bit different than my dream. I found this quote by Christina Scalise that sums up my goal for organization: “Organization isn’t about perfection; it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money, and improving your overall quality of life.” Following are some articles with tips to help you with that type of home organization; just click the title of the one that you want to read more about.

home organization

Avoid The Just-Walked-In-The-House Clutter

How to avoid the buildup of shoes, coats, mail, etc. from when you walk in the door. I think most people struggle with this, since it’s really easy just to toss down your stuff and sack out in a chair the second you get home.

Cleaning Up With Preschoolers

I have a 3 year old girl who refuses to clean up her messes and because I don’t like to punish her too hard, I do it for her, but lately my house is so cluttered with dirty laundry, her toys, and most of my husbands clean jeans, that I feel like I’m going to scream because of the mess.

Customizing The Chore Routine

I love your site and I want to love this chore list, but I don’t know how to make it work for our family. We have a 6 month old, a toddler, and two hairy cats. I work part time and have two days during the week to do chores. Can you suggest a 4 day chore chart and/or how to get chores done with two young children.

Dealing With Too Much Stuff

Our home is full of stuff that needs to go.  It is 25 years of what ever, it’s neatly stored and organized. The house is telling me do not bring anything else home. There isn’t any place to put it.

Determining Your Home Management Style

Within your own household, you and your significant other will have different management styles as well. Let’s look at a few types of management styles and what works best together.

Get Clothing Clutter Under Control

I find my bedroom becoming cluttered very quickly with clothes that are “too clean to wash” yet “not clean enough to put away”.  I didn’t want to spend more time on laundry than I had to. I’d wear clothes until they were visibly dirty, overly wrinkled, or they became… umm… odiferous.

How to Curb Clutter

About as close to a magic pill as a person can find.

How to Divide Chores Evenly

My husband and I both grew up in homes where the father worked, and the mother largely stayed home and attended to all of the household duties. We both work, and sometimes have a hard time agreeing on who should be doing which chores, how often, and how well.

How To Reduce Paper Clutter

There are stacks of paper all over my house. Do you have any suggestions on how I can better organize this mess?

Keeping Up With Receipts: Keep Your Tax Accountant Happy

Many people throw their receipts in a shoebox and at the end of the year, they have a tangled mess to either hand to their tax accountant or go through themselves when they’re doing their own taxes. This method not only wastes time, but potentially can waste money OR get you in trouble with the IRS by either deducting too little or too much.

Organized, Clean, Sanitary, Sterile: Defining the Terms

It dawned on me last night that after nearly three years of posting I have never described the difference between: clean, organized, sanitary, and sterile. Well hang on because it isn’t that difficult.

Organization Is Fundamental

In which Ivy loses very important directions and has to wing it, and it all could have been avoided by keeping all her stuff in one neat place instead of keeping her stuff flung all over the house.

Review of Clutter Rehab by Laura Wittman

It’s a a very quick read, ringing in just over a hundred pages and seems like it would be a great thinking-of-you type gift.

The Secret To A Clean House

Dear Home Ec 101, How do you keep a clean house?
Signed, N00b in Newford

What Babies Don’t Need

All the baby books and sites have these huge lists of things it says we “need” but what do we realistically need? What are the must have items and what kind of quantities do we really need?

Yet Another Reason To Declutter

It’s strengthening my resolve to not just declutter the main house, but also my garage, attic, and all the hidden clutter I own.

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house cleaning help

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clean windows

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Windows: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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We might wish we could say, “I don’t do windows,” but we don’t have that privilege if we want to keep our house looking nice and our view unobstructed. It can be a rewarding job to shine the glass, wash the blinds, and let the sunshine in. Following are some articles full of tips about cleaning windows, blinds, window sills, and more. Click the title you want to learn more about to see the complete article.

clean windows

How to Clean Blinds

I have several faux wood white blinds that I have stored in the garage. I want to use these now and they have needless to say their share of spider webs, dust and other weird things on them. What is the best way to clean them?

How to Clean Mini-Blinds

I live in an apartment and my mini-blinds are covered with the funk of thousands of tenants. Can you please tell me the best way to clean these?

How to Clean Window Sills

I bought a lovely old home with large windows, but I am at a loss over my window sills.  How on earth do you keep window sills clean? Liquid sprays seem to make the problem worse.  I’m hoping to avoid stripping all of the paint and starting over, and there are so many layers already that adding another coat would only be a temporary fix.

How to Clean REALLY Dirty Windows

We just moved into an older house and I don’t think anyone has cleaned the windows in years. We had it pressure washed and used Windex but the windows still look covered in grime. Are there any other solutions I can use that will get off the tough dirt.

Now Is The Time To Wash Your Windows

My mom always said there’s something very spiritual about washing your windows. Her theory on this is that the windows are they eyes of your home and by washing the windows, you’re opening up those eyes to let the sun shine in.

Window Coverings To Block Heat

I have a very large window that bears the brunt of the western sun in summer. Do you have any suggestions for easy, inexpensive window coverings that will block or reflect a lot of heat?

What Are These Bugs On My Window Sill?

This summer I have been noticing these itsy bitsy little grey bugs on my window sills in the kitchen and bathroom. Last week I diluted some bleach on a cloth and wiped down the sills. That seems to have helped. I’d still like to know what are they? How can I stop them?

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Guide to Household Odors

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how to take care of your walls

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Walls: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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how to take care of your walls

They surround us, protect us, and shelter us. Walls also take a lot of abuse from dirty hands, shoes, feet, and the ends of brooms/mops that are taller than my children. Lately, I’ve heard myself saying, “Please take your feet off the wall – or – Please don’t put your dirty hands all over the wall.” Is that only at my house? Can’t be. I know that different ages of children make different marks on the wall. How do those toddlers always manage to find the non-erasable markers?

Just in case someone other than me has to deal with messy walls we wrote the following tips to help you take care of your walls. Click on the title of the article you want to read more of.

How to Clean Flat Paint

I have a quick question about washing my apartment walls. Normally, I’d just use some soapy water and dig right in, but my landlords used cheap, lousy, thin flat white paint. I’m afraid that my washing will ruin the surface.

How to Clean a Grungy Grille (Central Air Return)

Builders and contractors don’t always use common sense when planning the layout of a home’s heating and cooling duct work. Sometimes the grille, or vent cover, is right in the middle of a wall. Even though I frequently run the soft brush attachment over the grille and occasionally spray it off with the hose, our vent cover was gross.

How to Remove Candle Soot From Paint

A great way for me to relax is to curl up on the sofa once she is asleep, light some candles and put my Ipod on. About a week ago, while cleaning the house, I noticed that the candles left big black spots on the wall! I tried washing them with every product I have in the house and it’s not working.

How To Dust the Walls

How exactly does one dust the wall? Do you dust the entire wall with a dust cloth? Do you wash it?

How to Remove Marker from Painted Walls

My apartment walls are covered in crayon (washable and not), marker (washable and not), colored pencil, and various kinds of pen ink. I’ve tried soap and water, multi-purpose cleaner, Soft Scrub, and Magic Erasers to get my walls clean but nothing seems to do more than fade it out. My lease eliminates any repainting options. What can I do?

How To Touch Up Paint In Very Small Areas

This quick tip is Q-Tips make great, disposable “brushes” for touching up paint in small areas.

How to Wash Walls

My living room desperately needs to be painted….I really want to do this right, is it true that I have to wash the walls before I paint?

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guide to clean floors

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Guide to Household Odors

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