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.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

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.

References:

guide to chemical cleaners

Click this picture to read more about household chemicals.

pH and Its Role in Getting Your Clothes Clean Without Damage

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

So I found your article looking for some ideas for dealing with our hard water issues here in Florida. I’m in school for biomed engineering so I appreciated the explanations you gave. I have a question and thought with your background you might know the answer, or know which direction to point me in.

My question is, what would the ideal profile of the water be pH, hardiness, total alkalinity or buffering, etc…? I would assume a pretty neutral pH and low as I could get hardness concentrations, but in my experiments with a full tub and mixed water, soap and softening agent’s, I seem to always be trading one ideal at the expense of another. Borax and washing soda soften the water great, but I do notice the pH rises pretty high. Vinegar brings the pH down, but at that point laundry has turned into a chem lab. I’d welcome any advise or insight on the chemistry that would or wouldn’t be beneficial.

Signed,
Al Kaline

Heather says

Laundry doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

It happens in a washing machine.

Ha?

In all seriousness though, the law of diminishing returns definitely comes into play when you’re trying to get optimal laundry conditions. The amount of effort you’re putting in will exceed the improvement in performance at some point.

Optimal conditions for laundering, for many commercial detergents is:

In water that has a pH of  around 10.5 and about 122°F ( 50°C).

It is absolutely okay that your efforts to reduce the hardness of your water increased the alkalinity of the water (raised the pH). Most soaps are alkaline in nature – we perceive alkaline things as feeling slippery or smooth. Part of your detergent’s job is to raise the pH of the water so that greasy saponify – break down.

However there is an important next step.

Leaving a layer of alkaline detergent on clothing is likely to irritate skin, especially of people with sensitive skin. You don’t have to be “allergic” to be irritated. Now some chemicals are allergens, but a chemical doesn’t have to be an allergen to be an irritant. Make sense?

If I squirt lemon juice in your eye, your eye will be irritated by the acidity even if you are not allergic to citrus fruits.

So how do we get rid of the alkaline detergent clinging to to clothing in the wash water.

  1. We use enough water to ensure the clothing can agitate freely so the detergent can be rinsed away.
  2. We lower the pH (make it more acidic) so the detergent is more likely to be in solution rather than clinging to the clothing itself.

As a bonus, we human types, tend to think acids feel soft. This is why vinegar can be used in the rinse cycle and seem like it acts as a fabric softener. It’s certainly not as effective as commercially produced softeners that contain other ingredients that coat the fibers of your clothing, but it does have an effect.

While leaving an alkaline substance on your clothing is bad for your skin, lowering the pH too much can weaken the fibers of your clothing and reduce its usable lifespan.

So, if you want to break out the litmus strips and test the pH of your washing machine, by all means go ahead. Just don’t forget when you’re doing your calculations that the clothing will take up some of the volume of the washtub and that the residue of detergent on your clothing will act as a slight buffer as you attempt to lower the pH.

Yeah science!

bb-yeah-science

References

guide to chemical cleaners

Click this picture to learn more about cleaners!

:

http://chemcollective.org/activities/tutorials/buffers/buffers3
http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/enztech/detergent.html
http://www.americanborate.com/all-about-borates/borate-applications/borates-in-detergents/

Help! The Laundry Smells Like Rotten Eggs

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I followed all of the advice in your how to deal with stubborn body odor in laundry article and my clothes still stink. There’s sort of a rotten egg odor and nothing I do gets rid of it.

How do I get rid of this sulfur smell in my laundry?

Signed,
Sick of the Stink in Stinesville

Heather says

Did you know that scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers? When I was a little girl, I went to Girl Scout Camp (Camp Loco for you South Carolinians) and they had a serious sulfur issue in the groundwater. It was so bad that neither Kool-Aid nor sweet tea could cover that eggy taste. It’s been –well, we won’t say how many years– a long time and the slightest whiff of sulfur takes me to that hot, sweaty summer.

Sulfur odor in well water has two potential sources and it takes a little bit of household detective work to determine which is the likely culprit. In both cases, Hydrogen Sulfide is the offending chemical, but how it gets into your water determines the solution to removing the offensive odor.

1.  Sulphate reducing bacteria:  H2S is often the result of bacteria doing their bacterial thing and processing organic matter into waste.

2. Hydrogen sulfide gas: If your well is in shale or sandstone hydrogen sulfide gas dissolved in the water itself is possible. You may notice other symptoms of this issue around your house – corrosion of your pipes and silverware that quickly turns black for example.

Unfortunately this sulfur compound, as you have noticed, can build up on your clothing. In order to solve this issue you’ll need to address the actual cause or you’ll quickly understand the plight of Sisyphus. I contacted the reader and asked if the smell was present in only the hot water or in the cold water, too. In her case, the odor is found in both, which was a little disheartening as this hot water only has the simplest fix.

If sulphate reducing bacteria has colonized only the water heater, it is possible to kill it by raising the temperature of your water to more than 140°F for 48 hours.

If you choose to attempt this fix, please be careful if you have an elderly relative or young child in the home. Water over 140°F can cause scalding and extra care should be taken.

If the odor returns, bacteria is likely colonizing the magnesium and aluminum anode rod in the water heater. You can try replacing it with an aluminum-zinc rod -go ahead and flush your water heater at this time. If you also utilize a water softener in your home, you’ll find that this tactic likely won’t be effective. The salts that condition the water negate the effect of using zinc instead. Isn’t chemistry fun?

Call your county extension office and ask if hydrogen sulphide gas is an issue for groundwater in your area. If indeed this is the case, you should consider treating the water before it comes into your home. Unfortunately there isn’t a simple solution and requires either aeration or chlorination of the water at a point between the well and your home. The option you choose depends on your budget and longterm plans.

If hydrogen sulfide gas is not of local concern, again it’s probably sulphate reducing bacteria, only this time it has colonized your well and pipes rather than just the water heater.

Thankfully sulphate reducing bacteria in your well can be treated with household bleach. Here is a guide that gives step-by-step instructions to determine how much bleach is needed based on the depth and size of your well and how to shock the well and your pipes.

Before starting, know that you will not be able to use your water supply for 12 – 24 hours and you should plan accordingly. Remember this includes flushing the toilets! If you choose to remain in the home during the time of the shock you can use buckets of water filled before the shock to flush your toilet. If you are also on a septic system you must use care when flushing the bleach from your pipes, you don’t want to overwhelm your septic tank. Too much chlorinated water can kill off the good bacteria in your septic system and cause it to not process the waste. Collect the shocked water in buckets and dispose of it anywhere but down the drain.

If the sulfur smell begins to return shortly after shocking your well, it is definitely time to have your well inspected. Bacteria may be entering your well through cracks or your well may need to be moved to a better location.

Once you eliminate the hydrogen sulfide from your water source normal laundering will remove the rotten egg smell from your clothing. It may take a couple of washes to completely eliminate the odor, but you’ll get there.

I’m sorry there wasn’t a just use vinegar or borax style answer to the problem.

Best of luck!

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

Solve Household Odors

References:

 

How to Iron: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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Stephanie says:

Let’s work to iron out the wrinkles.

I love ironing. I do. Roll your eyes. Scoff. Mutter, “whatever, who loves ironing?” I do. There is something satisfying about taking a pile of clean clothes and one by one getting all the wrinkles out, then putting them away. I don’t iron every morning. Heavens no. I need my beauty rest, and more importantly a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich that I can eat at a pace that will not force it to repeat on me. I iron on Sundays. You see, during the week, I do laundry, usually Thursday’s and Friday’s, and anything that I would like to be ironed goes in the “ironing basket.”

How to iron

I hope you are reading this, Husband, the only thing that goes in the “ironing basket” is clean, un-ironed clothes, not your nasty socks or bath towels.

Set aside a time for ironing – or it won’t get done.

Once all the laundry is done, or as done as it’s going to get, I iron. In my house, ironing happens on Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes I pull out all the hangers and say, “once these hangers are full I’ll be done,” and there’s other times where I will put a time limit on the ironing. I may say, “from 4:00-5:00 I will iron.” And whatever gets done gets done, anything that’s leftover gets ironed next week.

You just need to make sure you have an enough clothes for the week.

What do you need to iron?

  • Sizing
    A laundry product that adds body to fabric. Sizing is most often used for synthetic fabrics and makes ironing at low temperatures easier. The spray also helps clothing to be more stain resistent by reducing it’s ability to absorb soil.
  • Starch
    Made from vegetable cellulose starch adds body and stiffness to fabric. It works best on clothing made from natural fibers like linen and cotton as it needs to be ironed at a higher temperature than sizing
  • Water
    Using distilled water will prevent mineral build up on the soleplate of the iron -that’s the part that comes in contact with the clothing.
  • Iron – the linked iron is just one example. If you iron regularly you may want to invest in an iron with a self-cleaning setting. This will eliminate the need for hot-iron cleaner
  • a padded ironing board.

There is a debate in my family, starch or sizing? I’ve always sworn by starch. I like my clothes stiff and pressed. My parents use sizing, which gets the wrinkles out but still allows for some body and movement to your clothes. Here’s the deal, on linens, non-knit cotton, wool, durable fabrics, use starch. Things like knit skirts, or like my husband’s polo’s, use sizing. Why? Because if you use starch on these fabrics the iron sticks to them and creates more wrinkles that you will just need to use sizing to get out.

How to iron

First, fill your iron with water. There should be a fill line on the side. If you overflow, no big deal, your ironing board will just get a little wet, but it’s water, it will dry. I would suggest using distilled water if you have invested in a really nice iron because the minerals in tap water can end up shortening the life of your iron.

Second, do a quick spray of starch on the piece of fabric you are starting with. There is a technique. It involves a little dance, spraying from side to side in time with the rest of your body. Make sure you shake the can well before you use it because whatever magic is in that can settles and you don’t want that on your clothes. Give the sizing or starch time to absorb, if you begin ironing too quickly, the starch may flake rather than coat the fibers that make up your material.

Button down shirts are easy, start with the front panel that is on the side in which the rest of the shirt will be hanging off the back of the board Then just work your way around until both front panels and the back panel have been sprayed with your starch or sizing. You’ll follow this routine for the ironing, too.

Expect to move the shirt four times. I love a nice, crisp sleeves. You can button the sleeve if it is not already, if you don’t want to mess with it, just fold the cuff as if it were buttoned and lay the shirtsleeve flat on the board. When you lay the sleeve on the board line up the rest of the shirt as if you were buying the shirt. You know when you buy a new button down shirt and it looks like whoever is going to wear it walks around with their arms at a 45-degree angle? Iron sleeves like that, use the seam in the sleeve as a guide for where to make the crease. If a previous crease exists, try to match the fold along it or you may create a second crease

With button downs, the collar is easy, lay the shirt face down with the collar “popped” and spay and press it. Once it’s done, fold it over, and hang up your shirt. Time to move on.

Polo’s are next. Grab your sizing. You will  want to put the shirt on the board as if you were putting it on your body, the bottom goes on the end of the board first. Situate the shirt like you’re going to move it 4 times again, just like the button down. I usually do the front left first then rotate the shirt away from me until all four “panels” are done. Remember, every time you move the shirt, spritz it with some sizing and give it a moment. Make sure you shake the sizing well too. Collars on polo’s are a little trickier because you can’t lay them flat, so like you did with the rest of the shirt, “pop” the collar and putting the shirt head-first on the end of the board, work your way around. Now sleeves. Depending on the size of the individual wearing the shirt, you can either get the sleeve on the end of the board or just lay it flat, try not to create a crease.

What do you want to do next? Shorts? I love ironing shorts. And I love wearing nice pressed shorts. I feel so preppy in my crisp white khaki Gap shorts with a gingham button down. *sighs* OK! Shorts are different than pants for ironing. Shorts you can put on the board, pants you cannot, typically. Shorts are easy, depending on the size, you can put them on from the top or from the bottom, spray them down, and press. Work in circles until both legs are done. Pay extra attention to pockets. If there is a flap pocket, they are notorious for getting all bunched up in the wash, if this happens, get it with the starch, and carefully help the fabric lay down while you iron over it. Once you have the whole pocket under the iron, hit it with the steam. You did make sure your iron had water, right?

Pants are another beast. You want to do these in sections. You can’t probably “dress” the board like we have been depending on the size of the pants. So you will need to lay them flat on the board. Well-made pants you will be able to flatten in no time, on both sides. If where ever you got your drawers cut some corners you may end up with some creases on one side. It’s the price of doing business. I usually do the front right leg first and if I can’t get up toward the top of the pants, I scoot them down and quick press that portion. Then I flip the leg of the pants over, and move to the next side.

Some special stuff with pants: pleats and creasing. Both of which are a wee outdated, but we will cover them here just for the sake of being well-rounded.

Pleats, not necessarily just with pants, I should correct myself, I have tunics with a back pleat. The key to ironing a pleat is to lay the item on the board as you want the pleats to appear and then press the pleats.  If you try to navigate that big old iron in those little creases, you will just drive yourself insane, so just don’t.

Creasing, my dad, up until like 2009 creased his jeans. It wasn’t until one of his golf buddies took him aside like, “dude…you don’t iron jeans, and you certainly don’t crease them.” My mother was overjoyed knowing that she didn’t have to iron my dads jeans anymore.

To iron a crease you want to hold the pants like you’re looking at them from the side and you want to turn in the front flaps, like where the button and fly are, until you look like you have the crease where you want it. Then lay both legs piled on top of each other on the board and press. You will want to use steam here to really get a sharp crease.

Some final thoughts and quick tips:

Make ironing as enjoyable as possible.

  • I have an ironing playlist in Spotify that I listen to when I iron. It gets me pumped up, it’s actually what I am listening to as I write this. Put your favorite songs that will get you dancing and singing along, it makes this boring task go much faster.
  • Don’t get distracted, especially if you have kids. I’m guilty of this, it seems like everyone I have ever met wants to talk to me during “ironing time.” Draw the line. Scorched clothing = more work.
  • Try not to feel overwhelmed, I find if I separate my clothes from my husband’s on the bed and take one from each pile, it seems to go faster and I don’t feel guilty if I get burned out half way through and he has no shirts for the week.
  • Think ahead, check the weather, if you have multiple seasonal clothes in your basket, plan out that you may need long sleeves and short sleeves during that week, iron a few of each.
  • Finally, stay dedicated, ironing everything at once is actually a time-saver. Would you rather spend an hour on a Sunday and save all that time every single day of waiting for the iron to heat up, and adding water, and setting up the board then ironing? Knowing that everything in my closet is ironed and ready-to-wear any day of the week is very comforting, especially on mornings where I can’t seem to get moving.

Happy Ironing!

Stephanie Coccaro is married to @jaredwsmith and lives with him, and their 3 dogs in West Ashley.  She is currently enrolled for the rest of her life at the College of Charleston majoring in English.

The Laundry Room: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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guide to the laundry room

It’s great to have a house with a laundry room/area and really, those machines do a lot of work for our family. Why then, do so many people hate doing laundry? I, personally, am so glad I don’t have to use a pot of boiling water or a wringer to wash all of our clothes. The following articles will help you take care of your machines and as a result, the clothes that go through the machines. Just click the title of whichever one you want to read more of!

A Quick Tip To Detail Your Washing Machine

This is a special occasion kind of cleaning, perhaps I haven’t done it often enough (judging by the lint), but don’t think I’m trying to get you to add this chore to your already overwhelming to-do list. Maybe detailing your washer should be done whenever you get around to deep cleaning the laundry room.

Finding The Source Of The Mystery Spots On The New Clothes

I don’t use softeners or softener sheets and every piece of clothing we own is being ruined by these grease stains. I have no idea what it is but I can only assume its from the dryer. And I know, with kids, stains are highly likely but even their brand spanking new clothes are coming out with these stains.

How To Deal With Mildew In A Front Loading Washer

Even though I leave the door open to air dry, my front loader has mildew in the fold of the rubber seal by the door. Do you have a natural way to get rid of it? I just tried running the Tub Clean cycle with 2-3 cups of vinegar, but the mildew is still there.

How to Reduce Lint in the Laundry Room

Can you please post an article about keeping that nasty linty space along the sides of the washer and dryer clean?

How To Reduce Lint In The Laundry

My husband wears a lot of black shirts. Lately I’ve noticed that his shirts are covered in fuzz and lint. We’ve never really had this problem before. Is the lint coming from my washer or my dryer? Is there anything I can do to reduce the lint?

How to Remove Detergent Build-up From a Washer

I’ve recently noticed a layer of scum around the agitator.  If I were able to get my head in there I’d probably find it throughout.  Is there a way to get this out without scrubbing the thing?

How to Remove Gum from a Dryer

I / my husband / my kid didn’t check their pockets and now my dryer smells minty fresh, but is covered with with gum. How do I get the gum out of the dryer and off of the clothing?

How to Remove Mildew from a Front Loading Washer

Here is a gross one for you ladies. How do I keep my front load washer from mildewing? It smells so nasty.

How to Remove Ring Around the Washer

I’ve used everything possible I can think of to get the inside of my top-loading washer (where the top of the water line usually is) clean, but it’s still icky looking.

Lipstick In The Laundry

Help!! I took clothes out of the wash and found red lipstick in the dryer and all over my clothes.

Make Your Laundry Detergent Stretch Farther

A Tip to stretch your laundry detergent a bit further

Mildew in the Laundry

I forgot about a load of wash in the washing machine. I’ve rewashed the load at least three times now using a total of two gallons of white vinegar but the offensive odor remains.

Quick Tips From Real Life Laundry Experience

I have a few for you this morning and feel free to guess which ones I learned today and which I had done ahead of time.

Why Is There A Greasy Stain In My Washer?

Lately I’ve noticed a greasy ring around the top of my machine, a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II which is a top loader. I know my clothes are *clean* but the washing machine grosses me out.

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

bedroom and closet cleaning

Click the picture for more tips!

keeping the kitchen clean

Click the picture for more tips!