The Right Way to Clean With Bleach in Your Home

You can use it on everything from your shower curtain liner to your gym clothes.

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As far as cleaning supplies go, your grandmother kept things pretty streamlined. Chances are, she had a scrub brush, a bucket, and a gallon of bleach. It can be easy to forget about this old-school, yet incredibly effective disinfecting tool when your local big box store has an entire aisle of specialty cleaning products. Even so, classic bleach is a powerhouse tool to use throughout your entire house, even the garden.

"Bleach isn't just for the washing machine," says Mary Gagliardi, in-house scientist and cleaning expert for Clorox. "It can be used to clean the entire home, and it's very economical." Ready to get back to basics? We asked the experts for a refresher course on bleach's many uses, from shower curtains to patio furniture.

using bleach cleaner in home
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How to Use Bleach Safely

Since bleach is sold as a highly concentrated product, you should always mix it with water before using it to clean. "It's important to dilute bleach, as it can irritate respiratory systems, skin, and eyes, or damage surfaces when not diluted with water," says Kathy Cohoon, director of franchise operations at Two Maids. "Diluting bleach won’t impact its ability to kill germs or bacteria, so it's always best to dilute it and avoid any potential danger."

Using Bleach in the Laundry Room

While it's commonly used for brightening whites, bleach is also handy when you have laundry that could benefit from sanitizing (for example, baby clothes or gym gear). To get a deep clean, you'll want to add a little more bleach than usual: 2/3 cup for a standard washer, or 1/3 cup for a high-efficiency machine.

But what most people don't know is that, depending on how the dye was applied, many colored garments can be safely laundered with standard bleach, too. Before washing, Gagliardi recommends testing a small, discreet portion of the fabric (the inside of a hem, for example) with bleach: Mix 2 teaspoons of bleach with 1/4 cup of water, then apply a small dot and let sit for a minute before blotting dry. If this doesn't stain, you're good to go.

Using Bleach in the Kitchen

Bad news for your collection of kitchen cleaners: Bleach can do it all if you don't mind mixing up your own solution. For a basic, use-everywhere formula, Gagliardi recommends mixing 1/2 cup of bleach with a gallon of water; you can use this as a disinfectant for countertops, sinks, tiles, floors, your refrigerator, stainless steel appliances, and other hard, non-porous surfaces.

For disinfecting plastic trash cans, you'll want a slightly stronger solution: Mix 1/2 cup of bleach with 3/4 gallon of water. For plastic cutting boards, a more diluted solution will do the trick: Mix 2 teaspoons of bleach with 1 gallon of water.

Using Bleach in the Bathroom

From floor to ceiling, bleach has all your deep-cleaning, bacteria-busting bathroom needs covered. For standard surfaces, such as toilets and tiles, you can find our best advice here. But for slightly trickier applications, Gagliardi shared some secrets.

Want to save that mildewed plastic shower curtain from the landfill? Toss it in the washing machine with detergent and 2/3 cup of bleach to get clean and prevent new mold. Mold and mildew on your tiles? Mix 3/4 cup of bleach with 1 gallon of warm water, wipe down the surface, then let sit for 10 minutes before rinsing with warm water.

Using Bleach on the Patio

Keep your outdoor furniture clean and ready for guests with a simple bleach solution. To clean plastic patio furniture, Gagliardi recommends mixing up 3/4 cup of bleach with 1 gallon of warm water, wiping down, waiting 10 minutes, then rinsing with warm water. (Be careful to avoid any runoff near your garden!)

Bleach can also come in handy with your planters. To avoid introducing mold or diseases to new plants, clean last year's pots with a solution of 1/2 cup of bleach and 1 gallon of water. After letting soak for five minutes, rinse and air dry.

Natural Alternatives to Bleach

While bleach is simple and powerful, it does have drawbacks. "Bleach can release chlorine into the environment and make affected plants, soil, and more toxic for wildlife," says Cohoon. "Bleach is not always the most environmentally friendly cleaning option, as its chemical makeup may be dangerous for pets, children, and wildlife. If you are dedicated to bleach but need a 'cleaner' option, opt for a chlorine-free formula."

For natural alternatives to bleach, use baking soda to whiten and brighten fabrics and white vinegar to disinfect and deodorize, Cohoon recommends. Try 1/2 cup of white vinegar diluted in a gallon of warm water to prevent mildew from building up on kids' plastic bath toys, and 1 tablespoon of baking soda mixed with hot water to deep clean reusable water bottles.

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