Nearly all bleaches -- liquid or dry, chlorine or oxygen -- break up stains by way of a chemical action called oxidation. Unlike detergents, which physically remove unwanted substances, bleaches render stains colorless by chemically altering their molecules.
Chlorine bleach, the conventional pick, can have this effect in as little as five minutes on almost any substance. Unfortunately, such harshness means it can wreak havoc on habitats (it contributes to water pollution), delicate fabrics, and your respiratory system. It can produce dangerous, even lethal fumes when combined with vinegar, ammonia products, or other household chemicals, and even short-term exposure can induce mild asthma symptoms.
Non-chlorine oxygen bleaches offer gentler -- yet still effective -- alternatives. Safe for most fabrics and dyes, they use nontoxic ingredients like hydrogen peroxide and natural clays to preserve whiteness. These non-chlorine alternatives are designed to maintain whites and brights with regular use, so don't expect them to restore that "like new" glow to dulled or dingy clothes. Try: Bi-O-Kleen Oxygen Bleach Plus, Oxo Brite Natural Oxygen Powder, Ecover Natural Non Chlorine Bleach Ultra, Seventh Generation Non-Chlorine Bleach
For product reports on ecofriendly laundry detergents and bleaches, visit thegreenguide.com.