At one time or another, we've all spilt a red wine glass on our favourite white shirt. Or maybe you've left your laundry in the washing machine for just a little too long. Before you know it, your once white clothes look dingy and grey. Sometimes your usual laundry liquid just doesn’t cut it. But fear not! Instead of spending a fortune on some expensive stain remover or bleach, there are lots of effective ways to keep your clothes bright and white without the use of chemicals. Whether it's due to your health or the environment, there are safe alternatives to using bleach.
Everyone has something in their closet that could use a little whitening action, but commercial bleaches contain hazardous chemicals and are toxic to the environment. When paired with chemical laundry liquid detergents, it can prove to be quite harsh for your skin as well.
Read on to find out everything about this common chemical and its natural alternatives.
What is bleach?
Bleach is a chemical compound and cleaning agent which is used industrially and domestically to whiten clothes, lighten hair color and remove stains. It is sometimes used for the treatment of drinking water, for example in water treatment plants, swimming pool disinfection, and the disinfection of industrial wastewater. Bleach is also used as a medicine to treat skin conditions such as vitiligo.
Bleach can be found in several forms, including liquid bleach and color-safe bleach. Although both are used for laundry purposes, there are notable differences between the two products. Liquid bleach contains sodium hypochlorite as its active ingredient, whereas color-safe bleach contains hydrogen peroxide
How does it work?
Bleach works by removing the color pigments from an object. The molecules, or chemical units, that make up all fabrics have a great deal of color to them. In many cases, the color you see is not actually part of the fabric, but is instead simply dirt that has attached itself to the surface of the fabric.
In some cases, stains are made up of pigments that are chemically bound to the fabric. Bleach can loosen those bonds and separate the pigment from the fabric surface.
Because bleach only affects molecules with a certain type of chemical bond, it's only effective on certain types of stains. In other words, bleach doesn't work on all stains. Bleach works well on blood and food stains because these types of stains have a fairly simple chemical composition. Other stains may be more complex or have different types of chemical bonds that bleach cannot break apart very effectively.
How is it harmful?
Unlike gentle and natural laundry liquid, bleach can prove to quite harsh. Bleach can be harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Bleach causes injury in three ways: corrosive damage, chemical burns and irritation.
Corrosive damage is a result of bleach being a strong base (alkali) at pH 10-12. This means that bleach destroys or dissolves tissue on contact by stripping away the top layer of skin and tissue, which results in pain, redness, blistering and scarring. Especially susceptible to this kind of damage are the eyes, where tissue can be destroyed if bleach comes into contact with them.
Chemical burns are caused when bleach reacts with other chemicals to produce toxic compounds that burn skin and tissue on contact. Examples of these compounds include chlorine gas and chloramine gas, both of which can produce severe respiratory distress when inhaled. Chlorine gas was used as a chemical weapon during World War I. And chloramine gas has been used in water treatment facilities for decades due to its ability to disinfect water by killing bacteria and viruses.
Do you need bleach?
The answer to this question is yes and no.
It depends on what you're washing, and in what water conditions you are washing it. If you live in a very hard water area, or you wash in cold water, then bleach is necessary for disinfecting your laundry.
If you live in a soft water area, and usually wash in warm or hot water, then bleach is not necessary for disinfecting or cleaning your laundry. All the detergent powder or liquid does a good job of killing germs and bacteria, as well as removing stains.
But the problem with bleach is that it can damage both colours and fabrics if not used correctly. The only way to use bleach safely is to read the instructions on the bottle carefully each time you use it.
Natural alternatives to bleach
Lemon Juice and Sunlight
The combination of lemon juice and sunshine is an old-fashioned way to whiten clothes without bleach. Lemon juice has long been used as a natural bleaching agent in cleaning products, but it works best when used in conjunction with sunlight.
Baking Soda and White Vinegar
Baking soda and white vinegar are natural cleaning agents that help whiten clothes without the use of harsh chemicals. Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to your wash along with your normal laundry detergent. Add 1 cup of white vinegar directly into the washer drum before running a cycle. You can also add 1 cup of white vinegar into the final rinse cycle to remove excess detergent residue and brighten your clothes.
Salt is one of the oldest laundry tricks in the book to help restore dingy, yellowed whites back to pristine condition. Add 1/2 cup salt to each load of whites you wash, along with your usual laundry detergent. The salt will help prevent colour bleeding by setting the dye, as well as naturally whiten your clothes and boost their overall vibrancy.
Don’t forget to use a plant-based laundry liquid like The Better Home’s gently laundry liquid to wash your clothes while using these hacks.