Spray bottle filled with bleach for disinfecting

Be Cautious with Bleach at the Office

These days it seems like everyone is an expert when it comes to disinfecting. In Zoom calls with co-workers someone in operations espoused the disinfecting firepower of bleach.  Meanwhile someone from accounting warned that bleach can pose health hazards.  The former jives with your uncle’s advice, while the latter aligns with something you read online.  What to do? The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  While there’s no debating that bleach effectively kills harmful germs and bacteria, it’s also important to keep in mind that it can pose health risks if used improperly.  While bleach is utilized in restaurants and hospitals, it is not commonly used in routine office cleaning.  Let’s explore reasons to be cautious with bleach at the office.

We all want a clean workplace. There are numerous ways to get there.

Disinfecting and sanitizing products including hand sanitizer, bleach, and lysol wipes.
There is an almost dizzying amount of options when it comes to disinfecting your office.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began many folks are eager to keep their home or business safe. Many business owners have heeded the warnings laid out by the CDC regarding virus transmission.  It’s been stressful to game plan against both contaminated surface contact and airborne viral exposure. In fact, according to a CDC report, phone calls to poison control centers had gone up over 20% over the previous year for exposure to cleaners and disinfectants. This is essentially chemical exposure due misuse.  Bleach is often misunderstood as a disinfectant which may be why it’s sometimes a hot-button topic.

A brief primer: what exactly is bleach?

To put into perspective how to handle bleach, it’s a good idea to understand what it is. Simply put, it’s both a disinfectant and a stain remover that works by oxidization.  

Bleaching as a stain remover: an oxidizing bleach works by breaking the chemical bonds that make up the chromophore (atoms that are responsible for color). This changes the molecule into a different substance that either does not contain a chromophore, or contains a chromophore that does not absorb visible light.  The staining agent is chemically broken up which allows for it to be lifted away from fabrics and surfaces.   

petri dishes with live bacteria and virus
Petri dishes with bacteria

Bleach as a disinfectant: according to the science journal ‘Nature’, bleach can kill bacteria by attacking it’s proteins and destroying the protein’s shape. The primary driver behind this process is a chlorine compound in bleach called sodium hypochlorite.  When sodium hypochlorite is mixed with water it becomes hypochlorous acid.  This acid essentially changes the shape of organic proteins (made up of amino acids) and as a result this prevents the bacteria from functioning properly.  Any microbe that has denatured proteins is not long for this world…and quickly dies. 

Reasons to be Cautious with bleach at the Office

A bottle of bleach being poured out.
Consistent use of bleach in a general office setting can be overkill.

General office cleaning is different than cleaning medical facilities  One key difference is that chlorine beach is widely used as a disinfectant to sanitize surfaces in health-care facilities.  However, this is performed under strict protocols that align with CDC and OSHA guidelines. A fast, loose, and liberal use of bleach in your office workplace can pose substantial problems.  Bleach is caustic, which is why it’s not often used for general cleaning purposes in commercial janitorial.  In most office environments it’s simply overkill.  When it comes to regular cleaning, all-purpose cleaning products are safer and are designed to do the heavy lifting tasks of cleaning, emulsifying and degreasing.  

High amounts of bleach is bad for the body.  Exposure to high concentrations of bleach can present a host of issues.  Bleach’s active ingredient sodium hypochlorite is caustic.  It’s a corrosive that can damage your skin, eyes, and lungs.  To illustrate, a miniscule amount of chlorine is often utilized in swimming pools to prevent bacterial growth, which is why pool water can make your eyes burn. However, household cleaning products contain a much greater percentage by volume. If you get bleach on your skin, wash it off immediately.  If it gets in your eyes, immediately flush with clean water.  High doses of ingested bleach can be fatal. Keep bleach products out of reach from children. 

Bleach doesn’t discriminate. Bleach will remove the color from just about every type of cloth. It will instantly ruin your favorite jeans, and likely your day.  If it’s spilled on a carpet it will ‘whiten’ it, leaving behind permanent spots.  These discolored spots can only be removed via professional carpet dying, which is a pricey service and you’re never guaranteed to get a perfect color match.    If your place of business doesn’t have carpet tiles, then correcting bleach spills can be a challenge.

It can damage stone.  Even when diluted, bleach can eat through the sealants that protect permeable stone such as marble, granite and quartz countertops. Stone is porous in nature.  Repeated exposure can dull the surface and cause discoloration.

It’s bad for wood floors.  Overtime, bleach can degrade the surface sealants on your wood floors. This exposes the wood to damage and discoloration.  Wood that’s repeatedly been exposed to, and even absorbed bleach can have its natural fibers broken down. 

Be wary of the vapors and sensitive lungs.  For many, the smell of bleach vapor is associated with a sanitized and clean environment.  Some may appreciate this smell, while others…not so much.  Bleach fumes in your business can negatively affect the air quality.  Especially in poorly ventilated spaces.  People suffering from pulmonary conditions such as asthma are especially vulnerable. Breathing in the vapor can induce coughing fits.

Bleach can become deadly when mixed with the wrong chemicals.  Buzzfeed has a helpful article that breaks down toxic bleach combinations.  It details a list of common products never to mix with bleach, and warns readers about the dangers of mixing bleach with vinegar, ammonia or rubbing alcohol.

The right way to use bleach:

  • Always properly dilute with water as described on the product label.
  • Keep out of the reach of children.
  • Only use in well-ventilated areas.
  • Store at room temperature, as higher temperatures will cause the bleach to evaporate.
  • Do not combine with other cleaning products
  • Make sure all products are labeled.

If you have questions on disinfecting your office, our service consultants are available.