I suppose that bleach will forever be touted as the most powerful disinfecting, whitening, mold-killing cleaning product available. But that’s not really true. While it does kill germs, it’s not unmatched by less toxic, more natural alternatives like vinegar, lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide.
Bleach can quickly become hazardous for growing kids, especially when overused in enclosed areas or when mixed with other chemicals like ammonia. It causes eye, mouth, lung and skin irritation – not to mention that children with asthma or other breathing problems are even more susceptible. Also, the toxic dioxin that is released into the environment during the bleach manufacturing process has been linked to cancer, birth defects, and developmental disorders.
And I’ll bet you never thought of chlorine bleach as a pesticide. I know I didn’t. But the EPA classifies it as an antimicrobial pesticide because it kills bacteria and viruses. They even take it a step further to classify it as a fungicide because it kills fungi and molds. That really puts bleach in a whole new perspective for me!
Safer Alternatives + Why They Work
Lemon juice is high in citric acid, has a low pH and antibacterial properties, making it extremely versatile. It can be used on cutting boards, non-marble countertops, bathtubs and sinks to disinfect and remove stains. Try cutting a lemon in half, sprinkling kosher salt on the exposed part of the fruit and and scrubbing glass shower doors, cast iron pans, copper, brass and stainless steel. For extra stain fighting power, sprinkle baking soda on top of the lemon juice and let it sit a few minutes before scrubbing. Sprinkle salt on half a lemon and scrub to remove rust stains from copper, brass and stainless steel.
Vinegar’s super power is an ingredient called acetic acid, which kills viruses, germs, bacteria, mold and mildew (and also inhibits the growth of future mold and mildew). It also happens to dissolve tough mineral deposits and stains. Try the Petit Chef‘s amazingly simple recipe combining the power of orange and vinegar for a great multi-surface cleaner.
Hydrogen peroxide effectively kills germs and removes stains from laundry. In fact, the EPA recognizes hydrogen peroxide as a useful disinfectant because it rapidly breaks down in the environment to plain oxygen and water. Spraying a counter or cutting board with vinegar followed by hydrogen peroxide will kill even more germs. Try the Crafty Little Gnome‘s super easy bleach alternative recipe.
Is Bleach a Required Cleaner in Your Child’s School?
It’s simple enough to ditch the bleach in your own home, but how can you convince your child’s school to stop using bleach? It may not be a simple process, especially if there are specific regulations governing the school’s cleaning efforts, but it’s important to get the ball rolling and keep at it.
You should begin by researching to see if bleach is actually a required cleaner at the school. If it is, you can talk with staff members about this simple rule: if you can smell it, it’s too strong. Many health departments recommend that levels be no higher than 0.01 ppm of chlorine in air. And most people can smell chlorine when levels reach 0.02-3.4 ppm, so if you can smell it, the level may be too high to be safe.
If a general disinfectant is allowed in place of bleach, hydrogen peroxide will get the job done safely and effectively for those often-touched surfaces likes desks and table tops. Many commercial brands of hydrogen peroxide-based bleach alternatives are available too, including Vaska, Clorox Green Works, and Seventh Generation.
P.S. EcoKaren reminds us not to mix baking soda (basic) and vinegar (acidic) because they will neutralize each other in her article about how vinegar measures up to bleach.