Mistakes to Avoid When Using Bleach in the Kitchen

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Bleach is a great, strong cleaner, but if you don’t use it properly you can harm yourself, render it ineffective, or even cause something as dramatic as an explosion. So the next time you’re getting ready to clean the heck out of all your kitchen surfaces, watch out for these mistakes to avoid while using bleach in the kitchen.

1. Not taking precautions.

Although bleach is safe to use for cleaning, it’s a strong chemical. “Keep in mind that bleach causes colors to fade on fabrics, it can burn skin and eyes if it comes into direct contact, it’s corrosive to bare metals, and emits a strong vapor,” Nancy Bock, senior vice president of education at the American Cleaning Institute.

Follow these tips: When you’re cleaning with bleach, open the windows to reduce those fumes, and wear gloves to limit contact with your skin. After cleaning surfaces, be sure to rinse them (especially surfaces that will touch food) and make sure kids or pets don’t walk through freshly cleaned areas until they’ve fully dried.

2. Mixing bleach and anything else.

“Never mix chlorine bleach or any product containing chlorine bleach with ammonia, ammonia-based products, or acidic products. The combination can be dangerous,” says Bock. “It releases a toxic gas if mixed with other cleaning agents — especially ammonia. And an explosion can occur if sufficient quantities are mixed.”

Follow this tip: Because a surprising number of products contain ammonia and other acids — like window cleaner and drain degreasers, for example — a good rule of thumb is to never mix bleach with any other chemicals or cleaning agents. You’re unlikely to get extra cleaning power and the risks just aren’t worth it.

3. Not reading the label.

“If you’re looking for a disinfectant, make sure the product label says ‘disinfects or kills germs’ and shows a registered EPA number,” says Bock. Some products that “contain bleach” might not have a high-enough percentage to deliver your desired results.

The label can also give you information about how to dilute bleach to use it on different surfaces. “Diluting bleach minimizes any environmental hazard of being exposed to chemicals that can cause harm to your health. On the other hand, the strength can be diluted so much that you don’t get a sufficient cleaning/sanitizing power,” says Dr. Clint Stevenson, assistant professor of food science at North Carolina State University.

So if you want to dilute bleach for household use, follow the package labeling instructions to make sure you’re getting the right proportions for household sanitation.

Follow this tip: Always read the label on a bottle of bleach before you use it. Even if it’s a product you use all the time, just take a few minutes before you get started.

4. Not giving it time to work.

“Bleach works best when it sits on a surface for 10 to 15 minutes,” say Bock. Unlike other cleaners that you can spray and wipe up right away, you should leave bleach in place for about 15 minutes before rinsing or wiping down the surface. This means that bleach might not work as well on vertical surfaces (like a tiled backsplash), as it will immediately run down. For those, look for a bleach-based kitchen cleaner with foaming action to keep it in place.

Follow this tip: Don’t be afraid to set a timer. Use the downtime to sit and relax, check your phone, or clean something else!

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. Not storing it properly.

Bleach is not a shelf-stable product, so you want to store it properly to keep it 100 percent effective as long as possible (up to six months). To do this, you need to take care to store it in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight, and out of reach of kids, pets, or clumsy grown-ups.

Follow this tip: Store bleach in a cool, dry place — ideally on a higher shelf to keep it out of reach of kids and pets. And always date the bottle, so you know how long you’ve had it on hand.