You’ll Never Convince Me to Stop Cleaning with Bleach — Here’s Why

published May 28, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

When it comes to cleaning products, I tend to be a creature of habit. I stick to certain brands and products, and more often than not, the same picks find themselves in my shopping cart time and time again. Going down the cleaning aisle in the supermarket, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available for getting every single room in your home spotless. As nerve-wracking as it can be to browse the plethora of options, I can’t complain. I think about how exponentially larger the cleaning product selection is compared to when I was a kid in the 1980s.

Back then, our cleanser choices came from two sources: advertisements, and what our families used for generations. Madge the Manicurist demonstrated how Palmolive dish soap got the gunk off of your dishes, but kept your hands super smooth and supple. Everyone was bound to have a bottle of Formula 409 or a can of Lysol tucked away under the kitchen sink, and bleach was a cleansing agent that was ubiquitous in every household. You’d mix some bleach with water and soap to mop filthy floors, or dump a little into the washing machine to brighten your dingy whites. Chances are, if your mother or grandmother were anything like mine, a can of Comet, AJAX, or Bon Ami (remember that?) were never too far away.

Sure, you could’ve just used any old spray cleaner, but if you needed to scrub and disinfect a sink or toilet, you know that those bleach-based abrasive cleaners meant business. Granted, they aren’t meant for delicate or porous surfaces, but because bleach was always equated with true cleanliness, we scrubbed to our heart’s content back then. Nostalgia has kept most of these products on the shelves for decades, and in our minds for just as long.

In the last 15 years or so, natural cleaning products have gained plenty of traction and now sit side by side with all the aforementioned legacy brands at the store. With many people more environmentally conscious, the marketplace is now filled with cleaning products that are, well, cleaner than what we used to use. With more plant-based ingredients, such as essential oils, not only are they great choices for those who have allergies or sensitivities to synthetic fragrances and other compounds, but also for those who want to minimize their usage of harsh chemicals to get rid of dust and dirt. 

My interests in aromatherapy, perfumery, and herbalism have helped me educate myself when it comes to natural cleaners, so now I know how to get that pesky coffee stain off of the kitchen counter, leaving only the light whiff of citrus or lavender. As much as I’ve embraced using natural cleaning products where I can, I simply won’t give up bleach. I know that it works and it gets the job done. 

A few years ago, Clorox came up with a rather clever advertising campaign which asked if you would really trust something else other than bleach to scrub away certain kinds of germs. It was quite effective to me (perhaps the target audience), reinforcing that long-held generational attachment to bleach. Yet, to strike that balance between old-school and new-school cleaning, I limit my use of bleach to mopping floors and sprinkling Comet into the toilet, while utilizing natural products for kitchen and bathroom counters, drying clothes, and washing dishes.

Here are a few natural all-purpose cleaners that have joined bleach in my go-to cleaning arsenal. I just love that I can get the best of both worlds — it’s a win-win I bet my grandmother would be proud of.

Founded in 1988, Seventh Generation is one of the oldest brands of natural products, having expanded into bathroom cleansers, laundry and dishwashing detergents, and dryer sheets. A number of the scented products get their fragrances from essential oils — many of which have cleansing and disinfecting properties, including the thyme, lemongrass, and citronella that the multi-surface cleanser contains. Not only does it smell pleasantly fresh and herbal, but it also kills 99% of household germs, and it cuts through bathroom and kitchen grime like you wouldn’t believe.

With a floral scent that’s light and calming, it’s no surprise that lavender is one of the most-used fragrances in cleaning products. I’m a sucker for anything lavender in general, and Method’s French Lavender scent (comprised of lavender, purple sage, chamomile, and bergamot, which is what gives Earl Grey tea its citrusy bouquet!) is perfect for someone who prefers something a little more perfumey and less medicinal. The scent isn’t overpowering at all, and it cleans very well, leaving no stickiness or residue after you wipe. 

These are just a few of my favorite products for my new-school-meets-old-school cleaning technique, something I’m coining the “half-and-half” method. As we learn more about cleaning products — their benefits and their dangers — I’ve found that balance is key in keeping my home glistening.

What are your favorite cleaning products? Do you use bleach? Why or why not?