Cleaning with Bleach Harms Pets, People: Scientists

If you clean with bleach you might want to rethink that practice. Researchers have now discovered that bleach fumes, in combination with light and a citrus compound found in many household products, can form airborne particles that might be harmful when inhaled by pets or people.


Bleach cleaning products emit chlorine-containing compounds, such as hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and chlorine gas (Cl2), that can accumulate to relatively high levels in poorly ventilated indoor environments. These gases can react with other chemicals commonly found in homes, such as limonene — an orange- or lemon-scented compound added to many personal care products, cleaners and air fresheners. In addition, indoor lighting or sunshine through windows might split HOCl and Cl2 into a hydroxyl radical and a chlorine atom, which can react with other compounds to form air particles called secondary organic aerosols (SOAs). These pollutants have been linked to respiratory problems and other adverse health effects.


People should consider limiting bleach cleaning to those areas and surfaces known to be breeding grounds for bacteria (such as the rubberized inner rim of front-loading wash machines).  The home should be well ventilated with windows and doors open during and after bleach cleaning. Additionally, choosing bleach cleaners that are free of citrus (limonene — an orange- or lemon-scented compound) is important.


Journal Reference: Chen Wang, Douglas B. Collins, Jonathan P.D. Abbatt. Indoor Illumination of Terpenes and Bleach Emissions Leads to Particle Formation and Growth. Environmental Science & Technology, 2019; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b04261