Chlorine bleach – that household staple usually parked in the laundry – has additional uses besides “whitening your whites”. During cold and flu season, dilute bleach solutions can be used to wipe down frequently touched surfaces to help prevent the spread of viruses and other pathogens (disease-spreading germs) among family members.
Bleach solutions also destroy bacteria, including Salmonella and E. coli, common foodborne pathogens that may lurk on kitchen work surfaces. Used smartly, bleach solutions pack a powerful punch against germs that can make your family sick.
How Does Bleach Destroy Bacteria?
Several years ago, a University of Michigan research team led by Dr. Ursula Jakob, studying the effects of heat stress on bacteria, inadvertently discovered the mechanism by which bleach destroys bacteria. The short, entertaining video above, “The Secret Life of Bleach,” features creative animation that describes the mechanism of bacteria destruction.
As the video demonstrates, exposure to bleach causes proteins—which are complex, three-dimensional structures that control the life functions of bacteria—to permanently unfold, an effect that is analogous to a house collapsing.
Bleach in Our Bodies
One of the fascinating points made in the video is that the human body produces and uses chlorine bleach internally as a natural disinfectant. White blood cells are “little bleach factories,” according to Dr. Jakob, that are activated to destroy bacteria detected inside the body, helping to fight disease. How interesting to think that the inventors of bleach probably never realized their own bodies were creating and using this substance naturally!
Thanks to Dr. Jakob and her team, we now know how bleach destroys bacteria both within us and around us. Bleach is giving up some of its age-old secrets…
Using Bleach for Household Chores*
|Task||Regular Strength (5.25%) Bleach in 1 Gallon of Water||High Strength (8.25%) Bleach in 1 Gallon of water|
|Wall and floor disinfection following flooding||¾ cup||½ cup|
|Laundry disinfection and whitening (for a full load of laundry in a washing machine)||½ cup||1/3 cup|
|Disinfecting nonporous surfaces (e.g., vinyl, ceramic tile, porcelain) against norovirus (“the stomach bug”)||1 cup||3/4 cup|
|Disinfecting hard surfaces against flu transmission||¼ cup||2 ½ tablespoons|
|Disinfecting kitchen cloths||3 tablespoons||2 tablespoons|
|Routine disinfection of food-contact surfaces||1 tablespoon||2 teaspoons|
*Table recommendations are partially based on Guidelines for Determining How Much Clorox® Concentrated to Use in Continuous Chlorination Disinfection Systems in place of Clorox® Regular and Clorox® Ultra bleach, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention