The deets on bleach!

Bleach - it can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to your clothing. We here at Pearl Street have become quite acquainted with this staple of laundry cleaning over the years, and we’ve noticed that our customers often have quite a few questions about bleach. There is a lot to know about this chemical, so we thought we’d discuss a few bleach matters here for your reading pleasure.

What is bleach?

Traditional bleach, around since the 1800s, is heralded the end-all compound for making whites whiter, for removing hard to eliminate stains, and even for household chores like cleaning the bathroom and general sanitation. Regular bleach is often referred to as chlorine bleach, which is not entirely accurate, as traditional bleach actually uses “hypochlorite” as its active ingredient. There are other types or classes or bleaches developed after this original chemical that are in powder form or peroxide-based agents. These chemicals work by interrupting chemical bonds of stains and/or dyes.

What is the difference between traditional bleach and so-called “color safe” bleach?

This is definitely the most common question we get regarding bleach. There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about this topic, so let’s see if we can’t dispel any misunderstandings once and for all. Color safe bleach uses an entirely different chemical – hydrogen peroxide – than traditional bleach. That’s right, the same stuff your mom poured on your cuts when you were little. You wouldn’t want to try that application with bleach (trust us, it is a very bad idea), but it gets its cleaning power from that chemical. The color safe version of bleach is many degrees milder than traditional bleach, and thus could be used with pretty much any colors and fabrics. Almost all types of washable garments can be laundered with color safe bleach. If the fabric cannot be washed with color safe bleach and/or the stain is particularly bad we recommend considering dry cleaning.

Sometimes you may hear the term Oxygen Bleach, which is also a hydrogen peroxide based form of color safe bleach, and one that we think is a great laundry option. It can sometimes even be found in certain detergents.

What can I wash with bleach?

Regular bleach can be used on a variety of fabric such as cotton, polyester, acrylic, nylon and blends of these fabrics. It should go without saying that delicate (and typically expensive) fabrics such as wool, silk, leather, and mohair should never be bleached; in fact, these should typically be dry-cleaned. If an item is labeled as “non-fast colors” that means it will be discolored by traditional bleach. This is what happens when you accidently splash some on a shirt or ruin a garment in the machine with chlorine bleach. Nevertheless, some colored items can be bleached safely with regular bleach depending on the type of dye and application, however, we recommend going with color safe bleach when in question.

Color safe bleach can be used on approximately 98% of colored textiles, however, we recommend testing it prior to using. Many things will be labeled as “Non-chlorine bleach when needed” or “Only color safe bleach” to help you make the best decision.

Safely using bleach.

Bleach is an awesome chemical, however, if you have ever had bleach on your skin for longer than a few minutes, or breathed in the fumes of a closed off restroom recently cleaned with this miracle liquid, you’ve probably come to realize that bleach is quite a caustic and “aggressive” chemical compound. It is strong, sometimes too much so, so that it has been known to do a bit of damage to clothes when used recklessly and to your health. We love to use white vinegar and ammonia for other stain fighting and laundry needs, however, bleach if mixed with either of these chemicals can produce toxic gasses. We recommend caution when using these in the same area and avoid using vinegar as a softener or cleaner when using bleach in a wash load.

I have a bottle of bleach from ten years ago, is it still effective?

The answer to this question might surprise you, as we tend to think that strong chemicals like bleach exist on a geological time scale. The truth is much different, however, and most sources claim that the shelf-life of bleach expires within six months, or even that bleach becomes 20% less effective per year of existence. Go figure. Old bleach probably won’t ruin your clothes, but it also probably won’t help get them clean.

We here at Pearl Street always keep a healthy stock of the laundry stuff in the back and offer Clorox2 Color Safe Powdered Bleach for sale in the vending machine, while liquid Clorox Regular Bleach is sold at the window by an attendant. Both retail for $1.00 each for a single load package.

So grab some bleach without fear or uncertainty on how to use it with your laundry!