It seems that everyone has a bottle of bleach either under his or her kitchen counter or in the laundry room. Bleach is used to whiten white clothing, remove stains from hard non-porous surfaces and to disinfect children’s toys, and in some cases used to sanitize clothing and to make biologically unsafe water potable, or safe for human consumption.
Sanitize Versus Disinfect
There is a distinction even through many assume the words are interchangeable. Essentially this article will not make a distinction but may interchange the words for emphasis.
In hospitals for example, to sanitize means to kills germs on surfaces to make them safe for contact. A doctor or nurse will “sanitize” their hands before seeing a patient. Sanitizing lessens the number of germs on contact surfaces, but typically does not kill all germs it simply reduces the number. Most hand sanitizing solutions claim to kill 99.99 percent, which means obviously not all germs are destroyed.
To disinfect a surface you need a stronger solution and the intent is to destroy all pathogens. Areas that require a disinfecting solution would be those surfaces or areas exposed to bodily fluids, blood, feces, vomit, saliva and so on.
The solution of bleach to water has to be such that it would destroy any viruses/diseases that are communicable.
Bleach used for sanitation and as a disinfectant should have as its active ingredient sodium hypochlorite (liquid chlorine). It will state this clearly on the label. Ensure there are no additives in the bleach such as fragrances or agents that cause the bleach to be splash proof.
The percentage of the active ingredient is typically 5.25 to 6 percent but some manufactures are now producing bleach and labeling it as a concentrate, so the active ingredient can be as high as eight percent.
Uses around the Home for Bleach in particular during a Crisis or Survival Situation
1.) Making Water Safe to Drink
Typically, drops are used when describing the amount of bleach needed to disinfect water. The ratio is eight drops per gallon of water or two drops per quart/liter if the water has been filtered or is otherwise clear and not considered extremely cold.
According to the CDC 8 drops is equal to roughly 1/8 of a teaspoon, so 16 drops would equal ¼ teaspoon. You must wait at least 30 minutes after adding the drops of bleach before drinking.
If you do not have, a dropper or teaspoon use a clean piece of paper. Dip a corner of the paper in the bleach and allow it to form drops on the end, shake the drops into the water. Ending up with a few extra drops of bleach in the water will not hurt you as long as you do not exceed 16 drops per gallon (1/4 teaspoon) at the 5.25 to 6 percent active ingredient ratio. Most manuals will recommend doubling the amount of drops (up to 16 per gallon) if the water is cloudy or cold, below 60ᵒF. (CDC, n.d.).
2.) Sanitize Food Preparation Surfaces and Food Storage Containers
A teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water is considered a strong enough solution for sanitizing food-processing areas. Bacteria in raw meats can cause sickness if the raw juices cross contaminate foods that will not be cooked. This typically happens when raw chicken, for example, is cut up on a cutting board that is then not properly disinfected before cutting bread, produce or fruit on the same board. Use the bleach solution whenever any surface has been exposed to any raw meats and before preparing any foods.
Get the odor and bacteria out of plastic coolers and thermoses by using a teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water solution. Pour the solution into the cooler, wash the side and all corners, and let the solution soak for 30 minutes and then rinse well. If the cooler has a drain spout, open the spout and let the solution drain through to clean. Pour the solution into your thermos and let soak for 10 minutes and then rinse well.
3.) Cleaning Raw Fruits and Vegetables
If your area has experienced a flood, local produce and fruits can become contaminated due to contact with the floodwaters. The produce or fruit must be cleaned before eating raw, even if the outer layer (skin) is not eaten. Using a knife or your hands to remove the peel or to cut the product can cause bacteria to make contact with the edible parts. The outer layer must be cleaned by soaking for 30 seconds in the one teaspoon per gallon bleach solution. Rinse well and let the produce air dry.
4.) Destroying Deadly Molds and Mildew
Molds can form quickly in particular if your do not have electricity in hot months due to a crisis. Most air conditioning units also dehumidify the air and without this process, high humidity can cause mold growth.
To kill mold and mildew mix one cup of bleach with one gallon of water and either sponge or spray the solution on or otherwise drench the growth with the solution. Let the solution work for at least 10 minutes before scrubbing the mold. Make sure you have heavy rubber gloves, eye protection and a face mask/respirator on and provide as much ventilation as possible when working with a strong bleach solution.
5.) Preventing the Spread of Diseases
In most emergencies, proper sanitation is a problem, and this can cause the spread of viruses and harmful bacteria. Medical care will be limited if there is any at all, so you must do what you can to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria to keep your family safe.
Clothing can be sanitized using bleach but any colored clothing would be spotted or have the color completely “bleached” out, but in an emergency you do what you have to do. You may have to wash the bedding and clothing of a sick member of the family, and you do this to prevent the spread of the disease.
Use a bleach solution ratio of 1:100 for washing clothing and bedding as well as any protective clothing a caregiver is using.
Use the one teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water to kill germs and viruses on any hard surfaces in particular doorknobs, light switches, baby crib rails (other than wood rails), countertops, and any hard surfaces in which you and others would routinely have contact.
To disinfect children’s hard, non-porous toys that are color safe use ½ cup of bleach per gallon of water. Let the toys soak for 5 minutes in the solution, then rinse with clean water and let air dry.
Some will state that a solution of bleach sprayed into the air will kill airborne viruses and bacteria. Bleach works as a contact agent, in other words, it must make and maintain contact with a surface for a specified period to kill bacteria and viruses.
Spraying bleach into the air may kill some bacteria but it would be difficult for the bleach to maintain contact with any viruses or bacteria in the air, in other words, this is not an effective method of killing airborne pathogens.
Additionally spraying bleach into the air may cause droplet to get in your eyes or on surfaces that can be damaged by the bleach.
Never mix bleach with any other cleaning solution, to include white vinegar and in particular ammonia. Mixing bleach and ammonia together will create a deadly gas. Use eye, hand, mouth and body protection whenever handling/using bleach.
CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/pdf/emergency/09_202278-B_Make_Water_Safe_Flyer_508.pdf