Home' Inclean : INCLEAN Nov-Dec 2016 Contents 38 INCLEAN November/December 2016
Many people still
bleach is a necessary
part of a cleaning
regime. This article
busts some popular
myths about the
need to use bleach
and explains how to balance the desire for
whiter-than-white surfaces with your green
a cleaning agent
There is no doubt that chlorine bleach,
or ‘sodium hypochlorite’, is an effective
bleaching agent. Pour it down the toilet and
it will brighten the most ingrained stains.
But while the toilet bowl may look clean,
it’s a cheat’s clean because all you have done
is removed the soil’s pigment, not the soil
that is causing the stain.
Despite popular belief, chlorine bleach is
not a cleaning agent, meaning that it does
not have the ability to lift soil from a surface.
While bleach can dissolve fat molecules, it
still needs some form of surfactant (usually
a detergent) and /or mechanical agitation to
bind and lift the soil away.
In fact, because bleach is highly alkaline
(pH12.5), it reacts with alkaline calcium
deposits that form naturally in water,
binding it to the toilet bowl like concrete.
This damages the porcelain finish and
causes a rough surface that organic matter
becomes lodged in - causing stains. (Which
is why toilet cleaners are acid-based).
So using bleach will be short term gain
for long term pain and there’s nothing
green about that. Preserving the longevity
of a surface should be a key objective of a
sustainability program, and a good argument
for paying for regular, quality cleaning.
necessary to keep
Surface stains are just ‘soil’ (dirt, food,
drink etc) that has become embedded in the
minute crevices of a surface. Most of organic
stains can be lifted by allowing the cleaning
chemical, or even just water, extra time to
dwell on the surface, releasing the stain and
allowing it to be wiped away. There are also
plenty of new innovations in technology that
use mechanical extraction, steam or ozone to
lift and remove stains and grime.
When a building surface is old and worn,
these stains may actually be surface damage,
not grime. In public restrooms, a whiter than
white finish is associated with good hygiene
and ‘Mrs Smith’ won’t care how this is
achieved! In such situations, a green cleaning
program could include a restricted and
monitored fortnightly application of bleach,
as long as the health and safety risks have
been controlled and workers are trained.
Myth #3 – Bleach isn’t
dangerous. I use it all the
time at home
Sodium hypochlorite bleach may be sold in
the supermarket, but it’s certainly not ‘safe’.
Classified Hazardous and Corrosive, it can
cause severe skin burns and eye damage. If
inhaled, it can burn the respiratory system.
Mixing chlorine with other cleaning agents,
particularly acid-based toilet bowl cleaner,
creates dangerous chlorine gas. This gas
attacks the mucous membranes in eyes,
throat and lungs and can result in death - as
they discovered in World War One.
Safety rules include:
• Never spray bleach
• Always use extraction fans in enclosed
spaces such as toilet or shower cubicles
• Wear the correct rubber gloves and
• Always dilute in COLD water
• Always dilute accurately using controls to
Or just don’t use it.
bleach to kill the germs
The final myth is not whether chlorine
bleach can kill germs or not, but whether
it can be effective given the way it is
commonly used? Furthermore, do we really
need to kill germs in non-clinical or food-
Sodium hypochlorite disinfects a surface
by attacking the protein molecules of
bacteria. But this ability is seriously limited
if the surface or cleaning tool is not clean!
For bleach to work effectively, the surface
must first be cleaned and rinsed using
a clean tool. Bleach must then be given
surface contact time of at least five minutes
before rinsing off again. Who has the time
to do that? Or who has the budget to do
that after every person has used the toilet or
food court table?
The National Health and Medical
Research Council (NHMRC) stresses
that the aim should be to remove not kill
Can whiter than white be green?
bacteria, by effectively cleaning and drying
surfaces. Take away the soil and moisture
and you take away the germ’s food source
and carrier (called bio-film), thus achieving
hygienically clean surfaces.
Effective cleaning can only be achieved if
your cleaning tools are:
• provided in sufficient quantities to
be replenished in each new room /
area / surface
• colour-coded (or other system) to prevent
cross-contamination between areas,
• carried to prevent contact between clean
and soiled tools, then
• laundered (washed and dried) after
Effective cleaning is at the heart of a
green cleaning program. Get this right
and you eliminate the need for bleach
and harsh chemicals and you protect your
workers, the building’s occupants and its
surfaces. The smell of bleach used to be
synonymous with the smell of cleanliness,
but for many people these days, it smells
like a cover-up.
*Bridget Gardner is director of Fresh Green
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