Bleach is a tried and true disinfectant. Your own family likely used it growing up. It’s a staple of cleaning just like turkeys are a staple of Thanksgiving. The cleaner is so popular and widely-used that many people don’t bother looking into anything else But is it the best? And are there any other types of disinfectant that work just as well? Many cleaning companies stick with the tried-and-true approach and use a bleach-based cleaner because it’s recognized by most people as a valid option. However, some experienced restoration companies have looked into alternatives for water damage restoration and other jobs. All-natural cleaning products claim to be just as effective. But are they? To gauge the cleaning power of disinfectants, it’s important to know how disinfectants like bleach cleanse surfaces, how strong they are, and if there are any health hazards associated with them.
While often used interchangeably, cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are three different things. For a thorough analysis of terminology, The Global Safe Technologies of Australia has a detailed guide that covers the differences, but these terms can be boiled down in a simpler way:
To summarize, cleaning is removing substances, sanitizing is reducing germs to a safe level, and disinfecting is the complete elimination of germs over time.
Disinfectants are substances that kill germs over a period of time. But how exactly do they do that? Depending on the targeted virus or bacteria, the chemical processes behind it can be different. Chlorine bleach, for instance, uses the active ingredient sodium hypochlorite. This chemical is an oxidizer that essentially changes the chemical makeup of individual cells. For some germs that are prokaryotes, this is done by breaking down the cell wall that contains essential organelles. When this wall breaks down, the cell can no longer live. For a more detailed analysis, see this article from Phys.org.
The word “bleach” can actually refer to several different cleaners as an overarching term. But for disinfecting purposes, it’s generally talking about chlorine bleach containing sodium hypochlorite since this kind is the most powerful disinfectant.
It’s difficult if not impossible to make the argument that chlorine bleach doesn’t work as a disinfectant. Whether someone supports or opposes using bleach, they recognize that it disinfects surfaces when used properly. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has four levels of disinfection and sterilization, two for disinfection and two for sterilization–the highest level of bacterial and viral removal used in surgery and objects with direct bloodstream entry–with bleach classified under Intermediate-level (highest level of disinfection). This means that its suitable for the needs of cleaning any household or commercial property.
While bleach is certainly an effective chemical cleaner, it’s also indiscriminate. Not only can it break down the chemical bonds in target cells such as bacteria and viruses, but it can do the same thing for human cells as well. The Environmental Protection Agency has four categories of toxicity ranging from Highly toxicity level 1 to Very low toxicity level 4 (Nothing is rated as completely non-toxic). Chlorine bleach is firmly in level 1. This is why bleach has so many warnings on the label. These include corrosive tissue damage for the eyes and skin as well as the lungs if the fumes are breathed in. It can also cause harmful or even fatal reactions when mixed with common household items such as vinegar, which when combined produce deadly chlorine gas.
Even more confusing than the term bleach, “all natural cleaners” can refer to just about anything. In order to be classified as an all natural disinfectant, a product would have to fall under the definition of a disinfectant from above while also having no artificial or synthetic compounds.
“Natural disinfectants” are far too wide of a category to judge on the whole. Some are essentially snake oil with no proven benefits, created in an attempt to make money from unwary consumers. But just because some of these products are worthless doesn’t mean all of them are. In fact, the EPA has a comparison chart showing chlorine bleach compared to five other disinfectants. Two of them were natural disinfectants. The botanical disinfectant–The active ingredient Thymol was used for this comparison–scored the same strength as bleach.
Unlike bleach, botanical disinfectants are safe for human exposure. Rating a 4 on the toxicity scale (very low toxicity), the EPA claims that no rinsing or wiping is required before using it on a food preparation surface, while the same doesn’t hold true for bleach.
Bleach is a strong disinfectant that can eliminate bacteria from surfaces with ease. However, a high-quality botanical disinfectant can have the same disinfecting power without the associated health hazards. So why haven’t they caught on? One reason is that bleach is so well-known. Another is that bleach is widely available. Just about any store and even many gas stations have bottles of bleach for sale, while many powerful botanical disinfectants have to be ordered direct from the manufacturer. Bleach is also much cheaper. A concentrated bottle can be cost only a few dollars, while natural disinfectants are much more expensive. So what does this mean for restoration companies? If you choose a property restoration company that uses quality natural cleaners like Benefect, you may be getting an incredible value!