What is bleach?

Bleach is a word used to include both household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and some swimming pool disinfectants (calcium hypochlorite). These substances may also be called chlorine bleach or chlorine, although they are different from chlorine gas. Both chemicals have a strong, irritating odor.

How could I be exposed to bleach?

People can be exposed to sodium hypochlorite when using household bleach, which is a mixture of sodium hypochlorite in water, or to calcium hypochlorite when using pool disinfectants. You may be exposed to low levels of bleach in drinking water where the drinking water supply uses sodium hypochlorite to kill bacteria in the water. People who use sodium or calcium hypochlorite in factories to bleach paper or fabric may be exposed.

How can bleach hurt my health?

Bleach at lower concentrations can cause skin irritation and severe eye irritation if it gets in your eyes. The odors can cause nose, throat, and eye irritation. It can trigger breathing difficulties in people with asthma or other lung diseases. At higher concentrations, contact with bleach can cause skin and eye burns.  Burns can be severe and cause blistering, and could even be fatal if bleach is swallowed.

When bleach is mixed with ammonia, it releases a strong-smelling gas called chloramine that is toxic to breathe. Never mix household cleaners.

How can I protect myself from bleach?

Dilute household bleach as recommended for cleaning. Wear protective clothing, including gloves and eye protection. Use only in well-ventilated spaces, and do not mix bleach with other household cleaners. Household bleach should be stored out of the reach of children.

When disinfecting pools, follow the directions about how much to use. Store pool disinfectant according to the label directions, in a secure place out of the reach of children. It should be stored in a dry place separate from other pool chemicals. Never mix pool disinfectants with other products.

Where can I get more information about bleach (sodium hypochlorite or calcium hypochlorite)?


Updated 2023