The Pros + Cons Of Chlorine Bleach

There are lots of ways to wipe out flu microbes, but some of them could be unhealthy for your home.

February 25, 2013
cleaning a bathroom

If you have a family member or roommate who's succumbed to the flu, inadvertently spreading germs could be as easy as touching a sink faucet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends disinfecting all hard surfaces to avoid spreading flu microbes around your house. But while many household disinfectants such as chlorine bleach, and ammonia-based products like Lysol, are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency to kill the flu virus, they also contain harsh chemicals that may cause respiratory damage, long-term hormone disruption, and harm to the environment. On the other hand, a natural disinfectant like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, which have been tested and found to kill certain foodborne illnesses, germs, and other microbes, don't have an established track record against the flu virus. So how should you keep from spreading flu around your home without putting your long-term health at risk

Related: 8 Natural Cleaning Products You Can Easily Make


Chlorine Bleach
Pros: Chlorine bleach is effective at killing viruses, including strains of the flu, as well as bacteria, because it actually penetrates the germs' outer membranes to kill them completely. In fact, a 2007 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that chlorine was a much more effective disinfectant than standard antibacterial products, which are ineffective against viruses. Because you mix it with water, a little bit can go a long way.

Cons: In addition to potentially singeing your respiratory tract and irritating your skin, chlorine is a common cause of poisonings in children under 6 years old. Production of chlorine is also one of the leading emitters of mercury into the environment, and its production releases cancer-causing dioxin, which accumulates in cow's milk and other animal fats.

Other Household Disinfectants
Pros: Nonchlorine household disinfectants use a variety of ingredients, such as ammonia (in Lysol), alcohol, and pine oil, to sanitize your surfaces. Many health professionals recommend using an ammonia-based disinfectant as an alternative to chlorine-based ones to clean up after flu outbreaks.

Cons: Ammonia can be hard on your lungs and, like chlorine, can cause serious problems if you get some splashed on your skin or in your eyes. Furthermore, these products often combine their active ingredients with other toxic chemicals that allow them to function better. Examples include solvents such as glycol ethers, which are classified as hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act and can damage the reproductive system. In addition, these products are scented with artificial fragrances that may contain phthalates, synthetic chemicals that have been linked to asthma and reproductive problems. One final con: Cleaning-product manufacturers aren't required to list ingredients on their packages, so you really have no way of knowing which chemicals you're being exposed to.

The Best Choice
Go with chlorine bleach. Ordinarily, we'd recommend avoiding chlorine bleach altogether, given its numerous health and environmental problems. However, when it comes to controlling flu, you're better off going with a dilute chlorine bleach solution than a premade disinfectant. Unlike other disinfectant products, when you mix a homemade bleach solution, you'll know exactly what's in it, and it only contains one ingredient, versus other cleaners that can include multiple unknown and potentially dangerous ingredients.


Here are ways to lessen its health and environmental impact when using chlorine bleach for wiping out flu germs:

Don't Make It Too Concentrated. When you buy bleach, look for a concentration of 5 to 10 percent. You may find bleach products with higher concentrations, but these will raise your chances of experiencing respiratory and skin irritation.

Make The Bottle Last. Even though it's already at a 5 to 10 percent concentration, you don't need much bleach to kill the flu. Just one-quarter cup of bleach in a gallon of water, or one tablespoon per quart, if you need a smaller batch, is adequate to disinfect surfaces.

Keep It Fresh. These bleach solutions have the most potency when mixed right before they're applied. If you have any left over, pour it out; you'll not only prevent accidental ingestion by pets or kids, you'll also kill more germs then next time you apply a fresh batch. (Chlorine breaks down quickly, so it’s not a threat to the environment.)


Never Mix Disinfectants. Never. Ever. Chlorine doesn't play well with others, and it could react with other unlisted ingredients, such as ammonia, in a commercial cleaner to form toxic fumes. Mixing cleaners is never a good idea, since you don't know what's in them (unless you make your own).