Pros: The disinfectant capabilities of chlorine bleach, also known as sodium hypochlorite, have been strongly proven. It is one of the few household cleaners that are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which means that it’s been tested and shown to kill microorganisms, such as the E. coli. When used properly, chlorine bleach is highly effective and inexpensive.
Cons: Chlorine bleach is also highly corrosive and a potent irritant. It can cause many short-term effects like damage to the skin or eyes, nasal and lung irritation, and headaches, according to the EPA. Repeated exposure to chlorine bleach has been linked to the development of asthma in previously healthy children and adults.
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It is especially concerning in households with children. Bleach was the most common cause of poisoning or cleaning product-related injuries in children under the age of 5 in 2010 according to a study in Pediatrics.
Aside from causing irritation, chlorine bleach can contain impurities, including carcinogenic chemicals like chlorine, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and 1-Dichloroethene, which are not listed on product labels, as noted by Samara Geller, a database analyst for the Environmental Working Group. There is also growing concern over these chemicals and those created when chlorine bleach interacts with other elements in wastewater, thus resulting in accumulation in waterways.
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Pros: Lemons are a super-safe household staple. You don’t have to worry about kids getting into them or harmful residue left over after cleaning. Much like bleach, concentrated citrus peel oils have been proven to be strong antimicrobials. Recent studies have shown that lemon juice and lemon peel oil are effective at removing multiple bacterial strains, including salmonella and E. coli. The pH of lemon juice is similar to vinegar, which is also recommended for mold removal and treatment. This acidity means that lemons can help to safely break down grime and remove stains.
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Cons: Lemon juice and lemon oil have not been explicitly tested on the permanent removal of mold, and depending on the size of your mold outbreak, cleaning with lemons can get expensive.
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Both lemon and chlorine bleach will effectively remove surface mold and its stains, but neither can permanently “kill” the mold. Since both are performing the same function, opt for the safer, healthier lemon juice.
If you have a particularly tough bit of mold or mildew, rub the spot with salt and lemon juice, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes before wiping it away. You can also try adding a splash of vinegar.
“Only use a product and an ingredient as strong as you need for the job,” says Samara Geller from the Environmental Working Group. “A lot of times a less harsh chemical will do the trick.”
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If you feel like you have to bring in the big guns, Geller recommends trying something safer than chlorine bleach, like hydrogen peroxide. If you do reach for the bleach, be careful not to mix it with other cleaners, especially acidic cleaners like lemon, ammonia, or vinegar, because it will release toxic chlorine gas.
No matter what you choose, ditch the sponge. Sponges can transfer mold and mildew (not to mention harmful bacteria) from one surface to another. Opt for a reusable microfiber cloth instead.
Unfortunately, neither lemon nor bleach is a fix-all. The key to preventing future outbreaks is to go straight to the source—repair all leaks, keep humidity levels low, and be sure the area or item has plenty of ventilation. The best defense against stubborn shower mold or mildew is to dry the shower down completely before you get out.