Orders for infection control products like disinfectants and other related items have increased across the nation as Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) continues to spread.
Manufacturers of these products are having difficulty keeping up with demand, and your current disinfectant may be temporarily unavailable.
If you can’t get the disinfectant you regularly use, other disinfectants, like bleach, can be used in its place.
Bleach has been used as a disinfectant for over 100 years. It is a proven option, but has lost popularity as safer, more versatile disinfectants have been introduced to the market.
When compared to other disinfectants, bleach will require additional attention to safety and procedures.
In this article, we’ll review what you need to know about bleach and how to safely and effectively use it as a disinfectant.
Will bleach kill the coronavirus?
At the time of this writing, no EPA registered disinfectants have a claim against this specific coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
However, to detect and contain SARS-CoV-2, the EPA in accordance with the U.S government and the CDC has activated its Emerging Viral Pathogens Guidance for Antimicrobial Pesticides.
Meaning, select products that have been shown effective against similar viruses like Human Coronavirus, SARS associated Coronavirus, or Rotavirus can be used on hard surfaces against SARS-CoV-2 when used in accordance with disinfection directions.
Warning: Bleach will not be effective if it is old or expired. Check the product label to ensure the product is not past its expiration date.
Bleach will also not be effective if it is stored improperly. Bleach exposed to heat or light for prolonged periods of time loses efficacy. If your facility stores bleach in a hot storage closet or in direct sunlight it likely will no longer be effective.
Pro Tip: Temperatures above approximately 77 degrees Fahrenheit will promote deterioration of bleach.
What surfaces can be disinfected with bleach?
Bleach can be used to disinfect most hard, non-porous surfaces.
Warning: Bleach solutions may not be appropriate for all surfaces. Bleach should not be used on or near clothing, fabric surfaces, carpeted surfaces, leather surfaces, painted surfaces, some metals, electronics, etc. Always follow manufacturer’s instructions for use and application. For more detailed information on how to disinfect certain products, reference the product spec sheet or service bulletin.
Precautions to Take When Using Bleach as a Disinfectant
Like most cleaning products, bleach is safe for use when used properly, but if it is not used in the right dilution, application, or with the right tools and equipment it can be hazardous for the user.
Before using bleach, your staff should be aware of the necessary precautions in order to avoid any potential injury or damage:
- Always Wear Personal Protective Equipment
- Use in a Well-Ventilated Area
- Never Mix Bleach With Other Cleaning Products
Always Wear Personal Protective Equipment
Bleach is corrosive and will irritate or burn the skin, eyes, and lungs without the proper personal protective equipment.
Personal protective equipment that should be worn when using bleach includes:
- Safety Goggles
- Face Mask
Use in a Well-Ventilated Area
Bleach should always be used in a well-ventilated area. Always use fans and keep doors and windows open.
Never Mix Bleach
Bleach should never be mixed with other chemicals. When mixed, bleach can have toxic, potentially life-threatening reactions, like releasing dangerous vapors into the air.
How to disinfect with bleach
Prepare to Disinfect
It is important to begin any cleaning procedure with the proper tools, commercial cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment.
Required Tools, Materials, & Equipment:
- Face Mask
- Cold Water
- Disinfectant Pail
- Trigger Spray Bottle
Step 1: Protect Yourself
Always start any cleaning procedure by putting on the proper personal protective equipment.
Step 2: Prepare the Bleach Solution
The active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, in bleach usually ranges between 5.25% (regular strength) and 6.0% - 8.25% (ultra-strength).
Bleach with a concentration of sodium hypochlorite lower than 5.25% cannot be used as a disinfectant.
Prepare your bleach solution according to the manufacturer’s dilution guidelines.
Always use cold water when diluting bleach. Hot water decomposes the active ingredient of bleach and renders it ineffective. It can also release chlorine gas that can be harmful.
Step 3: Clean the Surface
Bleach has zero detergency and no ability to clean. Bleach is a disinfectant and will be inactivated by any soils or debris left on the surface.
Always clean before you disinfect. Cleaning and disinfecting are two different procedures that should be used together to remove and kill germs.
It is important to clean or remove any visible soils before disinfecting. Cleaning removes loose soils, preparing the surface or object to be disinfected.
Disinfecting kills germs on the surface, preventing them from spreading. If a surface is not cleaned first, then germs can hide under soils and reduce the efficacy of the disinfectant.
Step 4: Rinse
Rinse the cleaner from the surface. It is important to remove all chemical residue.
Warning: Remember, mixing bleach with any other chemical can cause a chemical reaction. Make sure there is no cleaner or chemical residue left on the surface you are disinfecting.
Step 5: Apply Bleach
Bleach can be applied with either a wiper or trigger spray bottle.
If you are using a wiper, apply the bleach solution directly to the wiper. Use the wiper to apply the bleach to the surface.
Disposable wipers are the best choice to eliminate the chance of cross-contamination. However, reusable cloths can be used if they are being laundered properly.
Warning: Reusable microfiber cloths are not compatible with bleach. Bleach will destroy the fibers.
You can also use a trigger sprayer to apply the bleach solution. It is okay to apply bleach with the trigger sprayer to the surface, but you need to be careful of overspray. Overspray can damage surrounding surfaces like carpet.
Step 6: Let Dwell
Let the bleach solution dwell for the required wet dwell time.
Dwell time is the amount of time a disinfectant needs to remain wet on a surface to effectively disinfect (kill the organisms that are listed on its label) the surface.
Different commercial cleaning chemicals require different dwell times based on the EPA registration and contact time required for the organism you are trying to kill.
In order to effectively disinfect and meet EPA requirements bleach MUST meet the proper dwell time.
Most bleach must remain wet on a surface for at least 5 minutes. Some may need to remain wet for as long as 10 minutes. This means a continuous 10 minutes of WET dwell time.
The organism you are trying to kill will determine the dwell time. Refer to the bleach manufacturer’s data for the proper dwell time for each organism type.
Step 7: Rinse
Thoroughly rinse the area with cold water. Remove all bleach from the surface. Bleach that is left on the surface for longer than the recommended time can cause damage to the area.
Additionally, any remaining bleach can pose potential health risks to staff and occupants.
Step 8: Air Dry
Let the area air dry before opening it back up to occupants.
Any remaining solution should be disposed of. Diluted bleach has a maximum shelf life of one day. A new solution should be prepared daily.
Pro Tip: Do not dispose of bleach in drains, sinks, or toilets that have not been thoroughly flushed with clean water.
Cleaning and disinfecting hard surfaces in your facility is one of the best ways to help reduce the spread of pathogens, like the 2019 Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
The contamination of surfaces is likely occurring when an infected individual coughs or sneezes and releases respiratory droplets. Viruses, like Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), can remain infectious on surfaces for as little as a few hours, or as long as several days. As a result, cleaning and disinfecting high touch points around your facility like countertops, handrails, desks, phones, and other commonly touched surfaces is important.
Using bleach as an alternative to your normal disinfectant can be effective when used according to the manufacturer's guidelines. Always remember to take the proper precautions to avoid any injury or damage to the person or property.
Find out more about the 2019 Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) situation and how to best protect your facility by reading: How to Protect Your Facility From 2019 Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)