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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Watch the bleach

A while ago we purchased a new washing machine, one of the "HE" (high-efficiency) models that uses less water and less electricity. It also takes much longer to wash a load of clothes than our old low-technology washing machine, and the new one is noisier too — but set those complaints aside for now. The HE washer must periodically be cleaned with a bleach solution to prevent accumulation of mold.

When our supply of plain Clorox ran low, I went to the grocery store to buy more. That's when I discovered that bleach has changed.

Regular bleach, by which I mean the unadulterated, unglorified kind without any scents or other additives, used to be a 5.25% solution of sodium hypochlorite. But all manufacturers of bleach, as far as I can tell, increased the concentration of sodium hypochlorite to 8.25% over the last two years. Formulas you've used for decades that you should dilute bleach by a certain ratio for use in cleaning, disinfecting, etc. are no longer correct; new bleach must be diluted more. Read this.

Incidentally, bleach is not a shelf-stable product.

Meanwhile Clorox has confused the market by introducing a HE bleach. Perhaps it's ok to use HE bleach during the washing cycle of an HE machine, but I won't use it for any other purpose. Clorox actually refuses to disclose the mix of chemicals in HE bleach; they say it's a proprietary formula. What they do admit, though, is the that the amount of sodium hydroxide (lye) in HE bleach is considerably higher than the trace of lye that was always in regular bleach to slow down the natural decomposition of sodium hypochlorite in solution over time. The potency of HE bleach is attributable to the higher amount of sodium hydroxide, and naturally the pH of HE bleach is considerably higher than the pH of regular bleach. Avoid use of HE bleach as a cleaning or disinfecting agent around the house; for those purposes, buy traditional bleach. Sodium hydroxide is nasty stuff… old-fashioned drain cleaner.

By the way, I will pass along this tip that I got from the Internet. If you have a HE top-loader, leave the top open when the machine is not in use. This will help it dry out and prevent mold. Once mold sets in, it is very difficult to kill it all.