Once you make the switch to natural laundry soaps and cold water washing, the need for chlorine bleach may creep into your laundry habits. Yet chlorine bleach is harmful to humans and the environment; the good news is alternatives exist. These alternatives are nontoxic or less toxic and will allow you to keep your whites white with a clear, green conscious.
Although bleach manufacturer Clorox claims bleach does not enter groundwater, the addition of bleach to water can free chlorine that can result in the formation of chloroform. Bleach can also combine with ammonia in septic and drainage systems, thus resulting in monochloramine, which is dangerous to wildlife. Furthermore, bleach is harmful to humans. Bleach off gasses for a period of time. Bleach fumes from sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) can cause pulmonary embolisms in susceptible people. In addition, 25,000 children a year in the United States experience an accident involving bleach, such as ingestion, and it is the most common household chemical involved in poisonings. Despite these risks, many groups find household bleach use to be safe, as paper bleaching, pesticides, and plastics manufactures pose greater threats; however, alternatives do exist.
When shopping in your local co-op or natural food store, you may see alternative bleach products sold by companies such as Seventh Generation. The active ingredient in these alternative bleach products is hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is not carcinogenic to humans, but it is a skin irritant and harmful if swallowed or exposed to the eyes. In addition, it can be harmful to aquatic life. It is simple and more cost effective to make your own oxygen-based whitener by mixing hydrogen peroxide with water, in about a 50:50 ratio. According to Seventh Generation, "If every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of 48 oz. chlorine bleach with non-chlorine bleach we could prevent 8.2 million pounds of chlorine from entering our environment."
Another alternative to chlorine bleach is to let the sun do the whitening for you. Add 1/2 cup of lemon juice into the rinse cycle, then hang your clothes to dry in the sun. The acid in the lemon juice provides bleaching power, and the sun will sanitize your clothes. This option is great for colors too and will reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating clothes dryer usage!
Alternatives to chlorine bleach do exist, and with a little bit of effort, you can protect your family and environment from this potentially harmful product. Lemon juice, the sun, and hydrogen peroxide provide alternatives accessible to everyone. Keep your whites bright while making your home a safer place!