We all know bleach is great for stain-lifting and disinfecting. Its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, quickly attacks and denatures the proteins in micro-organisms, killing bacteria, fungus and viruses. And according to the American Cleaning Institute, it’s the oxidizing properties of bleach that convert unwanted dyes and colours (aka stains) into colourless, soluble particles that can be easily washed away. Neat!
But how often have you bought a full-size bottle of bleach, only to use it on a stain or two before putting the rest in a cabinet for months? After you sanitize your toilet bowl and whiten those whites, here’s how you can put this low-cost cleaning agent to good use in other ways around your home. (Always protect your eyes and use with gloves in a well-ventilated area.)
Keep flower bouquets alive longer
Freshly cut flowers can create such an unexpected and beautiful spark of joy in a home — until they croak in a pool of their own gunk. According to Clorox, “When microorganisms multiply in plain vase water, they block the flower stem and make it hard for the stem to absorb water for nutrients — causing wilt and odours.” Adding 1/4 teaspoon of bleach per litre of water can help them live longer. Reader’s Digest notes that three drops of bleach and a teaspoon of sugar in a vase of water will “keep the water from getting cloudy and inhibit the growth of bacteria.”
Preserve Carved Pumpkins
It’s no fun to spend hours crafting a perfectly ghoulish mouth on your jack-o-lantern only to have it capsize under the weight of its own mould and mildew. The same bleach solution that can help cut flowers stay alive longer can preserve carved pumpkins. Add a teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water. Generously spray the inside of the pumpkin with the diluted bleach solution. (This also works on mini pumpkins you may use to hold tea lights.) According to the Clorox website, the diluted bleach solution will break down to table salt and water when exposed to air and sun, so any squirrels who may be tempted to take a nibble will not be harmed — they’ll just be dining on saltier bites.
While you shouldn’t use bleach in your garden, as it can be harmful to surrounding plants, when weeds push through your footpath crevices and driveway cracks, bleach is an effective tool to keep them at bay. According to Hello Gardening, you can either pour undiluted bleach in the cracks, or spray diluted bleach and let sit for a day or two before pulling them out — both methods will kill weeds permanently. They caution, however, to use it sparingly, as it can damage soil.
Deep clean trash cans
When funky odours linger after you take out the trash, it’s time to deodorise your trash can. One of the best ways to do this is with bleach. (Note: While some websites advise mixing bleach with dishwashing detergent to make a cleaning solution, bleach and soap can release toxic gases when mixed together.) After using a hose to loosen caked-on debris, add 1/2 cup of bleach to about a gallon of warm water. Use bleach and warm water solution to clean the bottom and sides of the trash can, either by soaking and “sloshing” (the technical term) or, if you’re brave and thorough, scrubbing it with a toilet brush before rinsing and air drying. Remember those gloves.
Tame litter box odor
That oh-so-distinct and unpleasant kitty litter box smell caused by ammonia, bacteria, and germs that build up in your cat’s commode deserve some disinfecting. After washing with soap, bleach product developer Julia Byrne recommends wiping down the litter box with a solution of half a cup of bleach to one gallon of water and waiting five minutes before rinsing.
Elongate your Christmas tree’s life
If you prefer live trees for Christmas, you know what a bummer it can be to decorate your lovingly-picked evergreen only to have it perish a two weeks later (and it’s only mid-December.) Byrne suggests a “solution of two teaspoons of bleach per half a gallon of hot water, plus one cup of corn syrup, and an eighth of a cup of powdered iron from your local nursery. This mixture goes into your tree stand bowl instead of plain water.”
Remove tea and coffee stains from mugs
If your favourite morning beverage mugs are looking a little dingy, you can refresh their appearance with bleach. Soak tea- and coffee-stained mugs in a basin of water containing several drops of bleach for five minutes (or as long as it takes for the stains to dissipate) before washing as usual. Or use this method from Popular Science: Let 2 teaspoons of bleach and very hot water sit in the offending mug(s) for 15 minutes before rinsing.
Spruce up plastic lawn furniture
Don’t toss that mottled, mildewed, once-white plastic lawn furniture just yet. When that patio furniture starts to look like it’s been taking direct hits from a family of pigeons under a bridge down by the river, try washing it with 1/2 cup bleach mixed in a gallon of water to see if any of its former shine can be restored.
Purify drinking water
When there is no other method of water purification available — if you’re living or travelling in an underdeveloped country without modern sanitation, or if you’re hiking and don’t have any iodine tablet or any way to boil water and your drinking water is potentially contaminated — bleach can be used to purify it. While bleach ingested in large quantities is corrosive to human tissue and can have serious health effects, two drops per litre or eight drops per gallon of clear water are acceptable to drink in an emergency. The CDC has outlined the following guidelines for purifying water with bleach.
Eliminate moss and algae on walkways
When your home’s front walkways, brick paths, patio pavers, and stepping stones become covered by a thick coat of slippery moss and algae, bleach can help. Apply a solution of one cup bleach to one gallon of water directly on the bricks, stones, or concrete and let stand for several minutes. (You may also wish to scrub them with a long-handled outdoor brush.) Rinse with a hose, while being careful to avoid nearby plants and flowers.
Sanitise garden tools and pots
Periodically, your garden tools and pots should be soaked in a cleaning solution that can rid them of germs and pathogens that spread plant disease. (You should never reuse any tools to clip diseased branches or stalks without sanitising them first.) At least once yearly, or whenever you’re dealing with a known plant or soil disease, soak garden pots and tools in a solution that is 1/2 cup bleach to every litre of water. Let all tools dry in the sun for maximum disinfection.
You can keep standing water, such as in a birdbath, mosquito free with a little bleach. According to Bob Vila, a tablespoon of bleach added to 50 gallons of water can adequately kill larvae and eliminate pests while keeping birds safe. (Damn, Bob. That’s a big birdbath.)
Create your own clothing designs
No, bleach is not going to miraculously make you a contender on Project Runway. (Is that show still on? Holy crap, it is.) But what you can do, armed with a Clorox Bleach Pen Gel, is draw your own designs on your jeans and t-shirts. With newspapers or old towels on your workspace, use the bleach pen to draw your favourite design — stripes, dots, flowers, what have you. Let dry 30 minutes and blot with a paper towel to remove excess bleach gel, before allowing to dry completely.