Is Chlorine Bleach? How to Use Chlorine-based Cleaning Products

By: Yara Simón  | 
A hand in red gloves, bleaching a fabric.
Chlorine bleach is salt water that electricity has slightly changed. Schafer & Hill / Getty Images

Chlorine bleach is a household staple, a go-to cleaner and a laundry room essential. While using it to clean up your spaces, you might have asked yourself, "Is chlorine bleach?" In this article, we'll break down the differences between chlorine and bleach.


What Is Chlorine?

Chlorine is a gas at room temperature. Ordinary table salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) is half chlorine. A simple electrochemical reaction with salt water produces chlorine gas easily. That same reaction produces sodium hydroxide (NaOH), and by mixing chlorine gas with sodium hydroxide you create sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl).

When you buy a gallon of household bleach at the grocery store, what you are buying is the chemical sodium hypochlorite mixed with water in a 5.25-percent solution. Essentially, you're buying salt water that electricity has slightly changed.


What Is Bleach?

Bleach is a chemical compound, primarily containing water-diluted sodium hypochlorite. Like other household cleaners, bleach is a powerful disinfectant and stain remover. It is a versatile product that you can use throughout your household, like in your laundry room, bathroom and kitchen.

While cleaning surfaces, it's important to be careful with handling bleach; improper use or mixing with certain chemicals can make bleach toxic.


The chlorine in bleach is the same as the chlorine in drinking water and in a swimming pool. In fact, you can use chlorine bleach to treat a swimming pool or to treat drinking water. A gallon of regular bleach provides 1 part per million (PPM) of chlorine to 60,000 gallons (about 250,000 liters) of water.

Typically, a pool is treated at a rate of 3 PPM, and drinking water is treated at anywhere from 0.2 PPM to 3 PPM depending on the level of contamination and the contact time.


Chlorine Uses

You can use chlorine in swimming pools and drinking water because it is a great disinfectant. It can kill bacteria and algae, among other things. Chlorine also makes a great stain remover, but not because of the chlorine itself.

Natural stains (as well as dyes) produced by everything from mildew to grass come from chemical compounds called chromophores. Chromophores can absorb light at specific wavelengths and therefore cause colors. When chlorine reacts with water, it produces hydrochloric acid and atomic oxygen. The oxygen reacts easily with the chromophores to eliminate the portion of its structure that causes the color.


There has been a lot of discussion about the safety of chlorine in drinking water. It's not clear how safe or unsafe chlorine is, especially in PPM concentrations. But two things are clear:

  • It's a whole lot safer to drink chlorinated water than water contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. Millions of people have died from waterborne diseases, and modern water systems largely eliminate these diseases through the use of chlorine.
  • If you are worried about the chlorine in your water, all you have to do is let the water stand for a day or two in a loosely covered container in your refrigerator, and the chlorine is eliminated.


Types of Chlorine-based Cleaning Agents

Here are a few cleaning agents that use chlorine:

  1. Sodium Hypochlorite: The key ingredient in chlorine bleach, sodium hypochlorite is responsible for its cleaning and disinfecting power. This liquid bleach is typically clear or slightly green or yellow.
  2. Chlorine Gas: A more concentrated and potentially hazardous form of chlorine used in industrial applications. It has a strong odor. It's important to note that toxic chlorine gas can cause harm, such as the burning of the throat and bronchial tree.
  3. Calcium Hypochlorite: Generally a white powder or pellets, calcium hypochlorite is used in swimming pool maintenance.


Bleach and Safety Concerns

Chlorine bleach is potent. When used properly, it is generally safe. However, as with all toxic chemicals, it's important to follow safety guidelines, dilute solutions as recommended and avoid mixing with other chemicals, which can produce toxic fumes.


Chlorine Bleach vs. Non-chlorine Bleach

Not all bleach contains chlorine. Regular bleach, sometimes called laundry bleach, is effective at stain removal. But bleaching powder and liquid have some limits, especially when it comes to laundry. You can use regular bleach on white items but not on clothing with any color.

Oxygen bleach is a type of non-chlorine bleach. Made up of hydrogen peroxide, sodium perborate and sodium carbonate, oxygen bleach also has stain-fighting capabilities, but you can use it for a wider range of clothing.


This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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Frequently Answered Questions

Can chlorine be used as bleach?
Yes, chlorine can be used as a bleach.