To bleach or not to bleach . . .

Natural Cleanin’ Corner

Kim Bowen, published April 2012 Community of Minnesota Resorter Reporter Magazine


To bleach, or not to bleach?

If you know me at all, I reckon you’d assume my immediate answer to this question would be a big, fat “NOT!” followed perhaps by a rather annoyingly muttered “duh”.  Well, you’d be wrong.  Wrong, I tell ya!    🙂   Bleach, bleach, bleach away, peeps.  ‘Course, by ‘bleach’, I am assuming we’re all on the same page about its meaning?   ‘Bleach’ simply means to leach out color, or to whiten.

For example, the sun is quite an effective natural bleaching mechanism, as you already know when you move artwork around your cabins each winter to fade the picture outlines on your pine walls, or throw sheets over your nice cabin furniture in the off season to prevent upholstery fading.  (Oh, you don’t do that at your resort?  Okay, me neither.  I like the worn-in look, --albeit this statement could simply be my justification for outright laziness---, but I’ve been to some resorts whose owners are very particular about this.  It’s always been fascinating and educational for me to learn about all our different resorting pet peeves, but I digress . . . . . .)

As you might suspect, the bottom line of this article is about the dangers of chemical bleach, the kind you buy at any supermarket in the white gallon jug, and what kinds of alternatives there are to replace it with.  And yah, there really are some.  And they actually work.  So that’s gotta be good, right?  Worth a read through the rest of the article anyway, even if you’re pretty sure you’ll never, ever, ever give up your trusty, stinky white jug ‘o germ-away.

So, here’s my truth and the real reason of why I don’t use chemical bleach at my house or resort, and why I rarely will go into a chlorinated pool or hot tub: I don’t want cancer.  I’m really afraid of it and uncomfortable admitting to it, but there it is.  I’ve seen my daughter-in-law fight breast cancer for a year and lose, I’ve experienced my grandson dying of brain cancer at age 3, too many of my resort guests and personal friends have gone through the cancer process and sometimes come through it and sometimes not.  And although I’ve witnessed many, many, many positive things come from their process and heard and even agreed quite often that a diagnosis was a ‘blessing in disguise’, I do not wish to go through a similar situation with the pain, the exhaustion, feelings of helplessness and fear, worries and stress of medical and money issues, etc.  There are many things I cannot control in my life: so what I can control, I try hard to make educated decisions about.  In particular, when I learn something is a known carcinogen (directly linked to causing cancer), for example, I avoid it as much as possible, research how I can reduce any damage I may have already caused to myself when I didn’t avoid it in the past, and try to pass along any wisdom learned to others as much as I feel they might be open to it.

The chemical chlorine bleach is a known carcinogen.  No if, ands or buts on this one.

no bleachNot only can you absorb toxic carcinogenic amounts into your body by inhalation, skin absorption or ingestion (if dishes or eating implements are rinsed with it, or a piece of food set onto a countertop rinsed with chemical bleach is eaten it may have collected residual chemicals from the countertop) it can also be an instant killer as I hope you are aware:  if you accidentally mix liquid bleach with ammonia in a poorly ventilated room; Ooops!  down ya go, deader than a doornail, instantly suffocated from the toxic “chloramine gas”.  (This is what our government used in World War II as a very effective chemical warfare weapon, by the way, they called it ‘mustard gas’ because of the greenish/yellow color of the gas.  There’s fascinating, and rather morbid reading out there on the history of the chemical chlorine bleach if you should choose to cross reference this stuff.)   Also, if you accidentally mix chemical bleach and vinegar, or chemical bleach and hydrochloric acid (found in many toilet bowl cleaning solutions) you will also be instantly poisoned by the new kinds of toxic gases produced by the mixture.  Wait a minute! - isn’t the acid in our stomachs mostly hydrochloric acid?   Holy upchuck, Batman!  No more cleaning up after barfy guests in an enclosed bathroom with chemical bleach, dude!  Speaking of bathrooms, isn’t ammonia just stale urine?  (I’m positive I read in several sources you can make ammonia by simply peeing in a bucket and letting it stand for several weeks.  The urea breaks down into pure ammonia.)  Crap!  (no pun intended)  I’m freaking myself out here worrying about all of you out there cleaning cabin bathrooms with bleach and other stuff, getting poisoned by new gases even more than I was originally thinking . . . I gotta focus here . . . . .

Okay.  So why are we ‘allowed’ to use such a volatile, unstable substance?  That’s a whole topic altogether, but my personal opinion in a nutshell is:  somebody somewhere is making tons of money selling this very cheaply and easily manufactured product, the marketing campaigns are very successful (hey, who wouldn’t want to be that carefree lady in the commercial floating around the kitchen spraying down all surfaces valiantly fighting germs on behalf of her family?) and chlorine bleach is a very inexpensive germicide and bleaching agent.  In the past 100 years, it has indeed been used to successfully eradicate bacteria and nasty diseases caused by  contaminated potable water supplies.  But being that we’re fighting bacteria with a known poison, how much is too much?  On a side note of positive news:  I just read on the Seventh Generation website (they manufacture and distribute a line of natural cleaning products and recycled toilet tissue, paper towels, etc.) that a group of bipartisan legislators in Washington DC are on the verge of changing the EPA’s ‘acceptable’ level of chlorine bleach allowed in public drinking water systems to be more on par with European standards, perhaps not to the extreme France does, as they use ozone almost exclusively now to purify their water treatments, but it’s a step in the right direction and I really hope they can work together and get something passed for our betterment of health.)

But!  Back to the bottom line and taking action on things we can control directly.  Ready to consider some possible alternatives to using chemical bleach at your resort?

Instead of chemical bleach to whiten, try these natural alternatives:

  • Hydrogen Peroxide.  (It’s a natural bleaching agent.  Cheap, too: about a buck a bottle at any pharmacy.) The brown bottles are only about 3{c55c8048ce70815a53cedbe8c58af6e7018bd1f9249d13e1ed06da752e55b489} peroxide, but it works well on some things.   For example:


    • refrigerator seals (brush on a few coats with a toothbrush to eliminate dark mold spots and to prevent future mold).  It’s awesome!


    • white towels spots – if used WITH lemon juice.  If it’s used by itself, or if lemon juice (also a natural bleaching agent) is used by itself, it doesn’t seem to work as well as when used together.  (We tested this at the last Green Cleaning class.)  Here’s my personal story with what did work:   my folks own a condo in Hawaii in which they also use as a vacation rental.  Last year when I was helping them manage the place, I was going through all the folded white towels and washcloths.  There were about 38 pieces with stains or spots on them.  Since I had researched both peroxide and lemon juice as natural cleaning bleaching agents and seen them listed over and over again, I decided to try it out for myself.  Hence, I soaked each spot/stain with lemon juice (sometimes I really rubbed it in well, sometimes just soaked the spot) then threw all of the pieces into the washer and let it fill with hot water.  I then shut off the washer and dumped in two quarts of hydrogen peroxide and let the washer load sit overnight to soak.  Then I let the washer run the load like normal.  Guess how many stains and spots came out?  ALL 38 pieces but two. (I’m pretty sure the one towel was used to dye some guest’s brunette hair.  Nasty stuff, hair dye.  Couldn’t get it out.  Everything else cleaned up, though.)


  • Shaklee’s Nature Bright powder:  Hands down, this is the best clothing/bedding whitener I’ve found, and it’s organic!  Wow.   We did a test at the last Green Cleaning class (by the way, there will be another Green Cleaning class on April 9th as a CMR Pre-Workshop bonus class – it’s free, and will be lead by a local Shaklee distributor and her husband, they’re a hoot!).  The test involved cutting up a dingy used-to-be-white rag and soaking pieces in hydrogen peroxide by itself, lemon juice by itself and Shaklee’s Nature Bright  by itself, overnight.   We were all amazed at how freakin’ white the piece of cloth in the Nature Bright solution turned out.   Really remarkable.  (  you can buy directly from website, $3.40 for 32 oz.)


  • Restore EnzAway Spot Remover: This stuff is really great on getting out bloodstains and other protein based spots in sheets, even those you missed the first time around and baked in after a clothes dryer cycle.   ($6.09 for a quart spray bottle   EnzAway is also what I use to spray on sofa arms and chair rests where lots of guest body oils have soaked in.  Yuck.  This natural enzyme will actually ‘eat’ up the protein and make it go away.   I’ve used it on carpet spots and upholstery to remove bacon grease, poo spills (dang two-year-olds), urine and once a bloody trail left on the carpet from somebody who ran around outside barefoot and got a cut.


Instead of chemical bleach to disinfect, try these natural alternatives:


  • KITCHEN counter tops, dish rinse, produce rinse:   Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (common brown bottle you can get at any local store).   Don’t mix the two together.  Put some white (or apple cider vinegar) vinegar in one spray bottle, and dump a brown bottle or two of hydrogen peroxide in another spray bottle.  Then spray your surface with one, then the other (apparently doesn’t matter which one you spray on first, it’s just important to keep them separate until you apply them).

Virginia Polytechnic Institute studies found that “ pairing the two mists killed virtually all Salmonella, Shigella, or E. coli bacteria on heavily contaminated food and surfaces when used in this fashion, making this spray combination more effective at killing these potentially lethal bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.”   Cool, huh?  Source ( )

I have read that the Mayo Clinic actually uses vinegar and distilled water to disinfect bi-pap and c-pap plastic tubing, humidifiers, etc.    I use that recipe (plus lemongrass essential oil) to make a natural alternative to "swiffer" wipes and leave them in cabins for guests to use.


  • Shower curtains:   I use polyester cloth shower curtains at my resort, and wash them each week between guests.  Instead of washing them in chemical bleach, I  use borax (you can buy ‘MuleTeam’ borax at pretty much any grocery store, hardware store, or Walmart) and vinegar.   I use hot water for this wash (usually I only use cold for sheets) to dissolve the powdery borax, then put a full cup of vinegar and a lot of normal soap.  Works great!  (Borax is a natural deodorizer, too, not just a disinfectant and mold inhibitor.)


  • Shock your well with 35% hydrogen peroxide.  (Update 2016:  YES!  we've been using 35% hydrogen peroxide to shock the wells and numerous water heaters in cabins for last three years to GREAT SUCCESS.   I laugh at wikipedia instructions telling how to determine when the peroxide has processed through your water lines.  With chemical bleach, you just run a faucet until you smell bleach, then let it run out.  With peroxide, you slap a hunk of raw meat in the sink, run the faucet until the meat bubbles, then let the water run a while.  Fizzing meat, heh.  I’m still googling sources of bulk hydrogen peroxide, as most instructions are calling for 4 gallons of it initially to shock your well, then 1-2 gallons the next time you smell odors or see rust.  Ehow website has a guideline, also, or just try searching as I’m doing and feel free to chat on the resorter chatline about it so we can trade notes!)


  • 35% hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach for your pool or hot tub (guidelines: )   Although we don’t have a pool at our resort, I thought some of you might be interested in exploring the possibility.  (It looks as though we’ll either have someone speaking about alternatives to chlorine for your pool (a salt cleaning system? Ozone?) at the upcoming Spring Workshop April 10th in Walker, or we’ll at least have a crackerbarrel with this starter topic leading off.)


There are a ton of resources (website, books, magazines) out there for ‘green’ cleaners, and I’m happy to see several local groceries/department stores carrying a couple of organic cleaning lines to make it easy for you to try ‘em out.  I’ve been asked to write a few more articles on natural cleaning and will attempt to keep the topic running for chats, ‘cause I’m learning stuff all the time.  I’ve got a rant on air fresheners I’ll save for when I need to work out some frustration, tub & tile cleaner alternatives, natural pesticides, and maybe another look at general cheap natural cleaning solutions (I make up a glass/window cleaner here at my resort for about $.04 quart – compare that to the toxic blue stuff at $2.50 a quart!)   Looking forward to seeing you at the next Green Cleaning Class on April 9th and the CMR Spring Workshop on April 10th!

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