Is bleach a disinfectant or a sterilizer?

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Cleaning is necessary even though most people don’t enjoy doing it. The process is tiring but vital as it aids in eradicating microorganisms that can be detrimental to our health. Al-Sayah (2020) noted that the process aids a chemical disinfectant in eliminating pathogens because cleaning alone is not enough to kill pathogens. Even though cleaning is not always strong enough to kill these pathogens, it is essential to remove the debris and dirt that can otherwise prevent a disinfectant from reaching microorganisms, therefore rendering it ineffective. Disinfectants can have a hard time getting the target because they aren’t good at cleaning surfaces, meaning, for effective elimination of viruses, bacteria, and fungi, cleaning, and disinfection must be done in that order.


Bleach is one of the most commonly used disinfectants in the world. That function can be attributed to its strength and effectiveness in cleaning and disinfection processes. Also, not to mention the fact that it’s very affordable and safe to use even in the household setting. The active agent in bleach is a chemical compound known as sodium hypochlorite or liquid chlorine. For household use, the World Health Organization recommend that the formulation usually contains 5% or less of sodium hypochlorite.

Does it disinfect or sterilize?

Even though bleach is mostly and commonly used in household cleaning and disinfection, its uses are not limited. It is also used in industrial settings but at a much higher concentration. Moody et al. (2019) mentioned it is also used in health care settings because bleach is effective against many microorganisms, including bacterial spores resistant to some disinfectants. For that reason, bleach can be used as a disinfectant and a sterilizer. The difference is in the concentration. It can be used to disinfect surfaces at the hospital at the same concentration as that used at home and to sterilize medical equipment at a higher concentration.

Safety precaution when using bleach

When handling bleach, you should take necessary precautions to prevent your body from getting in direct contact with the chemical. Cheng, Jiang, and Cheng (2018) mentioned that you should use rubber hand gloves and safety glasses to protect your eyes from potential splash hazards. You’ll also need a long-sleeved cloth to cover your skin and a chemical protective apron for additional protection if there is a spillage. But disposable protective suits are mostly recommended as they offer maximum protection. In case there is direct contact with the skin, be sure to rinse with adequate water. And if there is close contact with the eye, you’ll need to seek medical attention but before that, make sure you rinse your eyes with a lot of clean water.

Another thing that is important to pay attention to when using bleach is ventilation. According to the WHO guidelines, you must ensure that the room in question is well ventilated before you commence the cleaning process. The instruction on how to handle bleach is usually written on the product label. After disinfection or sterilization, you should ensure that you take a shower whether you came into direct contact with a chemical or not. And finally, bleach is too strong to be used around children, so see that they are at a safe distance. When you are done with cleaning and disinfection, ensure that you lock the chemical away from the reach of children.



Al-Sayah, M. H. (2020). Chemical disinfectants of COVID-19: an overview. Journal of water and health18(5), 843-848.

Cheng, C., Jiang, A., & Cheng, C. (2018). Effect Comparison of Double-stranded Quaternary Disinfectant Wipes and Chlorine Disinfectant of Sterilizing the Surface of the Operating Room.

Moody, L. V., Miyamoto, Y., Ang, J., Richter, P. J., & Eckmann, L. (2019). Evaluation of Peroxides and Chlorine Oxides as Disinfectants for Chemical Sterilization of Gnotobiotic Rodent Isolators. Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science58(5), 558-568.

World Health Organization: Coronovireses disease, 2019. Available from: (

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