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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Chemical Reaction of Bleach & Detergent

By Dr. Laundry July 1, 2011

Q: What type of chemical reaction does the bleach perform in tandem with the detergent?

A:  There are many different reactions that happen during a wash cycle.  Detergents at a minimum provide:


  • Builders that tie up water hardness ions (calcium, magnesium, etc) so they can be rinsed away without inhibiting detergency or depositing onto the clothes.

  • Surfactants that remove soils/fats and disperse them into the wash water so they can be easily rinsed away.


Better detergents also include enzymes and FWA’s, mentioned above.  The active ingredient in Clorox® Regular-Bleach, sodium hypochlorite, is a strong oxidant that breaks double bonds in body soil, dirt, and various color compounds (think red wine).  This makes it easier for the surfactants and builders to do their jobs over the course of the whole wash cycle, and why we say detergent alone is not enough.

I’m wondering, are there any fun success stories out there after using bleach?