Rescuing Spilled Bleach
Q: I had a mishap with some of my whites and tried to use Clorox® Regular Bleach to get the red out. Unfortunately, in the process, the bottle fell and a small hole punctured the Clorox container. I scrambled to clean up, and had an old bottle of Tide® plus Bleach Alternative Liquid Laundry Detergent. I used the Tide® bottle to save the rest of the bleach, put it in my cupboard and left it there. A few minutes later there was liquid all over the bottom of the cupboard and the Tide® bottle was extremely hot. I had to dump it down the drain. My question is: what caused this chemical reaction?
A: Dealing with a bleach spill is a challenge. It sounds like the old bottle of Tide® plus Bleach Alternative Liquid Laundry Detergent used to contain the bleach was not quite empty, causing an exothermic reaction when the two products combined, as evidenced by the bottle becoming hot to the touch. I do not know the precise reaction, and without knowing the exact formula of that detergent brand or how much of each product was present, I do not want to guess. However, it is not surprising that the not-quite-empty detergent bottle failed to contain the transferred bleach, and is a great example of why we recommend that undiluted bleach should never be combined with other household cleaning products. At the very least, the undiluted bleach can deactivate some of the other product’s ingredients. At the worst, if the household cleaning product is acidic (has a lower pH), toxic gas can form that can be fatal. Fortunately, liquid laundry detergents are typically buffered to a neutral pH. Of course when properly diluted as directed, bleach works very effectively with detergent to clean, whiten, and disinfect laundry.
Back to the spill: what else could be done? It helps to have a few dishpans on hand – they are great for pre-soaking. Start by setting the leaking bottle in a sink or dishpan while you deal with any bleach that has spilled. Next try to contain the spilled bleach by using towels to surround the liquid. Let the towels absorb the bleach, and then use a plastic dishpan to transfer the towels from the spill site into a sink where you can carefully rinse them. Next, transfer the rinsed towels to your washer and run them through a cycle with detergent. For the leaking bottle, if you don’t have an alternative and clean container, you can safely dispose of the bleach and take advantage of the situation by disinfecting and deodorizing all the toilets in your house! First, flush the toilet and then add 1 cup bleach to the toilet bowl. Brush the entire bowl and let stand 10 minutes before flushing again. If you still have some bleach left, you can also sanitize your sinks: fill each sink with a ratio of 1 gallon of water to ¾ cup bleach. Let stand for 5 minutes and then drain the solution and rinse the sink thoroughly. Lastly, you can also sanitize your clothes washer by running an empty cycle with ¾ cup bleach (or fill the dispenser to the max fill line).
One final reminder: once the bleach spill has been contained, absorbed and disposed of (in accordance with your local, state, and federal regulations), it is important to follow up by washing the spill area and letting it dry thoroughly. This helps prevent residual bleach from damaging other clothing or laundry items.
Have you ever had a bleach spill or strange bleach reaction with another product?