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Disinfecting Laundry

Advice from Dr. Laundry
Q.

I have been told that using Clorox® bleach with detergent lessons the disinfecting of Clorox and that you should presoak laundry before washing it to disinfect anything and that Clorox only disinfects when used with plain water. Is this true?

A.

No, adding detergent along with bleach doesn’t reduce its disinfecting capabilities. Technically the sodium hypochlorite active does decrease a very small amount with detergent, but as long as you use the correct amount of bleach, you will have enough bleach present to react with soils and bacteria and disinfect the load.

Just so you know, for any product to claim that it disinfectants, it must pass a series of tests and register with the EPA. Part of the registration includes listing the label instructions for how the product can be used to disinfect. So when you hear or read instructions from others for using Clorox® Regular Bleach2 to disinfect, you need to be sure those instructions are consistent with what’s on the label to be confident that germs are being eliminated. Also, Clorox® Regular Bleach2 is a multi-purpose disinfectant that is used to disinfect more than laundry, and bleaching solutions for disinfecting vary depending on the application. Sometimes it’s a bleach + water solution, and sometimes bleach + water + detergent. Here are instructions for some common disinfecting applications:

  • Laundry in a standard washer— Add ¾ cup bleach to dispenser, if available. If not, add bleach and detergent to the washer as it is filling with water, before the laundry is put in. For best laundry results, dilute 3/4 cup of this product in 1 quart of water and add to wash cycle 5 minutes after the wash cycle has begun. For heavily soiled loads add slightly more bleach (up to 1 1/4 cup).
  • Laundry in a High Efficiency washer— In HE machines with a ¾ cup or larger bleach dispenser, add clothes, detergent, ¾ cup bleach and start washer. In a machine with no or small bleach dispenser (less than 3/4 cup), follow pre-soaking instructions.
  • Laundry Pre-Soak— Rinse to remove loose soil and fully soak bleachable items for 5 minutes in a solution of ¼ cup bleach to 1 gallon of cool water.
  • Hard Non-Porous Surfaces (i.e. kitchen counters, floors, appliances, baby furniture, children’s plastic toys)—Prepare a bleach solution of ¾ cup bleach to 1 gallon water. Wash, wipe, or rinse items with water, then apply the bleach solution. Let stand 5 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and air dry.

Finally, I want to clarify that whether or not you would need to pre-soak your laundry to disinfect it depends on several things, such as what you are washing, what type of washer you use, and what type of dispenser (if any) your clothes washer has.