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Bleach Expiration Date

Advice from Dr. Laundry
Q.

Can bleach go “bad”? I stocked up on bleach last year, and purchased the new gel spill-proof type. It has been under lock and key in my classroom, so I know it has not been diluted by anyone. When I go to use it in the laundry, it does not have the strong scent associated with bleach (chlorine), and it does not seem to be particularly effective in whitening the wash. I have experienced this same problem in the past with your regular liquid chlorine bleach as well. Also, when I put a small amount of bleach into a spray bottle and add water to spray the counters in the classroom, I discover that the bleach seems to have had a corrosive effect on the cap to the spray bottle. The screw cap and spray mechanism break. Is this also to be expected?

A.

This is a great question. I assume the product you are referencing is Clorox® Splash-Less® Bleach.

Some quick background: The sodium hypochlorite active in liquid bleach naturally degrades into salt and water in the bottle. The major factor determining the rate of decomposition is temperature. The higher the temperature the faster the active is lost; older product also decomposes more rapidly. We even compensate for this by adding more bleach during our summer production. Generally, we say that under average storage (~70°F) conditions, bleach has a 12-month shelf life.

So to help explain your questions on lack of bleach scent and lower performance: I suspect that the product age is a major concern and that your bleach is actually 15–17 months old (1 year in storage plus 3–5 months to get it through the distribution channels and sold at the store). In addition, this product has a lower bleach level than our Clorox® Regular-Bleach₂ with CLOROMAX®, so the decreased performance is more likely to be seen. As for the lack of bleach fragrance, the ingredients used to make the product thick also tend to suppress any smells. This, plus the lower bleach active and being diluted in the washer would lead to reduced bleach smell.

Finally, your observation that the cap and sprayer mechanism are corroded from the bleach solution are correct. Anytime we are using metal parts in any of our products they are tested for product compatibility. For our Clorox® Clean-Up ® + Bleach spray, we use specially treated metal parts to avoid this reaction. In the future, you might want to find and use an old Clean-Up bottle for this purpose.

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