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The Difference Between Chlorine and Non-Chlorine Bleach

clorox bleach and clorox 2 for colors

The bleach instructions on a garment care label will tell you if “any bleach,” “only non-chlorine bleach” or “do not bleach” is recommended. Here’s what that means.

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By Mary Gagliardi

Using bleach on whites

Laundry bleaches have a long history of home consumer use. First, there was regular bleach (sodium hypochlorite, NaOCl) which was first used for white cotton fabrics. The hypochlorite bleach active (OCl) in regular bleach is often referred to as “chlorine bleach” even though there’s no elemental or free chlorine in a bottle of bleach or in the laundry when the bleach is added.

Regular bleach is not safe for some dyes and fabric types, including spandex, wool, silk, mohair and leather. However, it is safe for cotton, linen, rayon, polyester, nylon and acrylic fibers, unless a dye or finish on the fabric is not compatible with bleach.

Tip

Laundry bleach is always added along with detergent to improve cleaning, brightening, whitening and stain removal.

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Using bleach on colors

colored clothing

Next came oxygen bleaches (hydrogen peroxide, sodium perborate, sodium carbonate) that are safe for virtually all machine washable fabrics. Peroxide bleach doesn’t contain chlorine, and is referred to on garment care labels as “non-chlorine bleach”.

Tip

If unsure bleach is safe for an item, test on a hidden area before washing with bleach. Always avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather, spandex, and non-fast colors.

Oxygen bleaches are also referred to as color-safe or all-fabric bleaches. These products are also ideal for washing white items with spandex that can’t be washed with regular bleach.

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Bleach innovations

Now, there are also Bleach Packs that behave similarly to sodium hypochlorite bleach once dissolved in water. We’re lucky to have multiple product choices for improving detergent performance so we can properly wash a wide range of garments!

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Care labels and bleach instructions

Care labels use a minimum of detail, but it’s easy to tell which type of bleach to use depending on which care symbol is on the label.

bleach as needed symbol non chlorine bleach as needed symbol do not bleach symbol
L to R: Bleach as needed, non-chlorine bleach as needed, do not bleach.
  • A care label that reads “Any Bleach” means you can use either sodium hypochlorite bleach or peroxide bleaches.
  • A care label that reads “Only non-chlorine Bleach” means only oxygen or color-safe bleaches may be used.
  • “Do Not Bleach” means no bleach should be used, unless you check the fiber content and test for colorfastness with any bleach product you want to try first. Always read and follow instructions on laundry product labels to ensure correct product use.

Chlorine bleach vs. non-chlorine bleach at a glance

Chlorine BleachesNon-Chlorine Bleaches
Bleach Ingredients• Sodium Hypochlorite
• Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate
• Hydrogen Peroxide
• Sodium Perborate
• Sodium Percarbonate
Common Names• Regular Bleach
• Household Bleach
Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach
Clorox® Splash-Less® Bleach
Clorox® Zero Splash™ Bleach Packs
• Oxygen Bleach
• Peroxide Bleach
• Color-Safe Bleach
• All Fabric Bleach
Clorox 2® for Colors
What Can You Wash?• Some items with color — must be colorfast to bleach
• White items WITHOUT Spandex
• Cotton
• Polyester
• Nylon
• Acrylic
• Rayon
• Most items with color
• White items with Spandex
• Cotton
• Polyester
• Nylon
• Acrylic
• Rayon
• Spandex
Colorfastness TestAdd 2 teaspoons of bleach to ¼ cup water and apply a drop to a hidden part of the item. Wait 1 minute then rinse and blot dry. Item is colorfast if there is no color change.Apply a drop of full-strength liquid Clorox 2® to a hidden part of the item. Wait 5 minutes, then rinse and blot dry. Item is colorfast if there is no color change.

Frequently asked questions

Does Clorox make a non-chlorine bleach?

Yes. Clorox 2® for Colors is a non-chlorine bleach with hydrogen peroxide as its active ingredient.

Does non-chlorine bleach sanitize?

For a laundry product to make a germ kill claim, it needs an EPA Registration, which Clorox2 products do not have at this time. To sanitize items with color or spandex that cannot be bleached, you can always use Clorox® Laundry Sanitizer.

Does Clorox 2® have bleach in it?

Our Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster has hydrogen peroxide as its active ingredient and is in the class of oxygen, color-safe (or non-chlorine) bleach. Compare this to our Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach with CLOROMAX®, which uses sodium hypochlorite as its active ingredient and is in the class of chlorine bleach.