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What Is Bleach and What Are Its Active Ingredients?

Trusted for generations to clean, whiten and disinfect, bleach is a product many people have heard of, yet don’t know much about. We want to change that, starting at the top with sodium hypochlorite.

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By Mary Gagliardi
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The bleach active in Clorox® Bleach is sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl). Historically, our bleach was made in a simple process beginning with passing an electric current through salt water to produce sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and chlorine gas (Cl2); these two products are then combined, producing sodium hypochlorite bleach

In fact, The Clorox Company’s headquarters has always been in Oakland, California where the company founders first used the salt water from San Francisco Bay to make bleach! Once it encounters organic material (like dirt) or heat or sunlight, bleach very rapidly breaks down into salt (NaCl) and water, where it all began.

Where bleach comes from, starting and ending as salt water, is a big part of what makes bleach environmentally friendly.

Other important bleach ingredients

The right formulation makes all the difference

Sodium hypochlorite works best when it’s part of a complete formula with ingredients to enhance the bleach active. In addition to sodium hypochlorite and water, small amounts of sodium chloride, sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide are included for product stability and to maintain pH.

Sodium chlorate is naturally present in small amounts as an intermediate molecule during the natural breakdown of bleach to saltwater. Polyacrylic acid is included as an anti-redeposition agent. And finally, a polyelectrolyte complex improves brightening. 

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How does bleach work?

Effective and economical, bleach gets the job done

Sodium hypochlorite hydrolyzes double bonds, breaking up soils and stains to make it easier for the laundry detergent to do its job getting clothes clean. That’s why adding bleach along with your regular detergent doesn’t just sanitize the laundry; it also gets clothes cleaner and whiter than washing with detergent by itself. For household disinfection, sodium hypochlorite’s ability to denature proteins makes it highly effective at killing bacteria, viruses and fungi. 

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Use bleach as directed

Proper use ensures that bleach performs as promised

Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach should always be diluted with water first before using. When mixing up a bleach and water solution for home disinfection, use the amount of bleach and water recommended for your specific task. Be sure to allow the solution enough time to work, leaving it on surfaces for the necessary amount of time, and rinsing if required. And finally, bleach products have a one-year shelf life when stored in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight.

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Frequently asked questions

What is bleach made of?

Bleach is made of mostly water and sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient that cleans and kills germs. Other ingredients are included in very small amounts to stabilize the formula and improve cleaning and whitening.

What is the active ingredient in bleach?

Sodium hypochlorite, which has a chemical formula of NaOCl, is the active ingredient in all of our hypochlorite-based products. All of our EPA-registered products list the concentration of sodium hypochlorite on the product label.

Are Clorox and bleach the same thing?

It’s common for people to use “bleach” and “Clorox” interchangeably because Clorox® Bleach was the first product the company produced and sold 109 years ago. Store-brand bleach products made by other companies are not even close to the quality of our products, so if you want Clorox® Bleach, make sure that’s the brand you buy.

Where can I find information on the ingredients in other Clorox products?

The Clorox Company has been very proactive at voluntarily providing consumers with ingredient information for our products. Today, using the Smart Label Program, you can access the ingredients of over 500 of our products by starting here.