To Bleach or Not to Bleach

· 830 words · about 4 minutes

By Aaron Benn

We all know the Danone probiotic advert. ‘Good bacteria’ became the buzz phrase of the year back in the late 90’s as people started supercharging their gut with the yoghurty supplement. With it’s catchy “mm Danone” jingle, western society began to catch on to the idea, not all bacteria are bad. So is it a bad idea to kill the bacteria in your home with bleach? Would something like white vinegar work instead?

Moving into a new flat or house can be a bit much. Aside from the actual moving itself the next biggest task tends to be the first clean. Recently my partner and I moved from a shared house into our own garden flat, and so after all of the heavy lifting was over, we began to clean.

I will admit, I do enjoy cleaning light switches, plug sockets and dado rails. Yes, I’m one of those people.

So, I am a tad obsessive with the old rag and spray bottle, and I want to reflect my own vegan and planet friendly values; re-fill, re-use, recycle and live as waste free as possible. Can I achieve these goals and create a safe and pollutant free environment in my home by substituting bleach for white vinegar?

Cleaning the lounge and bedroom is relatively easy. With the aid of a regular spray cleaner, the surfaces and furniture sparkle. For the bathroom and kitchen however, I need a heavy-duty agent to shift the limescale and disinfect the danger zones.

I find myself torn; everyone knows that bleach is super effective right? That’s why hospitals and factories use it, we’re told in adverts that it kills all the nasties and the smell of bleach is almost synonymous with the modern notion of “clean”. But it’s a bit much in a house or flat.

True, bleach does quite literally sterilise the area it’s applied too. While that’s great for the purposes of a hospital where infection is a real cause for alarm, however, I’m not performing open heart surgery on my fake marble kitchen counter top, and if I can avoid my home smelling like A&E then all the better. Bleaching a surface or item kills both the good and bad bacteria that exist in balance together on every surface and on every object in our homes. It is the lack of good bacteria that leads to health issues.

Research published online in the Journal of Applied Microbiology in 2015 has highlighted that humans living and working in environments that are cleansed of their biological eco systems with bleach and other made for industry chemicals regularly, can promote respiratory issues, cause dermatological damage and perhaps more importantly, introduce excesses of concentrated pollutants into the spaces that we live and the eco systems that we rely on.
On a personal note, I hate what bleach and man-made chemicals do to my hands. The slightest contact strips my paws of all their natural oils, leaving them feeling rough and dry. (A healthy dab of this lotion works a treat as a rescue remedy though).

So, white vinegar!

Apparently it's the family favourite. After a chat with both Mom and Nana, it turns out that they both use it to disinfect pretty much everything. White vinegar (with baking soda if you’re feeling fancy) diluted in a spray bottle is perfect for the sink and taps, shower, tiles and toilet and windows. Basically, anywhere that you want to attack stains, buildup or limescale.

Mum prefers it because it’s cheap, and it doesn’t interfere with her asthma the way manufactured chemicals can. Nana uses it because white vinegar is what was always available, and she is very wary of advertising gimmicks.
The science also says that a white vinegar and tea tree oil mix can be supremely effective against nasties such as e-coli, so long as the mixture is made fresh daily.

So, I dilute white vinegar with water and add a squeeze of lemon, pour the mix into an empty spray and set off to disinfect my favourite tea set as a test. It’s been sat in a box for weeks so I’m keen to bring it back into service. After a gentle wipe down over the sink with a cloth and my vinegar mix to remove any excess grubbiness, I leave the items to soak in the natural solution for 30 minutes or so. Safe in the knowledge that the vinegar won’t harm the china or the discolour the items, I don’t bother to clock watch.

The result is clean china, my hands aren’t ruined and the wastewater going down the sink isn’t going to add pollutants, micro-plastics or other human-made nasties into the waterways and the food chain.

While polishing my shiny teapots, I let the dish cloth float in the warm water and white vinegar mix. The cloth comes out smelling fresh after a little soak. Pleased with the results and my newfound disinfectant of choice, it’s time for a cup of tea and a little hand cream before I tackle the bathroom!