The Impact of Bleach on Our Environment, Our Food Chain and In Turn, Ourselves

Credit: Amazon

When using bleach, have you ever looked at the back of the bottle? You’ll have noticed the largest section is the ‘DANGER’ section – which states that bleach may be corrosive to metals and causes severe skin burns and eye damage. Many bottles also state that it is very toxic to aquatic life, with long lasting effects. You’re not going to go pouring bleach on your skin or in your eyes, so why is the rest of the message ignored, allowing bleach to toxically enter our waterways and kill aquatic life? It isn’t just aquatic life that is affected either as it enters the food chain.

Domestos bleach bottles even say ‘avoid release in the environment’ – but where else does it go once it’s gone down our pipes? 
Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable for cleaning products to end up in our waterways. So, the only way to ensure that we don’t damage aquatic life and in turn let toxic compounds into the food chain is by using eco-friendly products.


The chemical name for bleach is Sodium Hypochlorite. The hypochlorite ion rapidly degrades, meaning that sodium hypochlorite per se has a limited environmental impact, as this ion has degraded before it can be absorbed by living beings. However, this is not the major concern…
The use of sodium hypochlorite tends to form persistent chlorinated organic compounds which can take many years to disappear, including known carcinogens. If you’re unfamiliar with carcinogens, they are defined as any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that promotes carcinogenesis, the formation of cancer. 

These compounds can form during household storage and use, as well as during industrial use. We may not be able to change the wider use of bleach in industrial use, but we can make a difference just by using alternatives in our home. When household bleach is mixed with wastewater, 1-2% of the available chlorine can form organic compounds. These byproducts have not all been identified (as of 1994), but can include dioxins, furams and PCDDs. 

Greenpeace calls dioxin one of the most dangerous chemicals known to science, warning that it can contribute to cancer, endocrine disorders and other serious health effects – with a Russian study finding a link between dioxin and low sperm count. Once dioxins enter the body they last a long time, due to their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body.

We may not be directly exposed to these compounds, but once they enter waterways, they enter our food chain. Therefore, the use of bleach is not only subjecting aquatic life to these toxic compounds, but is also being found to increasingly higher levels as you continue up the food chain, affecting all living species.


Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom! There are plenty of other alternatives to bleach that we can tackle bacteria with. With an increase in those choosing eco-friendly cleaning products there are more on our supermarket shelves than ever. Or you can simply brush the toilet to clean the bowl and disinfect with hydrogen peroxide – the natural version of bleach.

We understand that living green is a huge lifestyle change, we don’t expect it to be something that happens over night! No one is perfect but we can all do our bit, even the smallest swaps and changes help. 

Read more on our Why Go Green page.


Sodium Hypochlorite, Carcinogens, Dioxins, Dioxins and their effects on human health, Dioxin: From cradle to grave