My watch list  



A bleach is a chemical that removes colour or whitens, often via oxidation. Common chemical bleaches include household "chlorine bleach", a solution of approximately 6% sodium hypochlorite (NaClO), and "oxygen bleach", which contains hydrogen peroxide or a peroxide-releasing compound such as sodium perborate or sodium percarbonate. To bleach something is to apply bleach, sometimes as a preliminary step in the process of dyeing. Bleaching powder is calcium hypochlorite.


Other types of bleaches

Chlorine dioxide is used for the bleaching of wood pulp, fats and oils, cellulose, flour, textiles, beeswax, skin and in a number of other industries.

In the food industry, some organic peroxides (benzoyl peroxide, etc.) and other agents (e.g. bromates) are used as flour bleaching and maturing agents.

Peracetic acid, ozone and hydrogen peroxide and oxygen are used in bleaching sequences in the pulp industry to produce totally chlorine free (TCF) paper.

Not all bleaches have to be of an oxidizing nature. Sodium dithionite is used as a powerful reducing agent in some bleaching formulas. It is commonly used to bleach wood pulp used to make newsprint.

Hazards and concerns

Since bleaches are strong oxidizing agents, they can be quite hazardous, especially when reacted with other common household chemicals.

Mixing sodium hypochlorite with acids like vinegar or drain cleaners containing sodium bisulfate (sodium hydrogen sulfate), or even lemon juice can release chlorine. Hypochlorite and chlorine are in equilibrium in water, the position of the equilibrium is pH dependant and low pH (acidic) favors chlorine,[1]

Cl2 + H2O \rightleftharpoons H+ + Cl- + HClO

Chlorine is a respiratory irritant that attacks mucous membranes and burns the skin. As little as 3.5 ppm can be detected as an odour, and 1000 ppm is likely to be fatal after a few deep breaths. Exposure to chlorine has been limited to 0.5 ppm (8-hour time-weighted average - 40 hour week) by OSHA in the US.[2]

Sodium hypochlorite and ammonia react to form a number of products, depending on the temperature, concentration, and how they are mixed. [3]. The main reaction is chlorination of ammonia, first giving chloramine (NH2Cl), then NHCl2 and finally nitrogen trichloride (NCl3). These materials are very irritating to eyes and lungs and are toxic above certain concentrations.

NH3 + NaOCl --> NaOH + NH2Cl

NH2Cl + NaOCl --> NaOH + NHCl2

NHCl2 + NaOCl --> NaOH + NCl3

Additional reactions produce hydrazine, in a variation of the Olin Raschig process.

NH3 + NH2Cl + NaOH --> N2H4 + NaCl + H2O

The hydrazine generated can further react with the monochloramine in an exothermic reaction:[1]

2 NH2Cl + N2H4 --> 2 NH4Cl + N2

Industrial bleaching agents can also be sources of concern. For example, the use of elemental chlorine in the bleaching of wood pulp produces organochlorines, persistent organic pollutants, including dioxins. However, the use of chlorine dioxide in these processes has reduced the dioxin generation to under detectable levels.[4]


The process of bleaching can be summarised in the following set of chemical reactions:

Cl2(aq) + H2O(l) \rightleftharpoons H+(aq) + Cl-(aq) + HClO(aq)

The H+ ion of the hypochlorous acid then dissolves into solution, and so the final result is effectively:

Cl2(aq) + H2O(l) \rightleftharpoons 2H+(aq) + Cl-(aq) + ClO-(aq)

How bleaches work

Color in most dyes and pigments is produced by molecules, such as beta carotene, which contain chromophores. Chemical bleaches work in one of two ways:

  • An oxidizing bleach works by breaking the chemical bonds that make up the chromophore. This changes the molecule into a different substance that either does not contain a chromophore, or contains a chromophore that does not absorb visible light.
  • A reducing bleach works by converting double bonds in the chromophore into single bonds. This eliminates the ability of the chromophore to absorb visible light.[5]

Sunlight acts as a bleach through a process leading to similar results: high energy photons of light, often in the violet or ultraviolet range, can disrupt the bonds in the chromophore, rendering the resulting substance colorless. Extended exposure often leads to massive discoloration usually reducing the colors to white and typically very faded blue spectrums.[6]

See also


  1. ^ a b Cotton, F.A; G. Wilkinson (1972). Advanced Inorganic Chemistry. John Wiley and Sons Inc. ISBN 0-471-17560-9. 
  2. ^ Occupational Safety & Health Administration (2007). OSHA -- Chlorine. OSHA. Retrieved on 2007-08-26.
  3. ^ Rizk-Ouaini, Rosette & Ferriol, Michel; Gazet, Josette; Saugier-Cohen Adad, Marie Therese (1986), " ", Bulletin de la Societe Chimique de France 4: 512–21
  4. ^ ECF: The Sustainable Technology. Alliance for Environmental Technology. Retrieved on 2007-09-19.
  5. ^ Field, Simon Q (2006). Ingredients -- Bleach. Science Toys. Retrieved on 2006-03-02.
  6. ^ Bloomfield, Louis A (2006). Sunlight. How Things Work Home Page. Retrieved on 2006-03-02.

Further reading

  • E.R. Trotman. Textile Scouring and Bleaching. London: Charles Griffin & Co., 1968.
  • Dr. Bailey Bodkins. Bleach. Philedelphia: Virginia Printing Press 1995.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Bleach". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE