Alcohol and bleach are indispensable home cleaning disinfectants in many households. Mishandling or misuse of these chemicals may release toxic gases that can turn our home environment into a breeding ground for potential health threats. It may also cause damages to the appearance of our precious furniture. For instance, leather colours may fade or even turn white after coming into contact with alcohol disinfectants. We will walk you through 10 most common home cleaning and disinfecting mistakes with practical solutions, and tips on using home cleaning products such as household bleach and alcohol.
10 Common Home Cleaning & Disinfecting Mistakes
- Using 75% alcohol to clean wooden furniture and leather, then ending up with white stains
- Wiping tables in circles and smearing germs all over surfaces
- Disinfecting with 95% alcohol, lowering the effectiveness of disinfection
- Spraying alcohol as an air freshener
- Applying alcohol directly for hand hygiene, but it is easily evaporated, with its effectiveness questionable
- Using hot water for disinfection but for no longer than 30 minutes, and below 56°C
- Using hot water to dilute household bleach, releasing chloroform
- Leaving diluted household bleach unused for over 24 hours, lowering its effectiveness
- Mixing acidic home cleaning agents with household bleach, releasing chlorine, and potentially causing explosions
- Relying only on white vinegar for home cleaning, but it cannot disinfect, it only helps to remove stains
Home Cleaning Tips Explained
- Wooden furniture and leather should not be cleaned with 75% alcohol regularly
- Avoid going around in circles when cleaning tables
- Higher-concentration alcohol doesn’t necessarily disinfect better
- Do not use alcohol as an air freshener
- Direct application of alcohol for hand hygiene is doubtful
- Hot water alone is insufficient for disinfection
- Don’t dilute bleach with hot water
- Use diluted bleach within 24 hours after preparation
- Avoid mixing bleach with acidic detergent
- White vinegar has no disinfecting effects
Alcohol can act as a solvent for some organic compounds including gloss finishes or sealants commonly applied to wood furniture and leather products which are not resistant to solvents, heat and corrosion. A common example would be the white, chalky heat stain that appears after placing a hot water bottle or pot directly on a wooden table. Similarly, high-concentration alcohol can also damage and dissolve the finishing on wood furniture and leather products.
Cleaning Tip: To salvage “burnt” items, gently brush the damaged area with a toothbrush and toothpaste to remove the eroded white coating on the wood furniture or use mild soapy water or alcohol-free wet wipes to clean white stains on PU or faux leather. As for valuable genuine leather products, apply leather care or maintenance products after cleaning to minimize discolouration and keep it supple.
Viruses and bacteria stick onto and linger on the cleaning cloths when wiping down the table. Cleaning in a circular motion repeatedly will, therefore, actually help smear and spread germs all over the surface.
Cleaning Tip: Wipe in a steady direction to remove viruses and bacteria from the surface of the object.
Alcohol kills germs through two mechanisms: protein denaturation and dissolving the lipid membrane of the cell. Such processes need time and water to activate, and ultimately release the alcohol’s disinfection properties. The higher the concentration is, the faster the alcohol evaporates, therefore, unfavourable to the denaturation of cell membranes. In fact, cleaning with alcohol that is too high in concentration, such as those of 95% concentration, coagulates proteins on the surface of the cell which protects the actual germ inside, lessening the disinfectant’s effectiveness.
Cleaning Tip: According to the guidelines of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol must be at the concentration of at least 60% in order to be considered a potent agent for sterilization. Generally speaking, 1:99 diluted household bleach is recommended for daily household cleaning because of the large cleaning area involved. Alcohol of 75% concentration can be used to clean items which have been taken outside of the household.
Alcohol sprayed directly into the air cannot act as an air freshener and will only end up landing on floors and surfaces. A flash fire could result if the alcohol is accidentally sprayed near a cooking stove or electrical appliances.
Cleaning Tip: Apply alcohol in well-ventilated spaces. For those looking for ways to freshen up the air, the Annals of The Japanese Respiratory Society has published an interesting study in recent years advocating the use of mint-scented fresheners and articles. The study suggested the scent may stimulate cilia motion in our respiratory system, speeding up the elimination of germs, obliquely enhancing the body's ability to resist flu and other diseases. The smell of mint is also said to make us feel happy. However, further researches are needed to confirm these statements. For general home cleaning purposes, basic household bleach and alcohol are proved to be sufficient.
Some people conveniently spray alcohol directly onto their hands after home cleaning, considering it a better and more effective option than using hand sanitizers or washing hands. Alcohol sprays evaporate much quicker than hand sanitizers; in other words, there may not be enough time to activate the disinfecting properties to destroy or damage the cell membrane of the bacteria, thus, disinfection effects remain doubtful. Furthermore, spraying alcohol directly onto our hands can cause dry and cracked skin, making us susceptible to bacterial infections.
Cleaning Tip: Dead germs can remain on your hands after using hand sanitizers. The best way to get rid of germs is by washing hands, so always consider handwashing, with soap and water, whenever possible. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds for best effect.
Theoretically, in order to disinfect laundry completely using only hot water or steaming, the water temperature must reach 56°C, and the process should last half an hour.
Cleaning Tip: Avoid mixing laundry detergent with disinfectants when sanitizing laundry to prevent chemical effects. For instance, in the case of front-loading washing machines, pour disinfectant into the pre-wash compartment and your ordinary laundry detergent into the main wash compartment. Then, select the pre-wash cycle so the machine will wash in two separate cycles. Additionally, high-heat drying can also be considered as a disinfection method.
Diluting bleach with hot water can produce chloroform, which can be carcinogenic for humans. Bleach can also cause irritation, before and after dilution, and should, therefore, be handled with care.
Cleaning Tip: Use cold water for bleach dilution instead as hot water decomposes and renders active ingredients in the bleach ineffective. It is recommended to wear gloves and masks when handling and use 1:99 diluted household bleach (that is, diluting one part of bleach 100 times) for general home cleanings such as furniture and kitchen. Disinfect toilet surfaces by leaving 1:49 diluted household bleach (diluting the bleach 50 times or mixing 200cc bleach with 10 litres of water) on for 30 minutes.
Decomposition increases with the time of diluted bleach left unused, therefore, for best disinfection effects, use diluted bleach within 24 hours after preparation.
Cleaning Tip: Dilute only what you need each time and store undiluted bleach in a cool, shaded place to avoid toxic gas emissions due to sunlight exposure.
Generally, chlorine-containing bleach products will undergo different changes when met with different pH values. If mixed with an excessive amount of acidic cleaning agents, such as vinegar, drain opener (drain clog remover), or other acidic solutions, pH values will drop, releasing toxic chlorine gas. Mixing drain openers that contain chloroform with bleach can release heat and a large amount of oxygen and chlorine; if sealed in a container, an explosion may result.
Cleaning Tip: In addition to avoiding the mixing of acidic detergents and bleach, hypochlorous-acid-based bleach can also be a great option that is highly stable and decomposable. Although it can't be stored for a long time after dilution, it is nonetheless a highly effective home cleaning disinfectant.
While there is currently no research confirming that white vinegar is an effective disinfectant, it is known that chemical effects may occur when the acidic white vinegar comes into contact with bleach. It could result in the release of poisonous gas, and therefore, not recommended to be used as a home cleaning disinfectant.
Cleaning Tip: Baking soda is an alternative for home cleaning ideal for tackling oily and acidic substances. A weak-alkaline and naturally-decomposable substance that will not irritate our skin; this purely natural cleaner can also be used for mildew removal, deodorization and stain removal. However, during this period of the pandemic, household bleach is still recommended as the first-choice disinfectant for home cleaning.
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