Household liquid bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is effective for cleaning clothes, sanitizing spills, killing bacteria, and whitening fabrics. But in order to be used safely, bleach must be diluted with water. The recommended bleach solution for home use is 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
Bleach releases a strong chlorine scent that can harm your lungs. If you come into contact with bleach on your skin or in your eyes, you should be aware of the safety risks and how to effectively remove it.
Bleach spill first aid
If you get undiluted bleach on your skin, you need to cleanse the area immediately with water. Remove any jewelry or cloth that could have come in contact with the bleach, and clean it off later. Address your skin as your primary concern.
Sponge the area with something made of an absorbent material, such as a thick wet washcloth, and wring the excess water into a sink. If you have rubber gloves, put them on while you clean the bleach off your skin. Throw the gloves away and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water when you are done rinsing the bleach off of your skin. Try to avoid breathing in the scent of the bleach as you cleanse the affected area, and be especially careful not to touch your forehead, nose, or eyes while you’re cleaning bleach.
If you do get bleach in your eyes, you’ll probably know right away. Bleach in your eyes will sting and burn. The natural moisture in your eyes combines with liquid bleach to form an acid. Rinse your eye with lukewarm water right away, and remove any contact lenses. The Mayo Clinic warns against rubbing your eye and using anything besides water or saline solution to rinse your eye out. If you have bleach on your eye, you need to seek emergency treatment and go directly to the emergency room after rinsing your eyes and washing your hands.
When to see a doctor after a bleach spill
If you get bleach in your eyes, you need to see a doctor to confirm that your eyes have not been damaged. There are saline rinses and other gentle treatments that a doctor can prescribe to make sure there is no lingering bleach in your eye that could damage your eyesight.
If your skin has been burned by bleach, you need to see a doctor. Bleach burns can be recognized by painful red welts. If you have spilled bleach on an area of skin that’s more than 3 inches in diameter, you may be at risk for a bleach burn.
Pain or itching that persists for more than three hours after bleach exposure should be monitored carefully. Any symptoms of shock should prompt a visit to the ER. These symptoms include:
- pale complexion
If you have any doubt whether your symptoms are serious, call the poison control hotline at (800) 222-1222).
Effects of bleach on skin and eyes
Although your skin doesn’t absorb chlorine, it’s still possible for some to pass through. Too much chlorine in your bloodstream can be toxic. It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to bleach on your skin. Both chlorine toxicity and bleach allergies can lead to burns on your skin.
Bleach can cause permanent damage to the nerves and tissue in your eyes. If you get bleach in your eye, take it seriously. Remove your contact lenses and any eye makeup while you rinse your eye of the bleach. Then, get to the emergency room or your eye doctor to make sure your eyes won’t sustain permanent damage. It may take 24 hours after the initial contact to be able to tell if there is damage to your eye.
Household cleaning accidents, such as getting a little bleach on your skin while preparing a cleaning solution, tend to be easily resolved if they are immediately addressed. But if you come into contact with a large amount of undiluted bleach, or work at a job where you’re exposed to bleach often, it’s more likely to cause lasting damage. When it makes contact with your skin, bleach can weaken your skin’s natural barrier and make it more susceptible to burning or tearing.
One of the big concerns about regular bleach exposure is your lungs. The chlorine in bleach releases a scent that can burn your respiratory system if you’re exposed to a massive amount at once or repeatedly exposed over time. Always use bleach in a well-ventilated area, and never mix it with other cleaning chemicals (such as glass-cleaners like Windex, which contain ammonia) to avoid a possibly lethal combination. Bleach should be kept separate from other cleaning products. If you have children in your house, any cabinet that contains bleach should have a child-safe lock to prevent curious fingers from causing a bleach spill.
While some people pour bleach on an open wound to kill bacteria and prevent an infection, this severely painful remedy also kills good bacteria that could help protect your body as it heals. For emergency first aid, gentler antiseptics such as Bactine and hydrogen peroxide are safer.
The bottom line
Household accidents with bleach aren’t always an emergency. Quickly cleansing your skin with water, taking off any contaminated clothing, and watching carefully for any reactions are the three steps you should immediately take.
If you have concern about bleach on your skin, remember that calling poison control is absolutely free, and it’s better to ask a question than to regret not asking later.