Most households have a bottle of bleach somewhere. Bleach is used every day for multiple purposes, including disinfection, cleaning, and even tie-dyeing clothing. Despite its usefulness (minus the bad smell it leaves), it is a corrosive substance, so it’s natural to have concerns over how to dispose of bleach safely.
Bleach should only be poured through the drain or into the toilet if it is generously diluted first. Bleach manufacturers create bleach so it can enter sewage systems without harming the environment.
As long as you handle bleach following the manufacturer’s recommendations, you shouldn’t run into many issues when you dispose of it.
Even so, never mix bleach with any active substances before disposing of it, as this can make the bleach toxic to humans and the surrounding environment.
We’ll cover more about throwing away bleach safely in this article, including how to dispose of bleach containers safely, as well as how bleach affects the environment.
How To Dispose of Bleach Safely
The best way to throw away household cleaning substances, like bleach, is to follow the guidelines on its label. If there are no instructions as to how to dispose of the substance, see how the item is used.
For instance, as bleach is mixed with water to clean, you can pour or flush it through your drains with a good amount of water.
As long as you follow the directions on your bleach product, the majority of household bleach products can be used safely with present wastewater treatment schemes.
This usually includes septic tanks too.
Bacteria inside septic tanks are stronger than you might think. They can handle as much as 5 liters of cleaning products at a time without severe consequences.
Disposing Bleach Through Your Drains
As noted above, bleach can be poured down your drains, but you should add lots of water to it while you do so.
Make sure that you run the tap for several seconds after you finish.
After the bleach is diluted, it dilutes more within industrial wastewater.
The resulting chlorinated substances will then go through a wastewater treatment facility.
The bleach’s concentration will be reduced to a non-dangerous level as it goes through an absorption, an activated sludge process, and natural biodegradation.
Disposing Of Bleach In The Toilet
Similar points apply to pouring bleach into the toilet.
The sewage systems treatments and natural biodegradation process will counteract most of the dangerous consequences of bleach concentrations.
The toilet water will dilute the product, while flushing the toilet further dilutes the bleach, allowing the product to be thrown away safely.
If you are handling large quantities of bleach, usually exceeding 0.25 gallons, split the bleach into two parts and flush away each one separately.
Make sure that the toilet bowl is filled with enough water to dilute the product. If it isn’t, pour more water into your toilet before you flush it.
Can Bleach Be Disposed Of Outside?
Bleach can be dumped outside, but you need to ensure that it is diluted thoroughly.
Chlorine is a great micronutrient that can benefit plant growth.
This is why little quantities of well diluted, low concentrations of bleach, may be good for your plants.
Despite this, greater concentrations of bleach can damage or destroy your plants.
Always make sure that you dilute your bleach well before disposing of it outside.
How To Dispose Of Bleach Containers
Begin by looking for information on the container that states if it can be recycled.
Some bleach products have labels that tell the consumer if they need to follow particular guidelines.
Some corporations have mail-back schemes that help them dispose of bleach containers. If this isn’t the case for your product, look out for some symbols that may give you a clue.
For instance, if you notice the letters ‘HDPE’ or ‘PET’, then your container should be recyclable. You can contact your local recycling facility for more details on how to recycle it safely.
You can also contact the government service that handles your local recycling. It’s best to research the US EPA recommendations on recycling plastic.
No matter how you recycle your bleach container, always ensure that the bottle is empty. The container should be completely free from bleach when you decide to throw it away.
A good tip is to pour water into your bottle and rinse it thoroughly before recycling it.
Do this step twice to be certain the container is free from the bleach. You can then be sure that there is no leftover residual bleach left in the container.
If recycling the bleach container isn’t possible at all, throw it away in your trash bin. As before, make sure that it is completely empty.
Why Is Disposing Bleach Safely Necessary?
Household bleach products are made from the main substance known as sodium hypochlorite. This is a strong oxidizing liquid with a green/yellow hue and a noticeable odor.
Many American household bleaching and cleaning products have sodium hypochlorite in them.
Diluting your bleach product with lots of water is usually enough to make sodium hypochlorite safe to pour down your drain.
EPA actually recommends adding unscented bleach to water when an emergency disinfectant is required. Adding sodium hypochlorite to water produces hypochlorous acid.
This pieces many tough microorganism surfaces, helping to fight many forms of fungi and bacteria.
However, even though bleach is a good disinfectant, storing, using, and mixing it incorrectly can be hazardous to yourself, others, and your environment.
Side effects from sodium hypochlorite include irritation, coughing from fumes, and abdominal pains. Delirium is also a possibility if exposure occurs in large amounts.
If you suspect bleach exposure, here are some things you can do to prevent sodium hypochlorite side effects.
- Notify Poison Control.
- Don’t consume liquids like water or milk if you have consumed bleach. Don’t try to make yourself vomit either as the bleach will burn your internal linings when it travels upwards.
- If your eyes or skin have been in contact with bleach, flush with lots of water.
- If you’ve been exposed to hypochlorite fumes, move to a fresh air space.
Here are some of the main ways in which bleach can be harmful:
Mixing sodium hypochlorite with other chemicals, like hydrogen peroxide or vinegar, can generate chlorine gasses.
Exposure to these can lead to burning in the eyes or throat.
In larger concentrations, chlorine gas can constrict the airways, leading to fluid accumulation in the lungs and causing severe injuries.
Swallowing or gargling bleach can burn the esophagus, and may cause death in larger amounts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that drinking bleach is lethal in concentrations from 3% to 12% in 7 to 18-ounce amounts.
Bleach can affect the skin, even in low amounts. Larger concentrations of bleach can lead to several secondary issues. Bleach is corrosive, so it can burn or irritate the skin and eyes.
Allergic reactions to bleach are also possible, causing sore burns on the skin. Extended contact with large amounts of bleach can lead to redness, burning, blisters, or serious eye injuries.
Bleach And The Environment
Bleach is a very potent substance, which is why it’s important to use it carefully.
While bleach is useful for many reasons, the chlorine within bleach can be dangerous for the environment, and may be toxic in large amounts.
Swimming pools are filled with small quantities of chlorine to keep them clean. This is performed with caution to keep the swimmers safe from harm.
Despite this, many swimmers experience itchiness and eye irritation from the chlorine. This explains why it’s so dangerous to pour bleach into sources of water.
Chlorine is a very poisonous gas. There is a risk of it reacting with minerals in bodies of water, creating lots of hazardous toxins in the process.
This includes PCDDs and dioxins that can stay in the water until it is decontaminated.
These compounds are linked with serious health issues, including breast cancer, a lower sperm count, and testicular cancer.
Plants that depend on bleach manufacturing also emit toxins back into the environment. This can occur frequently during exhaustion and ventilation.
However, most of the chlorine from these is recycled, only leaving a small amount of chlorine in the air.
As organizations like EPA have enforced stricter rules, bleach exhaust isn’t as large of an issue as it was previously.
Despite this, there are still areas around the globe where pollution isn’t controlled. In these places, bleach exposure can lead to problems in the blood, heart, and immune system.
Environmentally wise, air pollution related to bleach can contribute to destroying the ozone layer.
This is why chlorofluorocarbons were prohibited, as they were leading to global warming.
The by-products from bleach are known to affect wildlife populations. Lab testing animals have shown cancerous symptoms after being exposed to chlorine bleach.
An example of these byproducts is dioxins. In the 20th century, these dioxins were the main reason the bald eagle population became obsolete, though populations are currently increasing.
Dioxins are also responsible for the decline of several bird and fish species within lakes. Chlorine bleach may lead to sterility, mutations, and the decimation of wildlife.
Over time, the build-up of chlorine is the reason why harmful effects are occurring. As chlorine and the by-products from bleach are so persistent, they can turn more hazardous as time goes on.
Organisms at the bottom of the food chain can ingest these byproducts, meaning that they become present in bodies closer to the top of the chain.
If this persists, this will eventually begin to affect humans, posing great risks to our health as a result.
The Bottom Line
Bleach is useful for many household tasks, but it is a dangerous substance. It’s important to handle these substances with the right care.
You can dispose of bleach down your drain, in the toilet, or even outside, but always make sure that it is diluted thoroughly, with lots of water.
Remember to rinse and fully empty your bleach containers before recycling or throwing them away, as bleach can cause damage to plants and the environment.
Bleach exposure is dangerous, so always follow the manufacturer’s directions and use your product in a ventilated area.
Contact 911 immediately if you suspect bleach ingestion or exposure.