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Name: Ashley
Status: other
Grade: other
Location: DC
Country: N/A
Date: September 2006

Question:
i am a NBC4 researcher and viewers have frequently asked this question. Does non-chlorine bleach disinfect as well as liquid chlorine bleach? Specifically, can it be substituted to soak and sterilize kitchen sponges and dish cloths? Thank you for you time~ Ashley Severson NBC4 consumer researcher.



Replies:
You need to clarify three points so that your presentation is not misleading:

First, There is not "A non-chlorine bleach" -- there are many. Second, "chlorine bleach" is not "liquid chlorine". Liquid chlorine is the liquid for of the element chlorine which boils at about -29F. Do not confuse "chlorine bleach" with "liquid chlorine". Chlorine bleach is a solution of sodium hypochlorite, and it is the hypochlorite that is the active ingredient. Third, it depends upon what microbes are the target of the disinfection. Some agents work better on some microbes than other agents. Note: here I use the term "microbe" as a generic term referring to viruses, bacteria, mold, spores, etc. all lumped together, even though they are very different. In practice, some disinfecting agents may be more effective against some types of "microbes", and other agents are more effective against other forms.

Now to deal directly with your question: There are several readily available substances that are used in place of hypochlorite bleaches.

Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used as a disinfectant and it is very effective against many microbes. Its mechanism is a rather complicated decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide into various intermediates before ending up as molecular oxygen, which is why it foams when you rinse your mouth out with peroxide. Its shortcoming is that it tends not to be too stable once the bottle is opened.

Alcohols: usually ethanol (grain alcohol) or isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) are both very effective disinfectants. Their shortcoming is flammability and toxicity if ingested.

There is an entire class of chemical substances with the daunting name "quaternary ammonium salts" or "quats" for short. There are used in a variety of hand and body wipes. They are relatively non-toxic (to humans), stable (to light and air), and effective against a wide range of microbes. They are frequently used in combination with an alcohol in hand and body wipes. But they are also used in surface cleaners like "Envy" (this is not an endorsement, but only used to identify a type of product).

These are only a few of the substitutes "out there" for non-hypochlorite disinfectants. That field is a large area of on-going research and development by companies who make those types of products.

Vince Calder



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