Eliminating illness causing germs is a focus during cold and flu season, and to accomplish this, the use of chlorine bleach to sanitize surfaces is a common practice.

“Chlorine bleach is a very effective sanitizer and disinfectant on disease causing germs, bacteria, parasites and viruses — including the flu virus,” said Joan Hegerfeld-Baker, assistant professor and SDSU Extension Food Safety Specialist.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting as the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects. According to reports, cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. However, this process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.

It’s important to remember that chlorine bleach can be ineffective as a sanitizer if not used correctly. Here are recommended tips to follow when using chlorine bleach to sanitize:
• Never mix bleach with other cleaners, especially those containing ammonia. A poisonous gas can form which can be deadly.
• Clean first, rinse, then sanitize. Soil, debris and detergent residues will tie up the free chlorine molecules in the bleach/water solution and render it ineffective.
• Water should be at room temperature or slightly warmer.
• Chlorine bleach can become old and lose its effectiveness.
• Make sure that 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite is the only active ingredient in the chlorine bleach.
• Scented bleach is not recommended to treat drinking water or on any food contact surface (such as counter tops, dining tables, food preparation equipment, sinks).

Click here for more information on the differences between disinfecting and sanitizing, and when each should be used.