Update: Cloth diapering is a personal experience. What works for one cloth diaper user may not work for another. However, each cloth diaperer does have his or her opinions. I personally would never recommend bleach — especially not as an initial solution. Although some of my fellow cloth diapering bloggers do use bleach from time to time on their cloth diapers, I recommend OxiClean (oxygen bleach) over bleach. Then again, I try to avoid bleach in general. But, if you ask my advice, I say no to the bleach!
Original Post: I recently joined and then quickly exited a cloth diaper group on Facebook. Aside from the overall drama in the group, one of the main reasons that I left was the dissemination of cloth diaper washing practices that involve a lot of bleach. Although I am a bit obsessive-compulsive and freak out about germs, I rarely use bleach in my home anymore and never use bleach on my diapers. I cannot and would never recommend using bleach on cloth diapers. I also think that bleach is a cleaning substance that should be used more discriminately than most currant usage.
What is bleach? Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is a clear to slightly yellowish or greenish liquid that smells strongly of chlorine. Bleach is used as a household cleaner, disinfectant, bleaching agent, and water purifier. However, according to the New Jersey Department of Health Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, bleach is rated as a level 3 substance, which is a serious hazard rating and only one less than the level 4 severe rating.
Why is bleach considered a serious hazard? Also according to the New Jersey Department of Health, bleach can cause a number of short-term and long-term health problems. The short-term health risks associated with bleach include skin irritation including burns, rashes, and blisters; eye irritation and damage; nose and throat irritation; lung and breathing problems including coughing, shortness of breath, and pulmonary edema; and headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Long-term risks of exposure to bleach include lung irritation including bronchitis leading to coughing, phlegm, and shortness of breath. Drinking diluted bleach can cause minor stomach irritation, but drinking undiluted bleach can cause serious digestive health problems and can lead to death.
Methods for minimizing the risks associated with bleach largely involve wearing protective gear. When handling bleach, wear gloves and clothing that covers the skin as well as glasses that protect the eyes. Working in a well-ventilated area is also recommended to prevent damage to the lungs. Never mix bleach with ammonia due to the risk of poisonous fumes.
Environmentally, normal including household use of bleach is considered safe due to the high reactivity and instability of the chemical. Industrial bleaching is another concern because the use of industrial bleaching agents produces organochlorines and persistent organic pollutants including dioxins. Organochlorines and organic pollutants negatively impact the environment as well as human health.
Despite my compulsive desire to create a germ-free environment in my home, I no longer use bleach regularly due to the risks associated with the chemical. The last time that I used bleach was to kill some mold in my bathtub before resealing the edges. To be safe, I wore gloves and opened the bathroom window. In my researched opinion, bleach should be used judiciously in the home. Alternatives such as vinegar exist for safer everyday cleaning. Furthermore, with the health risks associated with overexposure to bleach, I am not about to use the chemical on the clothing that hugs my daughter in her most intimate area. Just thinking about the potential for burns, rashes, and blisters from the bleach on cloth diapers sends me running! I could rinse my cloth diapers extra to ensure that all the bleach washes out completely, or I can just continue not to use bleach.
Unfortunately, the admins in the abovementioned cloth diaper group proselytize that you can and should use bleach on your cloth diapers. According to a document on bleaching cloth diapers, the group claims that you should use bleach to “sanitize your diapers, whether used or from bacteria within the fabrics,” and to “strip your diapers to bring them back to a ‘clean-slate’ point.”
I am not quite sure what the second point means, but, to the first point, I ask, “Why do you feel the need to sanitize your diapers?” The world is a germy place, but our immune systems thrive on fighting germs. One hypothesis for the recent increase in autoimmune disorders like allergies is the Hygiene Hypothesis. The Hygiene Hypothesis is basically that we live in such a germ-free world that our immune systems no longer have germs to fight and are thus turning on our own bodies. Living in a sanitized environment is not healthy. An overuse of bleach leads to an over-sanitized environment. I am not arguing to slap a dirty diaper on your baby. Clean and sanitized are not the same. I wash my diapers with detergent, resulting in clean diapers. I do not need sanitized diapers any more than I need sanitized underwear. I also never use bleach on my mama cloth.
Some germs such as the parasite Cryptosporidium are resistant to bleach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend hydrogen peroxide.
But what about treating yeast in cloth diapers? Yeast is a tricky little fungus to treat. However, even cleaning your cloth diapers of yeast is possible without bleach. The Anti-June Cleaver offers some tips on how to remove yeast from cloth diapers. Although she states that bleach is an option, she had great success with hot water and an oxygen bleach such as OxiClean or Biokleen. (Do not confuse oxygen bleach with chlorine bleach.) Additionally, hot water alone is enough to kill the yeast from a yeast infection. Yeast dies in temperatures over 122ºF, so a couple of hot cycles alone may be enough to rid your cloth diapers of yeast without resorting to bleach. Note: A new study recently share by the Real Diaper Association that live yeast does not remain on 100% cotton prefolds through a wash cycle.
Finally, I must point out the unauthoritative sources that the previously mentioned cloth diaper group cites in its document on bleaching cloth diapers. Of the five sources listed at the bottom of the document, four are from eHow:
- The Difference Between Chlorine Bleach and Oxygen Bleach: http://www.ehow.com/about_6571838_oxygen-bleach-vs_-chlorine-bleach.html
- The Difference Between Chlorine Bleach and Color-Safe Bleach: http://www.ehow.com/info_12118226_difference-between-chlorine-bleach-colorsafe-bleach.html
- Chlorine Free Bleaches: http://www.ehow.com/about_6701454_chlorine_free-bleach_.html
- About Chlorine Bleach: http://www.ehow.com/about_4701495_chlorine-bleach.html
The website eHow is a content mill for which anyone can write. Any information posted on the website is in no way authoritative. I cannot take a document that lacks credible sources seriously. Even Wikipedia with its editorial process is much more authoritative. (I, as an academic librarian, even know that Wikipedia has fewer errors than traditional print encyclopedias because of the quick rate at which edits can be performed on the website. Wikipedia is also an excellent source of additional sources.) Plus, none of these sources address the health risks associated with bleach.
Can you use bleach on cloth diapers? Sure. Should you? No because you do not need to. Cloth diapers do not need to be sterilized anymore than the rest of our clothing. Detergent and water alone get cloth diapers clean. Clean diapers are a must. Sterilized diapers are unnecessary. Even treating yeast in cloth diapers is possible without the use of bleach. Furthermore, most cloth diaper manufacturers do not recommend the use of bleach on their products. Bleaching cloth diapers is entirely unnecessary and not recommended.
Be sure to check out my post on OxiClean entitled Does Oxygen Bleach Disinfect Cloth Diapers?
Addendum: I have cited the Wikipedia article entitled “Bleach” as a source. Also note that I include other citations for information on bleach. As for the accuracy of Wikipedia, a 2012 study entitled “Seven years after Nature, pilot study compares Wikipedia favorably to other encyclopedias in three languages” reached the following conclusion: “Wikipedia articles in this sample scored higher altogether in each of the three languages, and fared particularly well in categories of accuracy and references. As the report notes, the English Wikipedia fared well in this sample against Encyclopaedia Britannica in terms of accuracy, references and overall judgement, with little differences between the two on style and overall quality score.” I found additional sources about bleach in the citations of the Wikipedia article. For more information on the reliability of Wikipedia, please see the EPIC Oxford Report (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EPIC_Oxford_report.pdf).
Cotton Prefolds and Yeast: Initial Results: http://realdiaperevents.org/archives/cotton-prefolds-and-yeast-initial-results
Disinfecting Cloth Diapers After a Yeast Infection: http://www.pinstripesandpolkadots.com/yeastvscloth.htm
Disinfecting Diapers: http://www.pinstripesandpolkadots.com/disinfectingdiapers.htm
Hygiene Hypothesis: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/10/4/l_104_07.html
Methods of Using a Cleaner, Sanitizer, Disinfectant, Fungicide, Sporicide, Chemical Sterilizer: http://www.google.com/patents/US5320805?dq=%22sodium+percarbonate%22+disinfectant
Outbreak Control Measures: Intensified Cryptosporidiosis (Crypto) Control Measures for the
Child Care Setting: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/crypto/resources/childcare_outbreak.pdf
Risk Assessment Report on Sodium Hypochlorite: http://ec.europa.eu/health/archive/ph_risk/committees/04_scher/docs/scher_o_082.pdf
Sodium Hypochlorite Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: http://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/1707.pdf
Sodium Hypochlorite Poisoning: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002488.htm
Clorox Bleach Bottles: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clorox.jpg
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