The possession of a bottle of household bleach can mean the difference between life and death. How you may ask? Well let’s start at the beginning with the ingredients of bleach.
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What is bleach made of?
Bleach is a chemical compound made from Chlorine and Sodium Hydroxide (Caustic soda or lye) a white solid metallic base and alkali of sodium. This is diluted with water to create a caustic soda solution and has chlorine, with a chemical formula of Cl2 added. Two chlorine atoms form this diatomic molecule.
The bonding between these two atoms is weak, making the chlorine molecule highly reactive when chlorine is circulated through the weak caustic soda (NaOH) solution in either gas or liquid form to create Sodium Hypochlorite, otherwise known as bleach.
The chemical compound formula for sodium hypochlorite is NaOCl. This is an alkaline salt, which will break down over time and is not in fact an acid.
Which bleach should I use for survival purposes?
There are two types of bleach – chlorine bleach (the most commonly used), and peroxide bleach – advertised in bleaches that you can safely use on colored clothing. Peroxide bleach does not kill germs.
What we are concerned with for survival purposes is chlorine bleach, as it kills most germs. You also do not want to use bleach that has additives – like lavender or pine scented additives – because these will interfere in survival uses. The part we are interested in is the chlorine because this has the disinfecting power.
How Long Does Bleach Last?
Don’t think that stockpiling bleach for long periods is going to save you money. It is good to have some on hand for emergency situations but do use and replace when you need to so that should a SHTF situation arise your bleach is not out of date.
Bleach should last for around six months before it starts separating – that is why its best to store at around 50 to 70 degrees F and, out of direct sunlight.
Preventing ultraviolet light from reaching the bleach, improves its chemical stability and effectiveness.
Bleach comes in thick white plastic containers to eliminate light. If you are concerned about plastic and want to decant into glass jars, then use opaque glass jars or paint the jars.
It can be used past its use-by date for normal household use like washing, cleaning floors, and so forth if you just up the amount – instead of using a teaspoon use a bit more for the same effect with out of date stuff – this is OK to do for around 6 months after use-by date.
DO NOT USE OUT OF DATE BLEACH FOR TREATING WATER – YOU ARE PLAYING WITH YOUR LIFE!
Why does bleach go out of date – well we mentioned that the bond between chlorine atoms was weak making them highly reactive. Now when the mixture is formed of caustic with chlorine it eventually starts separating out into the salts from which it was formed, making it ineffective in killing pathogens.
What’s better than bleach?
You can use calcium hypochlorite [Ca(OCl)₂.] As you will see from its chemical formula it has lime (calcium oxide) and chlorine – that’s the stuff used to keep swimming pools clear.
One buys calcium hypochlorite for use with swimming pools as dry granular “Chlorine” or as a powder for treating pools, and sometimes as those “pills” you put into a container that distribute small doses to keep the pool clear.
Benefits of Calcium hypochlorite
You can add a very small amount to make your water drinkable – this will depend on the amount of other matter in the water. If you need more facts on chlorination of drinking water then this is a useful page.
The bonus is that as it isn’t in a liquid form it is lighter to carry around and will store for much longer periods of time than bleach. It also kills more pathogens than bleach can kill.
Why aren’t we all using calcium hypochlorite instead of bleach?
This chemical must be stored in a well-ventilated, dry and cool spot – not always possible in a bug out situation. As people who own swimming pools know your chemicals must be kept away from heat and moisture.
Careful – exposure to these can lead to toxic fumes.
In a survival situation you may be exposed to fire hazards and water or other liquids. A fire where calcium hypochlorite is involved burns fiercely and is hard to put out, plus there is the possibility of the release of chlorine gas – highly toxic and used in warfare.
The chances are though that you will be keeping a relatively small amount of calcium hypochlorite stored for an emergency – so it is your call. Instead of having to replace supplies of bleach every 3 to 6 months the calcium hypochlorite will last a long time.
Survival Uses for Bleach / Calcium Hypochlorite
We all know about the day-to-day uses – whitening clothes and keeping surfaces clean and clear of germs, removing coffee stains from mugs but bleach can do so much more – especially in a survival situation.
So always keep bleach or calcium hypochlorite on hand – you never know when your life may depend on it.
When bleach is mentioned in this article remember that calcium hypochlorite can also be used but for the sake of easy reading we will just use the word bleach EXCEPT where we give instructions under drinking water below on preparing the two solutions.
1) To Purify Water
The best way to make sure water is safe to drink is to bring it to the boil, allow boiling vigorously for around 1 minute or so, then cooling it before using. Make sure any sediment remains at the bottom when you pour if you have not used a filter system.
You can use bleach instead of boiling, although it is not advisable to do this for long periods of time.
In emergency situations when systems have broken down and your water is not pure than add 1/4 teaspoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water, shake a little to circulate through, leave to stand for around 20 minutes and then drink – it should have a slight smell of bleach to indicate the solution was strong enough to kill the germs.
If the water is very dirty and cloudy you need to add a little more bleach and wait for a longer period of time. Watch this video to see how to use bleach to purify water:
Treating water with calcium hypochlorite
Now if you are using calcium hypochlorite – that’s the dry granules you will need to add 1/2 of a teaspoon (around 3 milliliters) to one 1 gallon (4 liters) of water.
THIS IS NOT FOR DRINKING – THIS IS YOUR SOLUTION TO ADD TO THE WATER YOU NEED TO PURIFY. KEEP IT AWAY FROM CHILDREN, AND LABEL IT CLEARLY.
One gallon of this solution will treat 100 gallons of water.
This solution is just like bleach – it will not remain stable and will have to be discarded after a few days.
Using bleach is advised by health authorities in emergency situations to avoid people getting typhoid, cholera or dysentery – the single biggest risk factors after the initial fatalities and injuries caused by major natural disasters – when piped water systems are disrupted.
If the water is really dirty, in addition to the bleach you could use this method used by soldiers to filter the water – if you have a piece of cloth, some charcoal and gravel to hand.
2) To Clean Fruits and Vegetables
After major disasters you don’t know if fruit and vegetables have been contaminated with ecoli or various other contaminants when sewers overflow and piping is disrupted – be safe by washing vegetables and fruit in a weak bleach solution – the same strength as used for disinfecting water.
In these situations preferably peel fruit – but only after sanitizing – otherwise bacteria may be transferred from the skin by the knife used to peel. If possible rather than eating raw –cook all fruit and vegetables – the high heat should destroy the germs.
3) Cut flowers
There is nothing worse than flowers standing in a glass vase of green murky water – and it can smell too! Bleach acts as a biocide – killing off the bacteria that cause the water to go green.
It is a bit of a tightrope act – adding enough to kill the bacteria but not enough to affect the flowers. Usually ¼ teaspoon to a fairly large 16-ounce vase will do the trick.
4) To Clean Cutting Boards, Meat cleavers and Knives
When processing meat make sure all boards used to cut meat are given a thorough scrub with bleach as well as the knives used – including the handles and those ridges where the blade joins the haft to disinfect them.
5) To Clean Medical instruments
If you have to administer first aid in a SHTF situation disinfect needles, tweezers and anything used to clean out wounds first with a bleach solution to reduce the risk of infection. You may not be able to boil instruments, so this is a good second best.
6) To Keep Flies Away
Again to reduce the risk of flies settling and insect contamination wipe over all food preparation surfaces with a fairly strong bleach solution. It won’t last for more than few hours but will stop the nasties landing for a while.
7) Staving off Giardia
Campers and travelers are frequently afflicted by bloating, abdominal cramps, nausea and bouts of watery diarrhea all due to a microscopic parasite called Giardia found worldwide but more especially in areas where sanitation is poor and water is untreated.
Bleach does the job of killing these off too rather than the iodine tablets backpackers often carry – the iodine gives the water a rather nasty taste and doesn’t break down in the environment like bleach does.
8) As a DIY Deodorant
To eliminate armpit odor use a few drops of bleach to roughly one ounce of water and wash the area. It does not burn and will kill the bacteria that cause odor – a boon in a survival situation where you may not have access to lots of fresh water to bathe in or an arsenal of deodorants, soaps and the like.
9) Controlling mosquitoes…
…to avoid malaria, dengue, Zika and other diseases.
10) Disinfecting puddles
When there has been a flood or storm the water standing around in puddles functions as a major breeding ground for insects – think of the recent Zika outbreak – puddles of rainwater in urban environments provided place for the mosquitoes to breed. If you can’t drain the water you can add a little bleach to make sure the larvae die.
11) To Keep Harvested Rainwater Clean
Rainwater harvesting tanks can also become a breeding ground –put ½ a cup of bleach into a 2,500-liter tank (660 gallons) once a month.
Even though there are gauzes and grids somehow the mosquitoes do find a way in and one female mosquito can produce hundreds of eggs that turn into those nasty wriggling larvae. Watch this video to see some tips on storing water for an emergency:
If it is raining don’t think you are safe –mosquitoes can fly between the raindrops! Often they hide in cupboards and under furniture during the day to come out at night and bite – so make sure those cupboards are mosquito free.
Only if there is a strong wind are you safe outside from the incoming little bloodsuckers, which can apparently fly between 20 to 40 miles in search of their diet of blood according to the American Mosquito Association.
Just a word of warning – don’t add bleach to ponds – you will kill off the fish and tadpoles – and they are what we want to preserve to take care of the mosquito larvae.
12) Sanitize Towels
Most teenagers have experimented with their jeans – using bleach to make stripes, patterns or even eat holes in perfectly good jeans they want ‘distressed’ so it stands to reason that you don’t want to add to much bleach to avoid discoloring clothes but a mild bleach solution is very useful in sanitizing towels for instance.
Say someone has had athlete’s foot – a fungal infection that can be transferred by towels – then sanitizing towels makes perfect sense – also to avoid transferring other germs.
13) Baby Toys and Pet Toys
Wipe or soak toys that baby has thrown on the floor, or shared with the dog, in a mild bleach solution, of ¼ cup of bleach to one gallon of water, then rinse off in clean water afterwards – you don’t want baby sucking on bleach residue on the toys. Make sure the solution is mild as you don’t want to discolor plastic toys.
Whether you have a baby in the house or not it won’t hurt to sanitize the dog’s toys too (yep, sometimes the kid will get the dog toy and try put it in its own mouth) in a bleach solution and then rinse in clean water. It will get rid of any mold and germs lurking on them.
14) Sanitize Coolers
After a fishing or hunting trip cooler boxes that have had fish or meat in them acquire a smell that is hard to get rid of even though they have been cleaned. Use a bleach solution and leave in the cooler box for about 30 minutes to an hour before rinsing out and leaving open to dry thoroughly.
15) Fighting Mold
Make sure you have no mold in your dishwasher by putting in a bleach solution and doing a short rinse cycle.
Whether the shower is an indoor or an outdoor one rinse the floor with a bleach solution and clean the glass and walls, paying particular attention to the corners where mold like to grow. Sanitizing will also prevent the transference of athlete’s foot.
16) To Sanitize Nail Scissors and Other Instruments
After using nail scissors, metal nail files and other implements on your feet or hands sanitize with bleach to avoid transferring any nail infections.
20 Wash pet bowls in warm soapy water with bleach added to the mix to ensure no bacteria from bits of old food grow in them, it also stops that pale green slime that’s hardly visible but forms on the pets’ water bowls if they are not washed for a couple of days.
17) Remove Grout from Kitchens and Bathrooms
Kill the mold growing on grout in kitchens and bathrooms. Remember bleach is a sanitizer not a cleaner so you’ll need to clean first, use the bleach
to kill the mold spores.
18) Coffee Stains on Mugs
The mug may be clear but those brownish coffee stains that seem to cling to some types of mugs are just eeuw. If badly stained make a solution and leave in the mug for an hour then come back and wash them. If the staining is light some bleach in the washing up water should sort out the stains.
19) Sanitize Hunting and Skinning Knives
Wiping the blood and bits of hide off a knife with some leaves are not enough before putting it back in the sheath (usually leather). Wash knives properly and then sanitize with a bleach solution to make sure no bacteria can grow in the dark inside the sheath.
Chronic Wasting Disease lives in the brain and spine of deer and can transmit to humans.
20) Using Bleach on Plant Cuttings
Gardeners are ever so happy to get free cuttings but in order to prevent bringing diseases in to your garden, accept only healthy looking cuttings and then to stop diseases place the ends in a weak bleach solution before putting them into the soil on your property.
21) Sanitize Flower Pots, Trash Cans, and Garden Tools
So a plant was looking off, and you removed it from the others, it got worse and died from some plant disease and you disposed of it by burning rather than spreading the disease by adding it to your compost heap – but what about the flower pot? Sanitize with bleach before re-using.
If you have pruned something with a fungal disease its best to wash and sanitize garden tools before that disease spreads to other plants in the garden.
Even though they are washed garbage bins can smell foul – so sanitize for a fresher smell with bleach, and ensure any pathogens are dead. Leave in the sun with the lid off for a while to make sure they are dry before closing up again.
22) Remove Mold from Garden Furniture
Especially if garden furniture is under a tree it gets that green or black mold growing on it – wash and sanitize with bleach to keep it off.
You will have to repeat every few months, but at least you’ll have decent looking garden furniture rather than moldy stuff that everyone tends to avoid sitting on.
23) To Keep Your tent Smell-Free
I’m sure everyone has had the experience of opening up a tent on a camping trip and noticing mold stains or a definitely moldy whiff. That’s because although the tent appeared dry when it was packed after the last trip it probably had some moisture from rain or dew lurking somewhere.
If the smell is bad wipe out the interior with a bleach solution, and when you get back from your trip take the time and open the tent up in the sun and leave to dry after giving it a bleach wipe over. Store tents with a pack of desiccant to absorb any moisture.
24) Sanitize Kitchen Counters, Tabletops, and Cutting Boards
Fill a spray container with a mild bleach solution that you can use to wipe down tabletops, kitchen counters and student desks, ensuring surface are germ free. If you have school-age kids you’ll know that all sorts of illnesses are brought home from school.
If you viewed a cutting board under a microscope you would be horrified at what lives on the surface – particularly if you have been working with poultry, fish or meat, so make sure cutting boards and butcher’s blocks are thoroughly cleaned to remove all traces of loose meat and then sanitized with a bleach solution to kill any pathogens still lurking.
25) Sanitize Backpacks Interiors
These can definitely get whiffy what with food containers, used socks and sometimes shoes being shoved in them, not to mention the towel after a swim. Wash gently, using an appropriate cleaner suited to the material the pack is made from, then use a bleach solution on a cloth to wipe out the inside. Leave outside to dry thoroughly.
26) Help Get Rid of Nail Fungus
This is extremely hard to get rid of at it lives under the nail where most medications can’t penetrate.
Soak feet in a bleach solution with warm soapy water then dry off thoroughly before massaging some tea tree oil into the nail and cuticles.
27) Kill Airborne Germs
A spray mist bottle filled with water and a capful of bleach together with some drops of essential oil like Eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, or lemon will freshen and sanitize a room.
28) Keeping Your Fishing Boat Squeaky-Clean
Fishing on a boat entails bait and fish scales, and cleaning fish – some people prefer to do it on the water rather than on land – so to ensure the boat is germ free clean and scrub with some bleach in the soapy water to make sure no nasty molds can grow inside the hatches.
Whichever you choose – you now know the pros and cons – bleach or calcium hypochlorite are your go-to substances in a survival situation.
Both kill bacteria and viruses effectively, stop smells and then conveniently break down, so they are not chemically active for long periods of time.
Where You Should Not Use Bleach
Do not put it into porcelain toilet bowls and sinks – over time it will destroy the toilet and those scoring marks will not come out. Plumbers advise not to use bleach on porcelain.
Do not put into pit toilets as it will kill the organisms that break down the fecal matter. Rather just throw a little sand in if the toilet is really stinky and place air freshener blocks in the enclosure.
If you are on a septic tank system you should be careful about using bleach as in can affect the organisms working to break down matter in the septic tank. Rather avoid bleach and use vinegar, baking soda or other septic tank friendly cleaners. A little bleach once in a while won’t hurt.
updated 08/24/2020 by Jeanie Beales
Traveler, photographer, writer. I’m eternally curious, in love with the natural world. How people can survive in harmony with nature has fueled my food safety and survival gardening practices.
At the age of 12, I found a newspaper advertisement for a 155-acre farm at a really good price and showed my parents one Sunday morning. They bought it and I happily started planting vegetables, peanuts, maize and keeping bees with the help of the local labor.
Once I married wherever we moved it was all about planting food, keeping chickens and ducks, permaculture and creating micro-climates. I learned how to build wooden cabins and outdoor furniture from pallets, and baked and cooked home-grown produce, developing recipes as I went along.