What Happens When You Mix Bleach And Ammonia Clearing the Air on Bleach

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Clearing the Air on Bleach

The bottle you buy at the grocery store to clean your white clothes has an apt name—and it’s not chlorine bleach. This is a common misconception – the correct ingredient name is sodium hypochlorite. Bleach is the term for a class of chemicals called oxidizers. Oxidizers are highly reactive chemicals that destroy many organic compounds such as dyes, pigments, and food stains, causing a whitening or “bleaching” effect. This high level of reactivity is beneficial in certain applications but can also cause problems.

Most household bleach is made up of only 6% sodium hypochlorite. The rest of the gallon size bottle is 94% plain H2O. The type of bleach that the average pressure washer uses, however, is a high industrial grade of 10-12% sodium hypochlorite. There are more than 50 types of products around the world called bleach or bleaching agents – a loose term because the term in its simplest definition simply means something that will remove color. Dyes and pigments have alternating double molecular bonds that create color. The oxidizing reaction of the bleach breaks these molecules into double bonds and shortens their chromosomes, allowing them to absorb light at shorter wavelengths. Due to this process the color of which now appears white. Some bleaches or bleaching agents only create double bonds that do not allow absorption of light.

A popular type of bleach in recent years is the less reactive and slower-acting oxygen or peroxygen bleach, such as sodium percarbonate, persulfate, or sodium perborate. These work by releasing oxygen but this time hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient. Hydrogen peroxide bleaches have less bleaching activity and work slower. This allows it to be used on many colored surfaces and colored fabrics.

Bleach, the bubbling effect and the connection to France

Bleach is an alkaline solution made by bubbling chlorine gas with electrolysis, to adjust the pH of sodium hydroxide solution commonly called lye to 12-13%. This adjustment improves its stability. Liquid hypochlorite bleach was first invented in 1787 in France near Paris by a chemist named Claude Louis Bertholet. Bleach is known in France as Eau de Javel, the town where it was first produced. It was originally used to whiten textiles, and it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that Louis Pasteur and his colleagues began to use it widely as a sanitizer and disinfectant. This is one of the biggest reasons why bleach is used with pressure washing today – it’s excellent disinfectant properties and ability to bleach by killing mildew, mold and mildew stains. Bleach kills mold microbes by reacting (oxidizing) and damaging their cell membranes and cell proteins. A solution of 50-100 ppm (parts per million) bleach in water can be used for general surface disinfection. A higher level of 1-3% chlorine is needed to remove mildew stains. Swimming pools should maintain 1-3 ppm chlorine. Chlorinated isocyanurates and calcium hypochlorite are powders that are more stable than liquid bleach and for this reason are used more in pools. When dissolved in water, they form hypochlorite and act like liquid bleach. Bleach can remove color as little as 1-3 ppm with water. do you know Liquid bleach will slowly lose chlorine content with age with exposure to air, and more rapidly with high heat or exposure to sunlight. That’s why pool chlorine levels are constantly checked and why bleach bottles never run clear. Liquid bleach should be tightly closed and stored in a cool, dry and ventilated place. For example in the heat of summer a 12% bleach solution can reduce by 1% in a week, to 10% in two weeks and to 8% in one month, but in the cold of winter it can be reduced. That’s what the makers of Half Clorox Bleach say. “Bleach solutions must be made fresh daily. Once diluted, bleach breaks down quickly—primarily in salt and water.”** And that “Clorox® Regular-Bleach should be changed annually and directed for optimal performance.”* * For pressure washers you should It’s best to buy only what you can use within a few months and mix bleach with cleaning solutions as needed, and avoid storing large quantities in clear or semi-clear containers in direct sunlight. .

fungus? Bleach alone is not enough

For years bleach has been used by pressure washers to clean surfaces such as houses or concrete with water alone that contain mold and mildew. But bleaching with water alone will bead and can lead to spotty application results. Adding a compatible detergent will allow the solution to “wet” the surface and give the same result. Take extra care to ensure that the detergent is suitable and labeled for use in chlorine solutions. If you are not sure, check with the manufacturer of the detergent. Using incompatible detergents can be dangerous! Another additive TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) is recommended by some companies and industries such as the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association even today. In fact they tout their bleach recipe as the only way to remove black streaks from their ceilings. The black color that stains asphalt roofing materials is actually an algae or mold called Gloocapsa magma. Asphalt shingles themselves are a food source for algae. They recommend a bleach recipe that will safely remove algae but only on the surface. Using 12% bleach, solutions range from one cup TSP, one gallon bleach and five gallons of water, to one cup TSP and 2.5 gallons each of bleach and water. Physical surfaces will regrow when conditions are right again, including shade and moisture or bleach 90% or more water. So even the act of cleaning mold and mildew with bleach and water can add new fuel to the fire to start a new cycle of mold growth. Please note that TSP is banned in laundry products in some parts of the country mainly near oceans such as Chesapeake, MD and San Francisco, CA. You may need to contact your local clean water authority before using products mixed with TSP that may be introduced into water systems. There is no real method for disposing of unused full strength bleach other than first neutralizing the chlorine and then lowering the pH before disposal. To do this properly you must take it to a RCRA listed generator or treatment facility.

Vegetation and pollution – beware

Bleach has some problems when used in pressure washing. The least of these is that if not flushed sufficiently and diluted with large amounts of water, runoff can destroy plants, trees and grass around the house, sidewalks or driveways. Bleach must also be stored properly and should not be mixed with anything other than water or specially labeled, chlorine compatible detergents. Never mix bleach with ammonia and ammonia-based cleaning solutions. Mixing bleach with ammonia or nitrogen bearing compounds produces highly irritating and explosive compounds called chloramines. When mixed with acid, it forms a less stable chlorine solution called hypochlorous acid, which releases toxic chlorine gas into the air. Commercial bleaches contain excess alkali in their formulation to keep the solution at a very high pH of 12 to prevent chlorine from gassing, but acids can easily neutralize this excess. Mixing bleach with incompatible chemicals can cause anything from minor burns to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat to extremely dangerous situations of fatal fumes that burn lung tissue causing respiratory arrest or death, or produce explosive gases. For this reason you should never reuse containers that have previously held bleach for mixing or storing any other chemicals or cleaners without thoroughly washing them. When working with bleach for power washing, worker protection should include safety goggles, impervious gloves, an apron and waterproof boots over long-sleeved shirts and long pants. You should also regularly check the equipment that runs the bleach to ensure that metal parts have not been compromised. The makers of Clorox® say “Many spray bottles have metal parts in the trigger spray. Bleach corrodes these parts over time.”** It’s always smart to rinse all metal dispensing parts well with clean water and not let bleach solutions stand. between them when not in use.

If handled properly and treated with respect, bleach is a friend to the pressure washing industry because of its disinfecting action, mold killing and bleaching abilities.

*www.asphaltroofing.org, Technical Bulletin “Algae Degradation of Roofs”

**www.clorox.com

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