Bleach can be a great friend to you if you’ve spilled something truly disastrous on your clothes, and not just white clothes at that. The important thing is to use the right type of bleach – and to know when to put the bleach away and use something else. Luckily, the bleach symbol on the garment label (or the ‘no bleach’ symbol, as the case may be) can help you get this right. So, what do the bleach laundry symbols look like, and what does each one mean? Let’s take a look.
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Know your bleach symbol
There are different types of bleach that should be used for different fabrics, so make sure you know whether only oxygen bleach/no-chlorine bleach is allowed, or if you’re free to use any bleach – and, of course, always look out for the ‘do not bleach’ symbol.
Any bleach allowed. This means that chlorine-based bleaching is allowed, but only if cold and part of a dilute solution. This bleach symbol is usually found on white clothes with a hardwearing fabric.
Only oxygen bleach/non-chlorine bleach allowed. Oxygen bleach (also known as ‘color-safe’ bleach) is suitable for most colored clothes, as well as most white clothes. Again, delicate garments are often another matter.
Do not bleach.
You can find out more about the different types of bleach and how to use them in our bleaching guide.
Bleach symbols are one thing but don’t forget safety
If your clothes don’t have the ‘do not bleach’ symbol on the label, and you’ve decided to go ahead and use bleach to clean them, there are a few safety precautions to keep in mind. These will be slightly different depending on the type of bleach you’re using. Here are the basics:
- Read the product label and follow the instructions closely.
- Use the approved dosage.
- Wear gloves and eye protection to prevent direct contact with bleach.
- Always keep (and use) bleach well away from children and pets!
- Don’t mix chlorine bleach with anything other than water – some combinations, like ammonia, can create a toxic gas. Only add oxygen bleach to substances that are explicitly approved on the product label.
- Test your bleach solution on a small and unnoticeable area of fabric before applying to the garment as a whole.
So that’s bleach symbols covered – still, have questions about the wash care symbols on your clothing labels? Check out our full round-up of all the different types of symbol and their meanings here.
Household bleach uses sodium hypochlorite (a.k.a. chlorine) as a main ingredient. It’s derived from salt, which may seem harmless, but can actually wreak havoc on your body. Chlorine is a gas at room temperature. On its own, it has the potential to irritate your eyes and upper respiratory system, especially if you have asthma or other breathing problems. And when mixed with certain other household cleaners (e.g., acids) and even certain messes (e.g., ammonia found in vinegar or urine), chlorine bleach can raise blood acidity levels and have severe impacts on vision, skin, and more.
Pet exposure and animal testing:
Our furry (and sometimes non-furry) friends don’t generally ingest enough of the toxic household cleaner to cause serious concern. However, various animals will react differently to bleach, depending on the concentration of bleach they’re exposed to and their level of exposure. The more industrial, ultra-concentrated bleach can lead to internal and external chemical burns and lesions, and diluted household bleach can cause heavy drooling, skin irritation, and even vomiting.
In addition, cruelty-free chlorine bleach brands are very hard to come by – if they exist at all. Luckily, the disinfectant/stain remover market is growing green with a wide variety of environmentally-friendly, non-toxic, vegan, super effective products.
On top of harming ourselves and our animal friends, chlorine bleach can seriously impact the environment and our ecosystem. On a larger, industrial scale, when bleach is released into local bodies of water alongside other forms of waste, it can cause dangerous reactions that release toxins (e.g., dioxin) that take years to fade away. According to Greenpeace, “Dioxins are amongst the most deadly toxins known to man. They […] have been found to cause cancer and reproductive disorders”. Dioxin pollution is so far-reaching these days that, “almost everyone has some level of dioxin in their blood because the toxic chemical is widespread in the environment and accumulates in the food chain“.