Can I Bleach Baby Clothes? (With Natural Whitening Alternatives)

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Between the blowouts and spit-ups, parents often find themselves with mountains of laundry with stains that need to be treated. Bleach is a powerful disinfectant and stain remover, but is it safe to use on clothes that will end up against baby’s sensitive skin?

Manufacturers claim bleach is safe enough for use on your baby’s clothes, although many parents disagree. Bleach is hazardous if handled improperly, and can leave behind a residue that damages fabrics, gives off a strong odor, and can irritate your baby’s sensitive skin. For whitening clothes, you may want to consider a natural alternative instead.

Keep reading to learn about the potential risks associated with bleaching baby clothes and a couple of non-toxic natural alternatives.

Is it safe to use bleach on baby clothes?

Bleach is a powerful disinfectant and can be a great tool for treating protein-based stains. Many sources say bleach is safe to use on baby clothing.

Though the use of bleach is not discouraged when laundering baby clothes, there are some disadvantages and potential risks to consider.

Common household bleach typically refers to an aqueous 5.25-8.25% sodium hypochlorite solution. While the chemical compound should break down easily in water, several things could go slightly wrong that will end in a chlorine residue being deposited on your baby’s clothes.

The accumulation of chlorine residue can also cause clothing to smell like chlorine, which can be overpowering for babies as well as irritating to their sensitive skin.

Aside from its direct effect on baby clothing, handling bleach in the home creates a risk of fume inhalation. Bleach fumes can irritate or even damage the respiratory tract, especially in children who may be more susceptible to respiratory damage because of their smaller airways and larger lung surface area.

The greatest risk of using bleach at home is accidentally mixing it with incompatible cleaners such as those containing acids or ammonia, which can create chlorine gas and chloramine vapor, both of which are toxic and can be fatal.

Can I use bleach on newborn clothes

Although bleach brands tend to claim their product is safe for babies, the potential for chlorine buildup might not be worth the risk.

A newborn’s skin is extremely sensitive. When washing your newborn’s laundry, eliminating potential irritants will help keep your baby’s skin healthy. 

The strong odor associated with chlorine buildup can also be overwhelming for newborns, who rely on their sense of smell for feeding and bonding.

If you absolutely need to bleach your baby’s clothes, I’d recommend running the clothes through a regular wash cycle (complete with baby-safe detergent) before putting the outfit back on your newborn.

Can I use bleach on toddler clothes

Although toddlers are not as sensitive as their younger counterparts, you should still avoid using bleach on their clothes for as long as possible.

If your child has sensitive skin, you should avoid using bleach on their clothes and try a more natural alternative instead. If you have transitioned into washing your toddler’s clothes with the rest of the laundry, they may be able to tolerate any residue better. If the clothes smell of bleach, wash them again as the strong odor can still be ing to their respiratory tract.

Toddlers can be remarkably messy so you will almost certainly need to find a way to whiten whites or remove stains from their best shirt, but you should always keep in mind that your baby’s health is far more important than keeping their clothes looking brand new.

Is bleach bad for baby?

Though many sources say bleach is safe to use on baby clothes, there are potential hazards associated with using bleach.

The primary risk factors for using bleach to treat baby clothing are fume inhalation and the accumulation of chlorine residue on clothing. When bleach is handled carefully and as directed, these risks can be minimized; however, many factors might be out of your control.

The ventilation in your home, your baby’s skin sensitivities, and even conditions like your water temperature and detergent pH might be deciding factors in whether you use bleach on your baby’s clothing.

Can bleach fumes harm baby

As an adult, it’s unpleasant when you breathe in bleach and can actually make you sick if you’re exposed to it for too long. Now imagine how much worse it must be when you’re a little one.

Compared to a fully developed adult, a baby’s lungs are disproportionately large compared to her size and weight, so the chemicals are absorbed faster and to greater effect, which means it takes far less exposure to make a baby sick (and, conversely, the same amount that makes you sick could prove fatal to a smaller body).

There is also some evidence that suggests damage caused by bleach fume inhalation can make children more susceptible to respiratory infections.

To protect your baby from bleach fumes, only use bleach in well-ventilated areas, away from your baby.

Can bleach residue harm baby?

Sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in bleach, quickly degrades during laundry treatment. If handled properly, bleach-treated clothing should not retain excess bleach.

However, it can difficult to control the circumstances that make up the ideal laundry environment, and you may not even be aware that you’re using it improperly. The buildup that occurs when the bleach doesn’t break as expected can be irritating to a baby’s skin, and it can cause a strong odor that can overwhelm your baby’s sense of smell. 

For best results, your load of laundry should:

  • Have a chlorine concentration of 50-200 ppm (during the wash cycle) – If the concentration is too strong, it will not be completely washed away.
  • Run water at 140 – 160°F – If the water is too hot, the bleach will become unstable and break down, leaving chlorine gas residue on the clothes.
  • Have a pH of 10.2-10.8 – When the pH drops below 9.5, the bleach will start to attack the fabric rather than just the stains, making it more difficult to wash out.

Can I use any bleach on baby clothes?

When used properly, bleach is safe for a baby’s clothes.

However, it’s important to remember that properly, in this case, doesn’t really mean that you’re being careful about pouring the correct amount of bleach into your washer or that you’re choosing the right heat setting. The efficiency of your machine, interactions with your detergent, and even the pH of your local water can affect the way the bleach breaks down. 

There are some bleaches out there that claim to be safe for babies and people with sensitive skin, just make sure you avoid any dyes, added fragrances, or anything else you know has irritated your baby’s skin in the past.

Clorox

Clorox is a trusted household brand that is practically synonymous with bleach. They consider their products to be safe for treating baby clothing.

However, as previously discussed, chlorine residue can accumulate on clothing when using common household bleach, which can irritate a baby’s skin. Additionally, bleach fume inhalation and chlorine odor can be harmful to babies.

Oxiclean

Oxiclean is a popular brand of oxygen bleach, which has active ingredients of sodium percarbonate and hydrogen peroxide.

Oxiclean removes stains without the use of chlorine bleach; however, fragrance and dyes in the original product can be irritating to your baby’s skin.

Oxiclean Baby Stain Remover is formulated with fewer irritants and is safe for a baby’s sensitive skin.

How can I whiten my baby’s clothes naturally?

If you are concerned about the harmful effects bleach could have on your baby’s health, there are many natural bleach alternatives and DIY methods that you can try.

Grab Green

Grab Green Bleach Alternative Pods are a great “green” alternative to Oxiclean.

Like Oxiclean, they contain sodium percarbonate and hydrogen peroxide but are free of common additives like fragrance and dyes. These bleach alternative pods contain other naturally-derived ingredients that are gentle on baby clothing. 

Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Bleach

Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Bleach is a popular liquid bleach alternative.

This product has a simple formula of hydrogen peroxide and water. It’s gentle on baby clothes and free of fragrance, dyes, and phosphates. 

Baking soda

You can use the same baking soda you use for chocolate chip cookies to take out stains!

If you’re dealing with a stubborn spot, make a thick paste (1 part water and 2-3 parts baking soda) and slather it onto the stain. Let sit for at least 30 minutes then wash as normal. If you’ve tried before and haven’t been able to get the stain out, try letting the baking soda sit for a couple of hours.

You can also keep your clothes brighter by adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to a regular wash cycle. This takes a little bit of work because you can’t preload the baking soda like you do detergent; instead, you need to monitor the load and add the baking soda once the water is completely full. If it’s a particularly large load, you can use up to a full cup of baking soda.

Baking soda is also a great deodorizer so your clothes will come out smelling extra fresh too!

Vinegar

Distilled white vinegar is one of the unsung heroes of any mom’s cleaning cabinet, and laundry time is no exception.

Add 1/2-1 cup of vinegar along with your detergent at the beginning of the wash, or 1/4 cup during the last cycle (don’t do both!) to whiten, freshen, and soften your clothes. If your clothes come out smelling like vinegar – and they probably won’t – just use a little bit less next time. 

Pro-tip: vinegar is also great for keeping your baby’s towels soft and extra absorbent!

Lemon juice

Did you know lemon juice can help get out stains?

If your little one spilled grape juice all over another white bodysuit, try mixing 1 part lemon juice with 2 parts water and applying the mixture to the stain. Rub it in gently and watch the lemon juice lift out the purple mess.

You can also add a cup of lemon juice directly to your detergent to bright clothes – and leave them smelling springtime fresh!

Hydrogen peroxide

If you’ve ever had to clean blood out of your laundry you may already know this one, but hydrogen peroxide can be a lifesaver for your whites. While it is excellent for spraying directly on stains, this workhorse’s real value lies in its ability to bring your clothes back to life a little more each wash.

To brighten your whites to their original luster, try adding a cup of hydrogen peroxide to your machine’s automatic bleach dispenser every time you wash.

Never mix hydrogen peroxide with bleach or vinegar because the chemicals can react to create dangerous gases.

Sunshine

While it is not as effective as bleach, simply leaving baby clothes in the sun is the cheapest, most natural way to treat stains.

The UV rays will disinfect your laundry and fade stains.

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