Sodium hypochlorite is generally used dissolved in water at various concentrations. Although available, solid sodium hypochlorite is not commercially used. Sodium hypochlorite solutions are clear, greenish to yellow liquids with an odor of chlorine. Calcium hypochlorite is a white solid that readily decomposes in water releasing oxygen and chlorine. It also has a strong chlorine odor. Neither compound occur naturally in the environment. Sodium and calcium hypochlorite are used primarily as bleaching agents or disinfectants. They are components of commercial bleaches, cleaning solutions, and disinfectants for drinking water and waste water purification systems and swimming pools.
Household bleach is, in general, a solution containing 3–8% sodium hypochlorite, by weight, and 0.01–0.05% sodium hydroxide; the sodium hydroxide is used to slow the decomposition of sodium hypochlorite into sodium chloride and sodium chlorate.
Sodium hypochlorite has destaining properties. Among other applications, it can be used to remove mold stains, dental stains caused by fluorosis, and stains on crockery, especially those caused by the tannins in tea. It has also been used in laundry detergents and as a surface cleaner. It is also used in Sodium hypochlorite washes.
Its bleaching, cleaning, deodorizing and caustic effects are due to oxidation and hydrolysis (saponification). Organic dirt exposed to hypochlorite becomes water-soluble and non-volatile, which reduces its odor and facilitates its removal.
See also: Hypochlorous acid
Sodium hypochlorite in solution exhibits broad spectrum anti-microbial activity and is widely used in healthcare facilities in a variety of settings. It is usually diluted in water depending on its intended use. “Strong chlorine solution” is a 0.5% solution of hypochlorite (containing approximately 5000 ppm free chlorine) used for disinfecting areas contaminated with body fluids, including large blood spills (the area is first cleaned with detergent before being disinfected). It may be made by diluting household bleach as appropriate (normally 1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Such solutions have been demonstrated to inactivate both C. difficile and HPV. “Weak chlorine solution” is a 0.05% solution of hypochlorite used for washing hands, but is normally prepared with calcium hypochlorite granules.
“Dakin’s Solution” is a disinfectant solution containing low concentration of sodium hypochlorite and some boric acid or sodium bicarbonate to stabilize the pH. It has been found to be effective with NaOCl concentrations as low as 0.025%.
US government regulations allow food processing equipment and food contact surfaces to be sanitized with solutions containing bleach, provided that the solution is allowed to drain adequately before contact with food, and that the solutions do not exceed 200 parts per million (ppm) available chlorine (for example, one tablespoon of typical household bleach containing 5.25% sodium hypochlorite, per gallon of water). If higher concentrations are used, the surface must be rinsed with potable water after sanitizing.
A similar concentration of bleach in warm water is used to sanitize surfaces prior to brewing of beer or wine. Surfaces must be rinsed with sterilized (boiled) water to avoid imparting flavors to the brew; the chlorinated byproducts of sanitizing surfaces are also harmful. The mode of disinfectant action of sodium hypochlorite is similar to that of hypochlorous acid.
Solutions containing more than 500 ppm available chlorine are corrosive to some metals, alloys and many thermoplastics (such as acetal resin) and need to be thoroughly removed afterwards, so the bleach disinfection is sometimes followed by an ethanol disinfection. Liquids containing sodium hypochlorite as the main active component are also used for household cleaning and disinfection, for example toilet cleaners. Some cleaners are formulated to be viscous so as not to drain quickly from vertical surfaces, such as the inside of a toilet bowl.
The undissociated (nonionized) hypochlorous acid is believed to react with and inactivate bacterial and viral enzymes.
Neutrophils of the human immune system produce small amounts of hypochlorite inside phagosomes, which digest bacteria and viruses.