Bleach can strip clothing of dyes and burn your skin.

How Can Bleach Affect Your Skin & Clothes?

by Tom Ryan

Some bleach is designed for your clothing, and some for your skin. No matter which you’re in contact with though, you should always carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions. In any case, bleach is a powerful chemical that can cause serious, painful burns or even permanently ruin your clothing -- by knowing its effects, you can use this chemical safely both in the laundry room and on your own skin.

Removing Clothing Stains

Chemical bleach is used as a powerful stain-removing agent for clothing. This is because it contains oxidizing chemical acids that break down a stain’s molecules. When those molecules are broken down enough, the effect is twofold -- they are invisible to the naked eye, and they are small enough to be water soluble, so they’re stripped away in the wash. The chemicals in bleach also kill germs, leaving your clothing free of bacteria.

Creating Clothing Damage

The oxidation process isn’t always a positive thing, though -- treating your clothes with bleach can permanently ruin them. For example, if your water has iron deposits in it, they can interact with the bleach to leave behind rust stains. The powerful oxidation process can also remove the dyes in your clothing, either changing its overall coloring or leaving discolored spots. It can even be so powerful as to eat through the fabric, leaving holes -- for these reasons, you should never use bleach on certain fabrics, like silk or wool.

Bleach and Skin

You may have heard of skin bleaching, but you should know that the bleach you use for cosmetic treatments is different from the bleach you use on your laundry. Certain over-the-counter and prescription creams and lotions are formulated with bleach that can lighten your skin, helping you mask discolored spots or gradually lighten your skin tone. If you’re considering a skin-bleaching treatment, talk to your doctor first.

Treating Bleach Burns

When it contacts your skin, chemical bleach can cause painful burns, and needs to be thoroughly cleaned. If your skin is burned by bleach while doing the laundry, for example, rinse the affected area under cool running water for at least 10 minutes. Wrap it in a clean, sterile bandage -- if it continues burning, wash it again, take an over-the-counter pain reliever and contact your doctor.

About the Author

Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Photo Credits

  • Buccina Studios/Photodisc/Getty Images