Bleach is a commonly used disinfectant. This old yet powerful disinfectant is best used in laboratories, animal shelters, veterinary hospitals and universities to keep all of the animals healthy and to prevent new animals from becoming ill. Bleach is also used very commonly in the home environment in the 20th century against a large range of disease causing pathogens because of accessible it has become. The problem is that some shelters or households are using bleach without the knowledge on how to use it appropriately which means that it will kill absolutely nothing and even further the spread of disease rather than neutralizing it completely.
Today most veterinary professionals know that simply spraying bleach on a surface, rinsing the bleach off and walking away is not enough to fully disinfect any surface at all if you are wanting to keep animals healthy. I have seen a shelter spray undiluted bleach from the jug onto a dirty surface, let it sit for 5 minutes and dry the cage before putting a new animal into the cage. This type of protocol makes me want to pull my hair out because microscopic organic debris will easily stop the bleach in its tracks. We cannot take shortcuts in the amount of time that the disinfectant sits or in our cleaning protocol or everything will crumble.
All surfaces need cleaned with a detergent agent and rinsed with water before applying bleach because the area to be disinfected has to be completely clean. I mean scrubbing the entire cage spotless with a scrub brush and a bucket of water when I am talking about pre-cleaning. Care should be taken to ensure all of the bleach is rinsed because it is very corrosive to stainless steel and plastic surfaces. .
Bleach is the cheapest and most effective disinfectant when applied to a clean surface without any dirt or debris other than pool shock. Assuming that bleach works in any condition or at any dilution against disease can be dangerous advice for using this product properly. There is so many misconceptions in the sheltering field regarding the use of bleach.
A clean surface is any area that is free of organic matter such as cat litter, dirt, mud, urine or feces. Please note that this disinfectant has very limited efficacy on porous surfaces such as wood and plastic even if the surface is visibly clean. Damaged surfaces and rusted surfaces are very hard to disinfect properly and are best fixed or tossed out.
Bleach carries the reputation of being dangerous when diluted wrongly or applied improperly along with the above facts. Not diluting bleach properly can be dangerous for all parties involved if you are talking about being able to breath. This is especially true if this product is inappropriately mixed with other cleaners which can render it ineffective or harmful. No open windows or working air circulation will make breathing even harder when spraying bleach.
Make Sure To Dilute!
It was once believed that hot water was an absolute requirement to provide accurate disinfection for bleach and derivatives of bleach. To the contrary, bleach has been found to release much more toxic smell and decompose at a much faster rate when hot water is used for dilution. It is quite crazy the amount of people that tell me just the opposite. Bleach needs be diluted properly with cold water to break up the bleach in order to work since bleach that is not diluted will be completely ineffective since it was not broken up from itself which is stated directly on the Clorox website.
Bleach is diluted at a one part bleach to thirty-two parts water ratio for standard disinfection and a 1:10 ratio for disinfecting against ringworm in the rescue or home environment. Not diluting or diluting too strong can cause a serious problem for smell and render the disinfectant useless. It is entirely possible to dilute too strong and cause the disinfectant not to work because then it becomes bacteriostatic which means it prevents growth but does not kill the pathogens. Worst case scenario is that it does not even perform up to that standard. Then you are just spreading germs around at that point which will wreck havoc when a new animal is admitted. All disinfectant solutions must sit for ten whole minutes to completely disinfect the contact area.
I prefer that staff wear gloves and a face mask when preparing a bleach solution. You want to do anything to increase air flow and decrease damage to your skin or delicate respiratory tract. Some people do not take this serious enough until I point out that your average cat can smell 14 times better than an average human. Air purification devices and fans help to decrease overall fumes.
My favorite method for using bleach is to make a full tote of diluted bleach which I then use to submerge all dishes inside of for 10 minutes before rinsing and drying them. This full 10 minutes of being submersion ensures that all items were wet with disinfectant (which is required for accurate disinfection) and is a way to disinfect items without having to spray them with a spray bottle which can contaminate the air and make it hard to breathe if there are a ton of dishes. Because typically you would scrub all dishes, rinse them, spray with disinfectant and allow to sit for 10 minutes followed by one last rinse cycle.
Warnings About Bleach
A jug of unused bleach will start to degrade after six months so you want to avoid stocking up on more bleach than you need for disinfection purposes along with keeping up on expiration dates. The undiluted bleach solution will become 20 percent less effective each year that it is not used and kept in storage. Do not mix this product with ammonia. The mixture of ammonia and bleach can create very toxic gases that can cause breathing problems and headaches.
Bleach is heat sensitive and light sensitive. Bleach will rapidly deteriorate with every minute that it is exposed to light or extreme heat. This should be an important consideration when determining the best place to store one gallon jugs of bleach. I like to store bleach in a chemical resistant jug that is light resistant which is then placed inside of a safe medicine cabinet after labeling it. By labeling it I mean slapping a sticker on it that lists common things about the disinfectant as required by the Department of Agriculture as it relates to corrosion, potential hazards and the date that it was mixed by and who mixed it.
Improper rinsing of this disinfectant or any disinfectant for that matter can burn paw pads which can cause irreparable damage along with the corrosion which I recently mentioned. Both of these incidents can cause the unfortunate spending of funds to fix what could have been prevented. Use water to thoroughly rinse the disinfectant from all surfaces and completely dry the area before returning animals to their cage or run. You will want an eye wash station so you can rinse bleach from your eyes if you ever inadvertently spray it at yourself.
Important Facts and Tips
Diluted bleach is good for one full day or 24 hours after being mixed up. I would not even think of using bleach after 24 hours because at that point you are saying that spending a few cents is worth more than the health of your animals. Generally the solution is made fresh each morning and the old bottle of diluted bleach is tossed out. An even better protocol is to mix the disinfectant 2 times a day if is used often for disinfecting against a dangerous disease such as parvovirus or ringworm. Please note that bleach is not longer the only disinfect that kills ringworm – Rescue has been proven to eradicate it as well which was previously known as accelerated hydrogen peroxide.
Another fact worth mentioning is that scented bleach will not disinfect against disease the same way that regular bleach does which stated on their website in bold letters. Regular bleach contains at least 6% sodium hypochlorite while scented only contains around 2.8% sodium hypochlorite. The scented version of bleach is not even registered as a disinfectant if you looked at several registries of disinfectants and how they are used. My rule of thumb is to never trust what people say unless you have done the research yourself. Safety and attention to detail is what makes a knowledgeable shelter worker.
While bleach can be sprayed, the recommended way is to apply bleach via a rag and bucket technique. This technique can prevent aerosolization of the disease further and can help prevent the disinfectant from making it hard to breathe. Point blank – I do not like spraying caustic spray into the air when I do not have to do so. A squeeze bottle to squeeze the solution onto a rag can also work. I take the doors off every cage and break down every cage that I can then transport them outside if I am going to spray them. I often used a mustard bottle from the store to squeeze the bleach onto a rag or into the cage so I did not have to aerolize the solution everywhere in areas that did not have good air flow.
Mixing bleach with dish soap is a very bad idea but it is something that I see very often in an attempt to speed up the process of disinfection other than when you do laundry obviously. Dish soap can deactivate the properties in any disinfectant. in some situations I will decide to mix bleach with quaternary ammonium compound products to make a cleansing and disinfecting product. Bleach has no cleaning properties at all so this tip can be helpful for one step disinfection. This is the only way you can make a bleach solution that will disinfect while cleaning.
As far as using this product to disinfect the ground or soil against infections pathogens – I would not recommend this. This method works poorly with bleach because of it being impossible to clean the surface prior to disinfection. Trifectant would be a better choice since it can still disinfect relatively well through organic matter such as soil and dirt.
Please soak all dishes for ten full minutes in diluted bleach before you rinse them completely or you can spray dishes with a spray bottle of diluted bleach. As previously state all items sprayed with bleach must remain WET for 10 full minutes or you may need to application the items with bleach again so you reach 10 full minutes of the items being wet. For foot disinfection – I prefer to use a spray bottle or fill a bowl with bleach and step in it. Trifectant and Rescue often work better for shoe disinfection since bleach is deactivated via dirt and shoes often harbor a lot of dangerous bacteria. Rescue is the best for this because it is rapid acting – killing many disease pathogens in just 10 seconds which far exceeds any other disinfectant claim for speed. Trifectant and Rescue have much better penetrating activity into organic matter when compared to bleach too.
For laundry you can add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of bleach so that you can disinfect the clothing or covers against common disease causing pathogens such as those that cause parvovirus and upper respiratory infection. I prefer the 1 cup of bleach for ringworm infected laundry or you can just toss those covers which I often advise that people do.
Alternatives to Bleach
Alternatives include Trifectant (Potassium Peroxymonosulfate) and Rescue. Both of these alternatives are great for disinfection and are broad spectrum. Rescue and Trifectant are the most effective for shoe disinfection. I would avoid every other disinfectant and stick to the two best disinfectants that are backed by years of research and proven efficacy against the hardest hitting disease pathogens.
Both disinfectants can also be applied to carpet effectively while bleach cannot be properly applied to carpet for this purpose. Both disinfectants also have a great reputation for being effective even in the face or organic matter. I will say that Trifectant is my preferred disinfectant for carpet over Rescue. I will write separate posts about Rescue and Trifectant along with comparing those two and other top disinfectants that shelters commonly use.
I also recommend not using any products that contain any sort of Quaternary Ammonium ingredients at this time due to their inefficacy against viruses when used alone. I only use this set of products when I need to mix it with bleach but even then I use them rarely because there has been reports that link this product to a variety of medical issues in shelter animals when exposed to it.