AskDefine | Define bleach

Dictionary Definition



1 the whiteness that results from removing the color from something; "a complete bleach usually requires several applications"
2 an agent that makes things white or colorless [syn: bleaching agent, blanching agent, whitener]
3 the act of whitening something by bleaching it (exposing it to sunlight or using a chemical bleaching agent)


1 remove color from; "The sun bleached the red shirt" [syn: bleach out, decolor, decolour, decolorize, decolourize, decolorise, decolourise, discolorize, discolourise, discolorise]
2 make whiter or lighter; "bleach the laundry"

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A chemical, such as sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide, or a preparation of such a chemical, used for disinfecting or whitening.
  2. A variety of bleach.




  1. To treat with bleach, especially so as to whiten (fabric, paper, etc) or lighten (hair).



to treat with bleach

Extensive Definition

A bleach is a chemical that removes color or whitens, often via oxidation. Common chemical bleaches include household "chlorine bleach", a solution of approximately 3-6% sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl), and "oxygen bleach", which contains hydrogen peroxide or a peroxide-releasing compound such as sodium perborate or sodium percarbonate. To bleach something is to apply bleach, sometimes as a preliminary step in the process of dyeing. Bleaching powder is calcium hypochlorite.

Other types of bleaches

Chlorine dioxide is used for the bleaching of wood pulp, fats and oils, cellulose, flour, textiles, beeswax, skin, and in a number of other industries.
In the food industry, some organic peroxides (benzoyl peroxide, etc.) and other agents (e.g. bromates) are used as flour bleaching and maturing agents.
Peracetic acid, ozone and hydrogen peroxide and oxygen are used in bleaching sequences in the pulp industry to produce totally chlorine free (TCF) paper.
Not all bleaches are hazardous and have a oxidizing nature. Sodium dithionite is used as a powerful reducing agent in some bleaching formulas. It is commonly used to bleach wood pulp used to make newsprint.


Since bleaches are strong oxidizing agents, they can be quite hazardous, especially when reacted with other common household chemicals.
Mixing sodium hypochlorite with acids like vinegar or drain cleaners containing sodium bisulfate (sodium hydrogen sulfate), or even lemon juice can release chlorine. Hypochlorite and chlorine are in equilibrium in water, the position of the equilibrium is pH dependant and low pH (acidic) favors chlorine,
Cl2 + H2O \rightleftharpoons H+ + Cl- + HClO
Chlorine is a respiratory irritant that attacks mucous membranes and burns the skin. As little as 3.5 ppm can be detected as an odor, and 1000 ppm is likely to be fatal after a few deep breaths. Exposure to chlorine has been limited to 0.5 ppm (8-hour time-weighted average—40 hour week) by OSHA in the U.S.
Sodium hypochlorite and ammonia react to form a number of products, depending on the temperature, concentration, and how they are mixed. . The main reaction is chlorination of ammonia, first giving chloramine (NH2Cl), then NHCl2 and finally nitrogen trichloride (NCl3). These materials are very irritating to eyes and lungs and are toxic above certain concentrations.
NH3 + NaOCl --> NaOH + NH2Cl
NH2Cl + NaOCl --> NaOH + NHCl2
NHCl2 + NaOCl --> NaOH + NCl3
Additional reactions produce hydrazine, in a variation of the Olin Raschig process.
NH3 + NH2Cl + NaOH --> N2H4 + NaCl + H2O
The hydrazine generated can further react with the monochloramine in an exothermic reaction: However, respiratory risk from chlorine and highly toxic chlorinated byproducts still


The process of bleaching can be summarised in the following set of chemical reaction:
Cl2(aq) + H2O(l) \rightleftharpoons H+(aq) + Cl-(aq) + HClO(aq)
The H+ ion of the hypochlorous acid then dissolves into solution, and so the final result is effectively:
Cl2(aq) + H2O(l) \rightleftharpoons 2H+(aq) + Cl-(aq) + ClO-(aq)

Mechanism of bleach action

Color in most dyes and pigments is produced by molecules, such as beta carotene, which contain chromophores. Chemical bleaches work in one of two ways:
  • An oxidizing bleach works by breaking the chemical bonds that make up the chromophore. This changes the molecule into a different substance that either does not contain a chromophore, or contains a chromophore that does not absorb visible light.
  • A reducing bleach works by converting double bonds in the chromophore into single bonds. This eliminates the ability of the chromophore to absorb visible light.
Sunlight acts as a bleach through a process leading to similar results: high energy photons of light, often in the violet or ultraviolet range, can disrupt the bonds in the chromophore, rendering the resulting substance colorless. Extended exposure often leads to massive discoloration usually reducing the colors to white and typically very faded blue spectrums.


Further reading

  • Bodkins, Dr. Bailey. Bleach. Philadelphia: Virginia Printing Press, 1995.
  • Trotman, E.R. Textile Scouring and Bleaching. London: Charles Griffin & Co., 1968. ISBN 0852640676.
  • Book in numerical format Knew you that?
bleach in German: Bleichmittel
bleach in Modern Greek (1453-): Χλωρίνη
bleach in Spanish: Lejía
bleach in Persian: آب ژاول
bleach in French: Eau de Javel
bleach in Hebrew: אקונומיקה
bleach in Italian: Candeggina
bleach in Dutch: Chloorbleek
bleach in Japanese: 漂白剤
bleach in Portuguese: lixívia
bleach in Simple English: Bleach
bleach in Chinese: 漂白劑
bleach in Burmese: Cloroc

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

achromatization, achromatize, besnow, blanch, blanching, bleach out, bleacher, bleaching, bleaching agent, bleaching powder, blench, bowdlerize, chalk, change color, chlorine, clean, clean out, clean up, cleanse, clear out, decolor, decolorant, decoloration, decolorization, decolorize, decolorizer, decolorizing, delouse, depurate, deterge, dim, discolor, discoloration, drain, drain of color, dry-clean, dull, dust, dust off, etiolate, etiolation, expurgate, fade, fade out, fading, freshen, frost, fume, grizzle, grow pale, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen peroxide, lighten, lightening, lime, lose color, lustrate, madder bleach, market bleach, nitrogen tetroxide, oxalic acid, pale, paling, peroxide, purge, purify, reform, scavenge, silver, sodium hypochlorite, sour, spruce, steam-clean, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, sweep out, sweeten, tarnish, tidy, tone down, turn pale, turn white, wan, wash out, white, white sour, whiten, whitening, wipe, wipe off, wipe out, wipe up
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