Preventing the spread of germs is a challenge in child care programs. A solution of household bleach and water is an inexpensive and easy way to disinfect surfaces and sanitize objects in child care programs. But child care providers need to be careful to use bleach correctly to ensure that children are safe and surfaces are properly disinfected or sanitized.
New Bleach Concentrations Mean New Use Recommendations
In early 2013, manufacturers of household bleach changed the concentration of bleach sold in stores. The bleach solutions now sold have a higher concentration of sodium hypochlorite (8.25%). The lower-concentration bleaches are no longer being manufactured and soon will not be available in stores. Because the new bleaches are more concentrated, the recommendations for diluting a bleach solution for disinfecting now depend on the specific bleach that is used. Here are the latest recommendations for bleach use in child care:
Use bleach products that have been registered with the EPA whenever possible. Check the product label for an EPA registration number. If the product has a number, it is EPA-registered.
- If the bleach product is EPA-registered, go to the EPA's Pesticide Product Label System website (http://iaspub.epa.gov/apex/pesticides/f?p=PPLS:1) and enter the EPA registration number into the "EPA Registration Number" field of the online form. You should get a list of dates the EPA approved the product.
Click on the link next to the most recent EPA approval date. This link will open a PDF file of the manufacturer's instructions. Scroll down to find a chart with instructions for using the product to sanitize or disinfect.
Follow the instructions on the chart when preparing bleach solution for use in child care. You may want to post these instructions near sinks and cleaning areas or tape the instructions to the bottle.
If you buy a new brand of bleach, remember to check the new brand using these instructions. The specific recommendations for diluting bleach may be different. Be sure to update any instructions or labels that are posted.
Do NOT mix household bleach with other household chemicals such as toilet cleaners, rust removers, acids, or products containing ammonia. Mixing these chemicals with bleach may produce toxic hazardous gases.
Using Bleaches without EPA Numbers
Child care programs that are using bleaches without an EPA number on the label should contact the state or local health department for information on how to safely use that particular bleach for disinfecting in a child care program.
Sanitizing versus Disinfecting
Bleach manufacturers include two kinds of instructions for bleach use: sanitizing and disinfecting. Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they mean different things. Before you mix up a bleach solution, be sure you are using the correct instructions. Sanitizing solutions use less bleach than disinfecting solutions. The manufacturer's instructions will tell you the appropriate amount to use.
Sanitizing reduces germs to levels considered safe, but does not eliminate them. Sanitizing is safe for food contact surfaces (such as silverware and high chair trays) and for toys and pacifiers that children may place in their mouths.
Disinfecting eliminates or inactivates germs. Disinfecting requires a stronger concentration of bleach to kill the germs. Surfaces that should be disinfected include diaper changing tables, potty chairs, toilets, countertops, sinks, floors, drinking fountains, cabinet handles, and doorknobs.
Using Bleach-Water Safely in Child Care
Bleach-water solution is poisonous and can be dangerous to children. Keep children safe from accidental poisoning with these simple tips:
- Clean objects and surfaces when children are not around, or place them out of children's reach while they dry.
- Do not allow children to handle bleach-water solution.
- Keep children away from disinfected surfaces until the bleach-water solution dries.
- Store bleach and other toxic chemicals in their original containers in a locked cabinet or closet.
- Store bleach-water solution in a locked cabinet out of children's reach.
- Be sure to label spray bottles so adults will know what's in them.
Keep out of the reach of children
For More Information
These instructions are more complicated than the old generic recommendation for diluting bleach, but they are designed to keep children as safe as possible when using the newer, more concentrated bleaches on the market today. For more information on locating the EPA registration number and manufacturer's instructions, check out the bleach use guidelines at the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. To learn more about health, safety, and sanitation in child care, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles and sections: