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Is color safe bleach worth it?

Color safe bleach, also known as non-chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, or all fabric bleach, has become a popular alternative to traditional chlorine bleach for cleaning and whitening fabrics. But is it really effective? Is it worth the typically higher cost compared to regular bleach? Here we’ll examine the pros and cons of color safe bleach to help you decide if it’s right for your laundry needs.

What is Color Safe Bleach?

Color safe bleaches are bleach alternatives that use an oxidizing agent called sodium percarbonate as the active ingredient instead of chlorine. When dissolved in water, sodium percarbonate releases hydrogen peroxide which acts as a whitening agent and stain remover.

The main difference between regular bleach and color safe bleach is that color safe versions do not contain chlorine, which is harsher and can damage fabrics over time. The lack of chlorine makes color safe bleach gentler on fabrics, particularly on colors. Hence the name “color safe”.

Pros of Color Safe Bleach

Here are some of the main benefits of using color safe bleach:

  • Safe for most fabrics – Does not damage or fade colored fabrics like chlorine bleach can.
  • Whitens whites – Effective at whitening and brightening whites and other bleachable fabrics.
  • Removes stains – Can help remove tough stains like coffee, wine, grass, etc.
  • Disinfects – Has antimicrobial properties to kill germs and bacteria when used properly.
  • No bleach smell – Leaves behind no strong bleach odor like chlorine versions.
  • More environmentally friendly – Breaks down into water and oxygen rather than toxic chemicals.
  • Often cheaper than chlorine bleach – Costs less per load than liquid bleach.
  • Easy to use – Same dilute and soak/wash process as regular bleach.

Cons of Color Safe Bleach

There are also some potential drawbacks to be aware of with color safe bleach:

  • Not as strong – May require longer soaking or higher concentrations to achieve whitening power of chlorine bleach.
  • Stain removal can be hit or miss – Works well on some stains but not as effective on tough oil-based stains.
  • Can still damage delicate fabrics – Should not be used on silk, wool, spandex, etc.
  • Doesn’t sanitize like chlorine bleach – Not a reliable disinfectant against some bacteria and viruses.
  • Results vary based on the fabric – Works best on white cottons and linens vs synthetic fabrics.
  • Environmental impact of production – Producing sodium percarbonate has its own carbon footprint.

Active Ingredient Comparison

Let’s take a closer look at how the active ingredients – chlorine vs. sodium percarbonate – differ:

Property Chlorine Bleach Color Safe Bleach
Active Ingredient Sodium hypochlorite Sodium percarbonate
Chemical Formula NaOCl 2Na2CO3 • 3H2O2
Whitening Agent Chlorine Hydrogen peroxide
Fabric Safety Damages colors and fabrics Gentler on fabrics
Stain Removal Stronger cleaning power Moderate stain removal
Sanitization Power Disinfects surfaces Minimal disinfecting ability
Environmental Impact Produces toxic byproducts Breaks down into oxygen and water

As you can see, the main tradeoff is that regular bleach is tougher on stains but harsher on fabrics, while color safe bleach is gentler but less potent.

Whitening Power

How do the two bleaches compare when it comes to whitening and brightening clothes and linens? Here are some key points:

  • Chlorine bleach is stronger at whitening due to its high oxidation potential.
  • Color safe bleach requires higher concentrations and longer soaking times to achieve similar levels of whitening.
  • For whites and colorfast fabrics, chlorine bleach will produce greater whitening in less time.
  • On bleached white linens like sheets and towels, the difference is noticeable side-by-side.
  • For lightly soiled items, color safe bleach can still significantly improve whiteness.
  • Always check fabric care labels as bleach may not be recommended.

So while chlorine bleach is more powerful, color safe versions can still work for routine washing of whites. But for maximum whitening power on heavier stains and dinginess, chlorine bleach remains unrivaled.

Stain Removal

Here is how chlorine and color safe bleach compare when tackling common laundry stains:

Stain Type Chlorine Bleach Color Safe Bleach
Food stains (coffee, tea, wine, juice, etc.) +++ ++
Grass and mud +++ ++
Blood +++ ++
Sweat and deodorant +++ ++
Mildew and mold +++ ++
Motor oil and grease ++ +
Ink and dye transfer ++ +

+++ = Highly effective, ++ = Moderately effective, + = Minimally effective

Chlorine bleach has an advantage at tackling oil-based stains, while color safe bleach is still moderately effective on most stains. For tough stains, soak in chlorine bleach first, then launder with color safe bleach if needed.

Disinfecting Ability

Bleach is often used for its disinfecting properties to kill germs and sanitize surfaces. Here is how the two types compare:

  • Chlorine bleach is a proven reliable disinfectant and sanitizer.
  • The CDC recommends dilute chlorine bleach solutions for disinfecting against viruses like flu, E.coli, hepatitis, etc.
  • Sodium percarbonate does not produce the same level of sanitization as chlorine solutions.
  • Hydrogen peroxide has some antimicrobial properties but is not considered a stand-alone disinfectant.
  • For disinfecting and sanitizing, chlorine bleach remains far superior.

When used at the proper dilutions, chlorine bleach is one of the most effective agents at killing germs and sanitizing surfaces. Color safe bleach has far less disinfecting ability.

Environmental Impact

Here is a brief comparison of the environmental pros and cons of each type of bleach:

  • Chlorine bleach – Produces potentially hazardous byproducts. Toxic to aquatic life. However, very small amounts used in laundry.
  • Color safe bleach – Breaks down into oxygen and water. However, sodium percarbonate production has its own carbon footprint and impact.
  • Some plant-based bleaches like lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide have a lower eco-footprint.
  • Overall, chlorine bleach has a greater potential environmental impact but is heavily diluted in laundry use.

While no bleach is truly environmentally inert, color safe bleach breaks down into less harmful byproducts compared to chlorine bleach. However, its production still carries an environmental toll.

Price Comparison

On a per-load basis, color safe bleach tends to cost less than liquid chlorine bleach. Here’s a typical price breakdown:

  • Liquid chlorine bleach: Approximately 5-8 cents per load
  • Powder color safe bleach: Approximately 3-5 cents per load

However, because a higher concentration of color safe bleach is needed to achieve the same results, the total costs even out somewhat. Concentrated or off-brand bleaches can also lower the price for both types.

Ease of Use

Color safe and chlorine bleach have a very similar process for use:

  1. Sort laundry and check care labels – bleach only colorfast, white fabrics.
  2. Dilute bleach with water according to package directions.
  3. Soak or pre-wash stained items for 30+ minutes.
  4. Wash items with bleach solution or detergent in machine.
  5. Avoid mixing the two bleaches together.
  6. Never apply bleach directly to fabrics.

The main difference is color safe bleach may require presoaking in a stronger concentration to produce the same results as chlorine bleach.


To summarize the key points:

  • Chlorine bleach is stronger at whitening and stain removal but can damage fabrics.
  • Color safe bleach is gentler and safe for colors but less effective at heavy duty cleaning.
  • Chlorine is a proven reliable disinfectant; color safe bleach has minimal sanitizing ability.
  • For whites and bleachable fabrics, chlorine bleach remains the toughest cleaner.
  • On colors and delicate items, color safe bleach is the safer choice.
  • Consider alternating between the two for optimal cleaning and fabric care.

The takeaway is that color safe bleach is worthwhile for light cleaning tasks but still cannot match the oxidizing and disinfecting power of chlorine bleach. Each has their pros and cons. Combining the two strategically can give you the safety of color safe bleach and the strength of chlorine when needed.