How Does Bleach Work?

People use bleach to lighten their clothes. Individuals with dark hair may use bleach to achieve lighter hair. Some individuals even bleach their teeth to achieve a bright, white smile.

If you have ever accidentally spilled bleach on dark clothes, you know what happens. The colors become less intense! But why does this occur? What is it about bleach that diminishes the vibrancy of colors?

While we commonly refer to bleach as a single substance, there are actually multiple types of bleach. The most popular type is chlorine bleach, which is a water-based product containing sodium hypochlorite.

Another well-known type of bleach is oxygen bleach, which contains hydrogen peroxide or other compounds that release peroxide when mixed with water. Bleach is also available in a powdered form called calcium hypochlorite.

All of these bleaches can be used to whiten clothing. They are also effective cleaning agents, as they can kill mold, germs, and bacteria. A mixture of bleach and water is often used to clean and disinfect hard surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms. Although early humans did not understand the science behind bleach, the bleaching process has been utilized for thousands of years.

In order to comprehend how bleach eliminates color, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of how colors work. Colors are produced by chemical compounds known as chromophores, which reflect specific portions of the visible spectrum of light. For example, a blue dress contains chromophores that reflect blue light, resulting in the dress appearing blue to our eyes.

Bleach works by releasing oxygen molecules through a process called oxidation. The oxygen molecules released by bleach break the chemical bonds of chromophores.

The altered chromophore molecules either reflect no color or a color that falls outside the visible spectrum. Our eyes perceive this lack of color as white.

You may have also observed that fabrics left out in the sun tend to fade or bleach over time. Does sunlight contain bleach? No! However, sunlight can have a bleaching effect. High-energy ultraviolet sunlight can disrupt the chemical bonds in chromophores, causing them to lose their color in a manner similar to the oxidation process with bleach.

Try It Out

We hope you enjoyed today’s vibrant Wonder of the Day! Engage in the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • With your parents’ permission and assistance, you can repurpose an old pair of jeans into acid-washed jeans using your washing machine. If you’re feeling creative, you can also try making bleach-accented jeans.
  • Before attempting this exciting science experiment, make sure to seek adult supervision. You’ll need clear plastic cups, water, bleach, and food coloring. Begin by adding a few drops of food coloring to half a cup of water in a clear plastic cup. Stir the mixture until the color is evenly distributed. Then, add several drops of bleach and observe the chemical changes that occur. Experiment further by adding more bleach to see how the reaction evolves.
  • If you’re interested in observing how bleach is used in everyday situations, offer to assist your parents with the laundry. They’ll likely appreciate the help! Learning how to properly care for clothes is a valuable skill to acquire. By washing a load of white clothes with bleach, you can both develop this necessary skill and witness the effects of bleach on your own garments.

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