For over 200 years, household bleach has been the go-to chemical for eliminating potentially harmful bacteria and killing the single-celled organisms that spread infections and viruses. It’s also commonly used for laundry and powerful cleaning, because of its oxidation properties that resolve and lift stains from porous surfaces.
While household bleach is an effective disinfectant and useful for a wide range of everyday cleaning on both fabrics and hard surfaces, it is not recommended to allow bleach to come into direct contact with exposed skin. Not only can bleach cause chemical burns on the skin, accidentally ingesting bleach or inhaling bleach fumes can trigger vomiting and a burning sensation in the lungs.
Luckily, the active ingredient in household bleach, the ingredient that gives this cleaning solution the ability to disinfect surfaces, is sodium hypochlorite—a substance that can be buffered to offer the bacteria-killing benefits of bleach without the toxic gas and skin irritation.
What is sodium hypochlorite?
Sodium hypochlorite, while used in cleaning and laundry for centuries, was first developed for medical use during World War I by Drs. Alexis Carrel and Henry Dakin. It’s a strong antiseptic that can be used to kill bacteria and viruses on contact. In fact, in the right concentration, sodium hypochlorite has been shown to kill biofilm-forming microorganisms in less than one minute—including antibiotic-resistant P. aeruginosa and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Before the solution can be used to kill bacteria in wounds, however, it must be buffered with other chemicals to prevent skin discomfort. Just as undiluted bleach can burn your skin if you aren’t wearing rubber gloves, undiluted sodium hypochlorite should be cleansed off the skin with mild soap as quickly as possible, before bleach burns develop.
Once diluted, sodium hypochlorite is useful for killing bacteria, viruses, and wound infections
Sodium hypochlorite works by denaturing the protein in microorganisms. Denaturing works by restructuring the protective protein in the microorganism so the microorganism can no longer function as it should—which effectively kills the harmful bacteria.
One example of denaturing is boiling an egg. As the water heats up, the protein in the egg becomes irreversibly solid. Sodium hypochlorite solutions work in a similar way, reacting with the proteins in microbes and reducing bacteria by blocking its ability to function. Once the invading bacteria comes into contact with sodium hypochlorite, like a boiled egg, it can not return to its original state, and effectively dies.
While the exact mechanism that makes sodium hypochlorite a powerful disinfectant is unknown, hypochlorous acid may play a part
Our bodies naturally produce hypochlorous acid (HOCI) to fight most bacteria in everyday wounds. In response to invading bacteria, viruses, and other germs, the body produces small amounts of this acid to control bad microorganisms before they create an infection.
When sodium hypochlorite reacts with water, it also produces hypochlorous acid. That’s what gives bleach and every other sodium hypochlorite-based household cleaning product its ability to remove the color from fabric and disinfect non-porous surfaces. As sodium hypochlorite forms, the surrounding bacteria are quickly denatured—giving this solution its powerful infection-fighting abilities.
Dakin’s diluted sodium hypochlorite wound care solutions kill bacteria without harming skin
Dakin’s wound care solutions are buffered with sodium bicarbonate and sodium hydroxide, which maintain the potency of the solution without burning healthy wound tissue or skin. Unlike alcohol-based products or those with hydrogen peroxide, Dakin’s solutions don’t sting skin or cause further wound discomfort. These products, including three formulations that boast a two-year shelf life, are available at many pharmacies and don’t require a prescription.
Plus, Dakin’s Wound Cleanser and Wound Cleanser Pro also offer similar efficacy to more concentrated Dakin’s formulations, without inhibiting wound healing—giving medical professionals and their patients the affordable, at-home solutions they need for effective wound management and infection prevention.