Q. I have a large family — children, parents and grandparents — trying to catch up on cleaning, and I want to ask about using bleach. A plumber friend said we can use bleach, if we dilute it, to wash down appliances and pipes in our kitchen, bathroom and boiler area. The thing that worries me is I read that bleach can cause metal to rust, and don’t want to ruin anything. What do you think? Is it safe to pour down a drain? The drainpipes could hold virus, right?
A. Bleach is extremely corrosive and reactive with metal, as are most concentrated acid and alkali products. Rust, corrosion, oxidation or whatever you call it is caused by the trading of electrons between the metal and the bleach molecules. Bleach is often used to give copper products an aged look, by rubbing the liquid on the copper surface. Even though copper is extremely durable and resistive, it does react to bleach.
There are four grades of copper pipe, based on thickness. Your plumber is right about making sure you dilute the bleach, but there may be an assumption that you have a thicker, or the thickest, grade of tubing. I don’t recommend using bleach if the pipes are copper. Plastic pipes are inert, and don’t react to bleach, but you’ll still want to dilute it.
Pouring bleach down your drain presents more issues than you may realize. It may attack bacteria and viruses, but think of where it ends up. In his recently published book, “Troubled Water: What’s Wrong with What We Drink,” Seth M. Siegel goes into great detail about the consequences of what we put down the drain and how it may affect society as a whole.
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