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When our favorite white T-shirt gets badly stained, we reach for our favorite laundry detergent that contains bleach. The bleaching agent present in the detergent is a chemical called sodium hypochlorite, which is the focus of our discussion in this lesson.

What is Sodium Hypochlorite?

When our favorite articles of clothing get stained, and when we need to clean our bathrooms, we reach for our laundry detergent household cleaners that contain bleach.

Bleach

The main constituent of household bleach is a chemical called sodium hypochlorite. Sodium hypochlorite is a strong oxidizing agent in liquid form and is greenish or yellowish in color. It is commonly referred to as bleach because it is the active ingredient in bleach. Its chemical formula is NaClO, composed of one sodium (Na) atom, one chlorine (Cl) atom and one oxygen (O) atom. Its chemical structure shows that the hypochlorite ion (ClO-) has an ionic bond with the sodium (Na+) ion.

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Sodium Hypochlorite Structure

Sodium hypochlorite (NaClO) is produced by a process known as the Hooker process, which is the method used for a large-scale production of NaClO. In the Hooker process, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is exposed to chlorine gas (Cl2). Along with sodium hypochlorite, the reaction between these two substances produces sodium chloride (NaCl) and water (H2O):

Sodium Hypochlorite Production

Uses

Sodium hypochlorite is most commonly known as the bleach that is present in our household cleaners.

However, it has other uses as well. In this section, let us discuss some uses for sodium hypochlorite.Household Bleach & Stain RemovalThe most common application for sodium hypochlorite is its use as the active ingredient in bleach. The majority of the sodium hypochlorite that is produced is for use as household bleach, which commonly contains 5% sodium hypochlorite.Bleach is used for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in our homes, such as toilets, floors, and counters. Whenever we encounter stains on our clothes and sheets, bleach is the way to go to remove these stubborn stains.

Bleach Cleaner and Stain Removal

Disinfectant & Water TreatmentSodium hypochlorite is a very effective disinfectant. In the foodservice industry, it can be used to sanitize kitchen utensils and equipment used for food processing. In our own homes, the use of sodium hypochlorite is highly effective to eliminate various types of bacteria and viruses.

Sodium hypochlorite is also used for water treatment – it is a very effective substance used to disinfect water to eliminate bacteria and microorganisms, which helps in preventing the transmission of waterborne diseases. This is used in various industrial applications to prevent bacteria and slime formation, and it is also useful to disinfect swimming pools. Sometimes, sodium hypochlorite is added to wastewater to reduce odors.

Food Industry and Pool Cleaning

Dentistry & SkinHave you ever had root canal treatments? Sodium hypochlorite solutions of concentrations ranging from 0.5 to 5% are used by dentists as an irrigating agent for root canal treatments. This is to help prevent bacterial infection and to dissolve the dead tissue.

Solutions that contain 0.005% of sodium hypochlorite can also help in treating eczema, which causes skin to become irritated and inflamed. Sodium hypochlorite solution can also help in the prevention of skin damage caused by radiation and sun exposure. This is because the solution blocks the activity of the molecule responsible for inflammation and aging.

Dentistry and Skin Care

Neutralize Nerve AgentsNerve agents are substances that disrupt the mechanism of message transfer of nerves to the organs due to the destruction of neurotransmitters.

Nerve agents can be used in chemical warfare in gaseous form. Sodium hypochlorite at a concentration of 50% is used to neutralize traces of nerve agents in affected areas, as well as cleaning the personal protection equipment of soldiers after they enter affected areas.

Precautions & Hazards

While sodium hypochlorite is very useful, some precautions need to be observed. We need to make sure that sodium hypochlorite does not mix with ammonia (NH3) due to the production of a dangerous gas, which leads to respiratory difficulty as well as choking. Household bleach needs to be out of reach of children.Sodium hypochlorite is also a toxic substance that must not be ingested. While sodium hypochlorite is used to clean food processing equipment, it needs to be washed off thoroughly because it is toxic.

We must avoid contact to our eyes because it is an irritant. We need to take care not to let high concentrations of sodium hypochlorite touch our skin because it can cause burns or irritation.If our skin or eyes come in contact with sodium hypochlorite, we need to flush the affected areas with water, and seek medical attention if needed. If you experience difficulty breathing due to inhalation of sodium hypochlorite, the first action is to go to an area to seek fresh air. However, if you continue having a difficult time breathing, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

Lesson Summary

Sodium hypochlorite is a strong oxidizing agent that has a chemical formula of NaClO, with an ionic bond between the sodium (Na+) ion and a hypochlorite ion (ClO-). It is produced from the reaction of chlorine (Cl2) with sodium hydroxide (NaOH). It is commonly known as bleach, and the majority of its production is for household bleach. Sodium hypochlorite solutions have various uses that include stain removal, disinfecting surfaces, water treatment, root canal irrigating agents, and preventing skin damage.

While sodium hypochlorite has many uses, we must observe precautions because it is toxic in high concentrations. We must make sure to not mix sodium hypochlorite with ammonia because it produces toxic vapors. Inhalation of sodium hypochlorite can irritate the lungs, so if this happens seek fresh air immediately and call for medical help if needed. While low concentrations prevent skin damage, high concentrations on our skin can cause burns and irritation.

Sodium hypochlorite is also an eye irritant. If skin and eyes come into contact with sodium hypochlorite, flush with water immediately, and seek medical attention if this doesn’t help.

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