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Ammonia vs. Bleach: Uses, Safety, Pros, Cons

Are you getting ready to clean your home but aren’t sure whether to use ammonia or bleach?

Both have their place in your home, but there are key differences to know before deciding which to use.

In this comparison of ammonia vs. bleach, I cover the major benefits and downsides of each product. You’ll learn how ammonia compares to bleach in terms of composition, uses, safety, and more.

I also reveal which products contain ammonia and bleach and review alternative cleaning options.


Use the links below to navigate the comparison:


Ammonia vs. Bleach: Comparison Chart

Are you in a hurry and just need a quick comparison of ammonia vs. bleach? The table below covers the basics. I’ll dive deeper into each category throughout the article. 

Ammonia Bleach
CompositionNitrogen and hydrogenSodium Hypochlorite or sodium percarbonate (oxygen bleach)
UsesFertilizer, window/glass cleaner, hard water remover, kitchen, and oven cleanerSanitizer/disinfectant, whitener, stain remover, mildew, and mold remover
SafetyCorrosive to skin, eyes, and lungs. Excessive exposure is life-threateningCorrosive to skin, eyes, and lungs. Toxic when mixed with certain chemicals
Main BenefitBreaks down grime, oils, and fatsEffective bacteria killer
Main DownsidesToxicToxic, highly caustic
Products ContainingPledge, Resolve, Windex, LysolClorox, Lysol, Scrubbing Bubbles, AJAX
Best AlternativeVinegar, baking soda, and enzyme-based cleanersOxiClean

Composition

Ammonia is a colorless gas made of nitrogen and hydrogen atoms. The chemical composition is NH₃.

Ammonium hydroxide, which is a mixture of ammonia (NH₃) and water, is what’s found in cleaning products. However, most people refer to it as just ammonia.

Ammonium hydroxide
Ammonium hydroxide

Bleach is a general term for substances used to whiten and sanitize materials. However, the two most common types are chlorine bleach and oxygen bleach.

Chlorine bleach, such as Clorox, is formed by mixing water with sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl). It can also contain sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium chloride (NaCl), among other elements. The exact formula varies by brand.

Bleach ingredients
Chlorine bleach ingredients

The main ingredient in oxygen bleach, such as OxiClean, is sodium percarbonate. When you mix sodium percarbonate with water, it breaks down into hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate (soda ash).

OxiClean stain remover spray

Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizing agent (hence the name oxygen bleach) that breaks down stains, and sodium carbonate alkalizes the water, which helps dissolve grease and release acid in stains.

When you mix oxygen bleach with water, you’ll hear a fizzing sound. That’s from oxygen bubbles releasing as a result of a chemical reaction. Those bubbles help lift stains out of fabrics and other surfaces.

Oxygen bleach is most commonly a powder, but it’s also sold pre-mixed with water in a spray bottle.

The main difference between the two bleaches is that chlorine bleach is in most household disinfectants, and oxygen bleach is mainly in laundry products (detergents and stain removers).

Uses

Ammonium hydroxide is an effective cleaning product because it can break down oils and grime like grease or wine stains. It’s especially useful in the kitchen for countertops and ovens.

Ammonia is also a common ingredient in window cleaners, such as Windex. It evaporates quickly, decreasing the risk of streaks on surfaces.

One of the key differences between bleach and ammonia is that ammonia is not a disinfectant. While it helps remove stains, it does not kill bacteria or viruses.

Chlorine bleach is a disinfectant; it kills germs and bacteria on contact. However, it’s not a highly effective cleaner, meaning it doesn’t cut through grease and grime.

Clorox disinfecting spray containing bleach
Clorox disinfecting spray containing bleach

Besides killing germs on hard surfaces, chlorine bleach is best known for whitening and brightening white clothes. It’s often included as an ingredient within laundry detergent, or you can add a small amount of bleach to the load.

Chlorine bleach will take the pigment out of dark cloths, so only use it when cleaning white and light-colored fabric.

Oxygen bleach is primarily used for treating laundry and upholstery stains, but you can also use it to clean hard surfaces.

Some clothing can only tolerate color-safe oxygen bleach. Always read the bleach product label to find out if and how much you need to dilute it.

Safety

There are essential safety measures required when you use ammonia or bleach.

Chlorine bleach safety warning
Chlorine bleach safety warning

Each cleaning agent must be properly diluted before use. You also have to make sure that there is proper ventilation in the area where you are cleaning. Open doors and windows and turn on fans so the room can air out.

Don’t let children or pets play near the surfaces you cleaned or disinfected for several hours. The longer you wait, the better.

Always wear gloves and eyewear when handling ammonia or bleach. Direct contact can cause severe skin burns and eye damage. Breathing the fumes for extended periods can cause respiratory issues, and these substances are toxic if swallowed.

Most importantly, never combine ammonia and bleach. Doing so releases a highly toxic gas that can cause major health issues — it can even be fatal.

Always read a product label for proper usage. Research specific products and brands online to find out if there are any safety issues you need to be aware of before using them.

The bottom line — use extreme caution when using ammonia or bleach.

How to Use

If you plan on using ammonia or bleach to clean or disinfect areas around the house, here’s how to safely do it.

Cleaning Windows With Ammonia

If you’re cleaning windows with a glass cleaner that contains ammonia, like Windex, all you have to do is spray and wipe.

But, if you’re making your own solution, here’s what to do.

Take an empty spray bottle and insert a funnel into the opening. Pour in 26 ounces of warm water. Then, add ½ cup of rubbing alcohol, ¼ teaspoon of liquid dish detergent, and two teaspoons of ammonia. Use unscented ammonia if possible.

Put the spray bottle top back on securely and shake to combine. Light suds can occur.

Clearly label your bottle after making the cleaning solution.

Cleaning Ovens With Ammonia

First, heat your oven to 150° F. Once heated, turn your oven off. Fill an oven-safe bowl with ½ cup of ammonia and place it on the top oven shelf. Place a pan of boiling water directly underneath. Shut the door and leave overnight. This should loosen any stuck-on food from cooking.

I highly recommend opening the windows in your kitchen to help dissipate any fumes.

Disinfect A Tub Or Shower With Chlorine Bleach

Prepare the area by wiping it down with a wet sponge. Combine ⅓ cup of chlorine bleach with one gallon of water. Wipe down the tub or shower with the cleaning solution and wait six minutes. Rinse everything thoroughly with water.

Whiten Laundry With Chlorine Bleach

First, check if your washing machine has a bleach dispenser. If it doesn’t, add laundry detergent and then mix ½ cup of bleach directly in the washing water. Do this before you add your clothes. Wait five minutes into the wash cycle, and then add clothes to the machine.

Remove Carpet Stains With Oxygen Bleach

Make a solution of oxygen bleach and water according to the package instructions. Blot the stained area lightly, but be sure not to oversaturate. Wait 30 minutes. Blot away the excess solution with a clean towel or cloth. If the stain isn’t completely gone, repeat as necessary.

Clean Grout With Oxygen Bleach

Mix three tablespoons of oxygen bleach with warm water in a large bucket. With a sponge or cloth, wipe the grout lines and let them soak for at least 15 minutes. Rinse clean with water.

Products That Contain Ammonia or Bleach

Both ammonia and bleach are found in many common household products. You likely already have something in your home containing these ingredients.

Glass cleaning spray is the most common product with ammonia, but it’s also found in wood and floor cleaners.

Products that contain ammonia include Windex, Pledge, Resolve, and Lysol, but there are dozens more.

Check out this article where I provide 19 examples of cleaning products that contain ammonia and 19 examples of cleaning products that don’t contain ammonia.

Chlorine bleach is usually sold as a product by itself but is sometimes added to other products.

Clorox is, by far, the most popular chlorine bleach producer. The brand also offers cleaning sprays, disinfecting wipes, and toilet bowl cleaners that contain bleach.

Oxygen bleach comes in powdered or liquid form and is generally used in laundry and upholstery cleaning. Popular brands are OxiClean, Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach, OXO Brite, and Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Bleach.

Alternatives to Ammonia and Bleach

If you’re searching for products that don’t include ammonia or bleach, you have various options.

For a natural alternative to ammonia, use vinegar, baking soda, or enzyme-based cleaners. Reliable brands that offer ammonia and bleach-free products are Method and Seventh Generation.

Seventh Generation All-Purpose Cleaner

Both brands offer cleaning products for the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry. While some of these products may contain oxygen bleach, they do not use any chlorine bleach.

OxiClean’s best-selling product, the Versatile Stain Remover, is an excellent replacement for chlorine bleach. It does an effective job of removing stains and is easy to find in stores. However, it does not disinfect.

OxiClean makes some products that disinfect, such as the 3 in 1 Deep Clean Multi-Purpose Disinfectant Spray, but those include harsh ingredients like ammonia chloride or diethylene glycol monobutyl ether. Refer to Oxiclean’s website for details on product ingredients.

Bottom Line: Should You Use Ammonia or Bleach?

Ammonia is effective at cutting through grime, cleaning windows, and removing grease stains. However, It does not disinfect or kill germs like bleach.

Chlorine bleach is used to disinfect surfaces and kill germs and viruses on contact. It’s useful for sanitizing kitchen and bathroom surfaces, but it doesn’t cut through dirt and grease like ammonia.

Oxygen bleach is commonly used for stains in laundry and upholstery. It comes in powder form or pre-mixed with water in a spray bottle.

The key difference between ammonia and bleach is that ammonia is for cleaning and bleach is for disinfecting and whitening.

So if your floors or windows are filthy and you need a solution to cut through the grime, use ammonia (or a product containing ammonia). If juices from raw meat dripped on your countertop, or you’re cleaning your bathroom and you need a disinfectant, use bleach (or a product containing bleach).

You need to use caution when handling both ammonia and bleach. These substances can cause serious harm if they directly contact your skin or eyes and can irritate your lungs if you breathe their fumes. Wear protective gear when using them, and always review the safety instructions on the package.

If you’re looking for ammonia- and bleach-free alternatives, check out Method, Seventh Generation, and Mrs. Meyers products. These brands produce high-performing cleaners and detergents that are safe, non-toxic, and eco-friendly.

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He’s been studying consumer buying behavior for 10+ years and has managed marketing campaigns for over a dozen Fortune 500 brands. When he’s not testing the latest home products, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn or via email.

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