Sodium Hypochlorite: Your Household Bleach

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Sodium hypochlorite is a chemical compound with the formula NaOCl or NaClO. It may be viewed as the sodium salt of hypochlorite acid. Sodium is most often encountered as a pale greenish-yellow dilute solution commonly known as liquid bleach or simply bleach.

After sodium hypochlorite dissolves in water, it is very unstable and easily decomposes, liberating chlorine, which is the active principle of sodium hypochlorite. Sodium hypochlorite is the oldest and still most important chlorine-based bleach.

Back in the 18th century, sodium hypochlorite was produced by Antoine Labarraque. He passed chlorine gas through a solution of soda lye, obtaining sodium hypochlorite.

Cl2+2NaOH →NaCl+NaClO+H2O

In Edinburgh University’s pathology department, sodium hypochlorite was produced from calcium hypochlorite for use as a hospital antiseptic in World War I in the following process:

Na2CO3+Ca(OCl)2→CaCO3+2NaOCl

Sodium hypochlorite is the main ingredient used in bleach in many industries, such as the paper and pulp, textile and laundry industry. It contains chlorine, which is a strong oxidizer and is the active agent in many household-grade bleaches.

Household bleach usually has a concentration of 3 – 8% sodium hypochlorite, with its strength gradually decreasing over time. On average, a bottle of bleach loses approximately 20% of its effectiveness every year when unopened and starts to lose a significant amount of its effectiveness within half a year of opening the bottle.

One of the ways this effect can be mitigated is to add small amounts of sodium hydroxide, NaOH overtime to slow down the decomposition and loss of effectiveness of sodium hypochlorite, NaClO. While bleach is commonly used as a household product to remove stains and “whiten” clothes, it can also be used in stronger concentrations for industrial use such as disinfection of wastewater in treatment plants.

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