The idea of using bleach to “detox” the body or prevent certain diseases is nothing new, but global panic over the novel-coronavirus pandemic means this dangerous DIY treatment is getting some more time in the spotlight. As Gabby Landsverk reported for Insider on Thursday, Christina Cuomo—wife of CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and sister-in-law of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo—recently shared a COVID-19 wellness routine on her publication The Purist that includes bathing in diluted bleach. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had to crack down on groups repackaging bleach as an ingestible COVID-19 cure. And at a press conference on Thursday night, President Donald Trump wondered aloud if injecting patients with some kind of disinfectant might kill off the coronavirus in their blood and lungs.
There are almost no circumstances where bleach should come into contact with your skin, and absolutely no circumstances in which you should drink or inject yourself with a disinfectant. Here’s why.
Bleach baths are occasionally recommended by doctors—but only for very specific conditions.
Bathing in diluted bleach is often touted as a way to “detox,” which is a problematic thing to try in the first place (you can read more about the issues with detoxing here). It’s also sometimes touted as a way to undo damage from “radiation,” presumably because of the results of a single 2013 study conducted on mice. But there’s no reliable evidence that soaking in bleach can relieve your body of toxins, cure you of disease, or protect you from dangerous levels of radiation. In fact, it can be quite harmful.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that using bleach and other cleaning agents on your skin can damage your mucus membranes, which actually leaves your body more vulnerable to microbial pathogens like the virus behind COVID-19. Bleach manufacturers like Clorox say that their products shouldn’t even come into contact with skin if you can help it. While even a small amount of bleach in your bathwater could dry out or irritate your skin, using too much could cause serious burns or respiratory distress. It’s also worth noting that, while soap does a great job of counteracting COVID-19 without risking harm, bleach will kill off loads of the healthy and helpful microbes on your skin. We’re just beginning to understand how our bodies’ delicate colonies of microbial passengers influence our health, and the middle of a serious pandemic is not the time to mess with that balance.
The only people bleach baths are recommended for are patients with severe eczema, and even in this specific use case they remain contentious. Bacterial infections can worsen the severely itchy skin caused by atopic dermatitis, so killing microbial pathogens may provide some relief. But you should only add disinfectants to your tub under a physician’s guidance: It’s easy to overdo it, either by making the bath too strong or by dipping in too often and irritating your skin. You can also end up burning yourself if you inadvertently add things other than bleach to the bathwater and cause a chemical reaction.
Some physicians argue that even people with skin infections or serious eczema should leave cleaners out of their soaks. At least one study, which reviewed data from several previous papers, found that bleach baths have no more benefit than soaks in plain water—and can actually trigger asthma attacks with their fumes.
In any case, if a doctor recommends bleach as a disinfectant for your skin infection, it’s undoubtedly safer to apply a diluted solution directly to your wounds instead of soaking in it (and again, this should only be done under the guidance of a medical professional).
You should never inject yourself with disinfectants.
At a briefing on Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested that disinfecting agents might be used in the fight against COVID-19: “And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?”
Reckitt Benckiser, which manufactures the popular household disinfectant Lysol and Dettol, released a statement asking customers not to inject or ingest any of their cleaning products, as did the American Cleaning Institute. Doing so will likely lead to serious illness or death.
“This is not willy-nilly, off-the-cuff, maybe-this-will-work advice,” Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, told The Washington Post. “This is dangerous.”
Drinking bleach is often peddled as a pseudoscientific “cure,” and it’s never a good idea.
Last week, a federal court issued a temporary injunction against a group known as the Genesis II Church for selling a bleach solution as a cure for COVID-19. But as The Guardian reports, this “Miracle Mineral Solution,” or MMS, isn’t new—and this church wasn’t the only group promoting it. The mixture of sodium chlorite and citric acid is billed as a cure for “95 percent of all known illnesses,” when in fact, it forms an intense bleach that’s usually used to whiten industrial textiles or paper.
The FDA has pushed back against MMS sellers before, Vice reported in 2015, but many skirt regulation by hawking guidance on how to mix and use MMS instead of providing the product itself. There’s a similar market for hydrogen peroxide, which sellers claim can “cleanse” the body of various ailments.
Some proponents of MMS have praised President Trump’s comments on injecting disinfectants, framing them as an endorsement of the dangerous therapy.
There’s absolutely no evidence that ingesting these disinfectants provides any defense against viruses, bacteria, or other microbial pathogens. Drinking bleach even in low concentrations can cause nausea, headaches, and diarrhea; a stronger solution can burn your skin or internal tissues, and can put you in a coma or even kill you. Hydrogen peroxide is similarly dangerous to swallow.
Bleach is sometimes used to purify drinking water at extremely low concentrations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends just eight drops of bleach per gallon of clear water, and up to 16 drops at most if the gallon of water is visibly cloudy with contaminants.
Even accidental ingestion of cleaning products can be dangerous.
The CDC reported this week that poison control centers received 20 percent more calls related to cleaners and disinfectants from January to March than they did during the same period in 2019, presumably due to increased use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Don’t mix cleaning agents or buy things because they’re being marketed as effective against the coronavirus—standard cleaners like diluted bleach are still your best bet. Don’t wash your produce with soap or other products not designed for human consumption. Keep all cleaning products and hand sanitizers away from young children. Remember, soap and water is still the best way to remove the coronavirus from your skin, so there’s no need to seek out more intense disinfectants for your own body. If you or someone you’re with has ingested bleach or any other kind of household or topical disinfectant, or you’ve burnt your skin or eyes with a cleaner, or chemical fumes are making you feel unwell, call poison control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.