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Chlorine bleach is a caustic household substance that can cause significant irritation and burns. The active ingredient in Clorox bleach and other cholorine bleaches is sodium hypochlorite. First aid for bleach burns is similar to first aid for other chemical burns.
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Immediate Steps: Stop the Burning
As long as the bleach is in contact with the skin, it will continue to burn the victim. Remove any clothing or personal items with bleach on them. If any clothing must be pulled over the head to remove, cut it off to minimize further exposure. Rinse the area affected by the bleach under cold running water for at least 20 minutes. A clean, wet washcloth can be applied to relieve pain. In between use of the wet cloth, keep the burn covered with a loose sterile bandage.
If the bleach is in the eyes, rinse the eyes with running water for at least twenty minutes. It is important for the victims' eyes to be open during the washing so that all the bleach can be flushed out, and both lids should be lifted periodically.
If bleach has entered the mouth or there is any chance that some has been swallowed, contact a poison control center immediately. Do not induce vomiting or give the victim anything to eat or drink.
Thorough rinsing is especially important if the bleach has burned a moist area of the skin such as a mucous membrane because the chlorine combines with moisture to form hydrochloric acid, which can damage skin even further. (Hydrochloric acid does not become a problem if the bleach contacts running water.)
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Does the Burn Need Emergency Treatment?
The victim should be treated in an urgent care clinic or emergency room if any of the following are true:
- The victim inhaled bleach fumes
- The victim has signs of shock, such as shallow breathing, paleness, or fainting
- The skin is blistered (second-degree burn) on an area greater than 3 inches
- The burn is in the face (especially the eyes, nose, and mouth), hands, feet, groin, buttocks, or a major joint such as an elbow or knee
- The victim is in significant pain, even with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen
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What Not to Do
- Do not induce vomiting.
- Don't apply ice directly to the skin. This can injure the skin further.
- If a bandage sticks to the burned area, do not remove it. Leave the bandage on and seek emergency treatment.
- Don't use any other chemical to "neutralize" the bleach. Use only cool running water.
- If the burn causes blisters, don't pop or lance them because doing so will open them up to infection.
- Above all, do not hesitate to call 911 or go to an emergency room if you are not sure whether the burn is serious.
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- "Chemical burns: First aid." MayoClinic.com.
- Chlorine: Public Fact Sheet (PDF). Michigan Department of Public Health.
The information provided here is not medical advice, nor should it replace the advice of a qualified health professional. This information is provided for educational purposes only.