Bleach is handy and effective for disinfecting surfaces, but keep a few safety precautions in mind when handling this potent cleaner.

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5. Apply Bleach Only to Nonporous Surfaces

From floor to ceiling, you can disinfect virtually all nonporous surfaces with a diluted bleach solution. For the healthiest home, focus first on frequently touched surfaces, such as countertops, faucets, doorknobs, drawer pulls, sinks, tubs, and toilets. You also can wipe down plastic toy boxes, cabinets, doors, and sealed or painted wood furniture, but avoid bare wood and upholstered furniture. Bleach can cause bare wood grain to swell and can leave stains on upholstery. For porous items, use a different type of disinfectant that’s color-safe and won’t damage the item, such as Lysol Disinfectant Spray (available fromAmazonand Target).

6. Don’t Mix Bleach With Other Cleaners

The safest way to use bleach is to mix it with water—nothing else. According to the Washington State Department of Health, when people combine bleach with ammonia, they create toxic fumes that can cause a number of physical symptoms if inhaled, including chest pain, shortness of breath, and even pneumonia. Mixing bleach with other ingredients such as vinegar or rubbing alcohol also can produce dangerous fumes, so the best course of action is to mix the bleach only with plain water.

7. Dilute Bleach When Sanitizing Dishes

According to Clorox, a leading manufacturer of bleach products, you can safely sanitize household dishes, glasses, and flatware with bleach using a reduced concentration of bleach. Start by first washing and drying the dishes as you normally would, and then allowing them to soak for at least two minutes in a diluted bleach solution that contains 2 teaspoons of bleach for every 1 gallon of water. After removing the dishes from the bleach solution, allow them to air-dry on a dish rack.

8. Use Plain, Unscented Bleach to Disinfect Drinking Water

Chlorine bleach has long been used in water treatment plants and swimming pools to disinfect the water, and in emergency situations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using bleach to disinfect drinking water as well. An emergency could be anything from a break in a main water supply line that contaminates tap water or having to rely on well water that you know is contaminated, but you are unable to find bottled water in the stores.

If you’re concerned about drinking tap water and can’t boil it, you can disinfect it with bleach. The caveat here is that you must use only basic, unscented liquid bleach that contains either 6 or 8.25percent sodium hypochlorite (check the label). Don’t use any other type of bleach.

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You’ll need a dropper to measure the correct amount of bleach, depending on its strength.