Chlorine bleach is among the most dynamic and useful household products, ideal for a myriad of cleaning projects from disinfection to stain removal to water treatment. But bleach is also a powerful chemical, meaning that homeowners need to exercise caution in regards to the materials on which they use bleach to prevent damage to those materials. Bleach can be used to many ends in plumbing, leaving some homeowners wondering if the bleach is capable of damaging certain parts of their plumbing system.
Chlorine and Pipes
Chlorine is not known to damage or corrode plumbing in any measurable way, at least not plumbing that is built from the most common plumbing construction materials typically used in residential homes (with one important exception). Homes that use water wells will typically see more chlorine bleach running through their plumbing than those that use city water systems since well water frequently needs to be disinfected and sanitized by adding chlorine to the well to eliminate bacteria and other potential contaminants. When faucets are flushed after these chlorination procedures, the water may discolor, but note that this is usually due to the bleach dislodging mineral deposits from the inside of the plumbing rather than corroding the plumbing itself.
Though the plumbing pipes themselves are unlikely to be damaged by chlorine bleach, certain components of the plumbing system could potentially be damaged. Bleach can potentially damage plastic and rubber, and residential plumbing systems often feature plastic and rubber components. Therefore if you live in a home that uses a water well, or if you frequently need to use bleach in your water well for any other reason, check the plastic and rubber components of your faucets, showerheads, outdoor hoses and any other water appliance in your home for corrosion.
One particular type of plumbing -- polybutylene pipe (PB) -- may be more susceptible to bleach damage than other types of plumbing material. According to the University of Arizona Extension, H.D.R. Engineering Inc. identified that "the acetal polymers that have been used to form some of the joint materials used with the plastic pipe...have a lack of resistance to some of the chlorine species common in distribution water systems." Though the actual effects of chlorine on PB piping have still been studied very little, homes that use septic systems or that use a lot of bleach should avoid installing PB plumbing.
Of critical importance when using bleach in your plumbing is not only to prevent deterioration and leaks but to prevent damage to other areas as well. Never flush water that has been treated with bleach onto turfgrass, gardens or any other landscaped area as bleach can be very toxic to plant life. Always ventilate any room in the home in which you are using bleach, both to allow bleach fumes to escape and to introduce new air. Use goggles and gloves when handling chlorine bleach for an extended period.