Iron Kitchen: Bleach vs. Quat

Many kitchens in America, and around the world, all contain the same chemical; bleach. The mainstay for disinfecting and sanitizing for many decades, bleach has been in homes and commercial kitchens for as long as anyone can remember. Its many functions have ensured a lasting role in many households, but does it still belong in a professional kitchen environment?

Good for the Bottom Line

Much of the reason that bleach is still found in many commercial kitchens today is for one reason; price. Due to its many uses, and high demand, chlorine bleach is produced at incredible rates and sells just as quickly. According to some studies, the bleach manufacturing business alone accounts for roughly two billion dollars in the US economy. Liquid chlorine bleach claims top rank at a staggering 89.1% of the product segment, beating out other bleach products such as powders and non-chlorine alternatives1. Another reason that bleach is so strongly sought after in the kitchen environment is its effectiveness. There is no question, bleach is by far the fastest sanitizing compound. Even we, still use it for dishmachine sanitizing. While it is fast and cheap, chlorine bleach has a more than a few strikes against it.

The Hidden Drawbacks

Quite a few kitchens use bleach as a sanitizing agent in their three-compartment sinks, as general cleaners and much more. OSHA has issued guidelines for using bleach products which require masks and gloves for anyone that comes in contact with the solution. The reason for these guidelines is because of the corrosive nature of chlorine bleach. Once introduced to water, chlorine bleach interacts with the water molecules to form hypochlorous acid as shown in the figure to the right.2 Chlorine bleach breaks down in water


The sanitizing action of bleach is dependent on the concentrations of hypochlorous acid which increase the pH of the solution. According to a study of food safety at Oklahoma State University:

The recommended pH range for an effective and safe sanitizing solution is 6.5 to 7.5. Solutions with pH values lower than 6.0 are more corrosive; this will shorten the life of [the] treated equipment. Solutions with pH values lower than 5.0 will begin to generate potentially harmful levels of chlorine gas, and solutions with pH values greater than 8.0 quickly lose their effectiveness as sanitizers.2

Therefore, using chlorine as a sanitizer at the three-compartment sink will be very unstable and will require constant checking and re-mixing to ensure proper sanitation. Not only is it difficult to maintain at a proper mixture, but it can also be difficult to store. According to the Chlorine Institute:

“The optimum storage conditions for bleach to minimize the formation of sodium salts are at the lowest possible concentration, the coldest temperatures, and for the shortest possible time. It is extremely important that end users are aware that proper use and storage practices can reduce both decomposition rate and formation of salts. It is a good practice to turn product in storage over quickly.”

Quaternary Ammonium: the King of Sanitizers?

So, what are our alternatives to chlorine bleach as a sanitizer? Many restaurants have moved to quaternary ammonium compounds such as our product Sani Quat. Quat-based products are more stable and do not require as stringent storage guidelines as chlorine bleach products. Even healthcare facilities are making the switch. In a blog post on OSHA’s Healthcare Advisor, Linda Dickey, RN, MPH, CIC, APIC, of UC Irvine Healthcare is quoted as saying “Many facilities have switched from bleach for routine disinfection because Quat is less toxic for environmental services employees […]” 3

Not only are quat based products less toxic and corrosive than their chlorine counterparts, they are also easier to mix. With a proper sanitizing range of 150-400 ppm, quat mixtures are easy to make and refresh as they get dirty. Finally, according to a conclusion by PDI Inc., a leading infection prevention specialist, “[quat]-based formulations continue to evolve and provide broad-spectrum efficacy, short contact times, extended shelf life and stability profile, low odor, safety, and a wide effective pH range.” 4


It is without question that bleach remains a viable disinfection agent. There are no laws or regulations against using bleach in the workplace. However, when weighing factors such as employee safety, equipment lifecycle, and proper sanitation, quat based formulas are the clear winner. Our Sani Quat formula is specially designed for the foodservice and hospitality industries for easy use, and our closed loop system limits contact with our concentrated formula. If you’re ready to make the switch, speak with one of our Chemical Specialists today and we’ll come to your location to do a full site evaluation. Simply fill out the form here to schedule your appointment today!