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Clorox: Making a Stink about Scents

cloroxLaundry bleach has a very distinctive strong smell that some people like and other people hate. No wonder that major bleach manufacturers like Clorox have come out with scented versions of their liquid bleach.

They now make “Citrus Blend” (far right), “Fresh Meadow,” and “Mountain Fresh” scents in addition to regular.

There is one key thing, however, they don’t tell you on the label about the scented versions. They contain less than half the active ingredient of regular bleach.


“The scented bleaches contain a sodium hypochlorite concentration of 2.75%. Clorox Bleach – Regular Scent has a sodium hypochlorite concentration of 6%.”  –The Clorox Company

The label for the scented versions conveniently omits the ingredients statement that appears on the regular version: 

Clorox ingredients

When asked in an email why there was a lower percentage of bleach in the scented versions and why it was not listed on the label, the company did not respond. [But see below for lengthy explanation received after this story was posted.]

The label on the scented version does indicate that it should not be used for disinfecting purposes, however.

So, if your whites smell better but look a little more dingy these days, now you may know why.

UPDATE:  Harold Baker, also known as “Dr. Laundry” at the Clorox Company sent Mouse Print* a response to the scent issues raised above on February 22, 2007:

I wanted to briefly comment on some of the details you point out in this post, and hopefully shed some light on the “why” behind some of the differences in our products, and dispel any misconceptions.

What is the bleach level in scented bleach products?  As you point out in your Mouse Print quote, from a Clorox Company source, it is 2.75% sodium hypochlorite.  This is less than the 6.0% found in our Clorox®Regular-Bleach.

Why isn’t this displayed on the label? Are you trying to hide it from consumers?  Actually, if you check the store shelves, you will find that unless any consumer product is registered with a Government entity, it will NOT list specific amounts of any formula ingredient.  Clorox® Regular-Bleach is a registered disinfectant therefore the active ingredient statement you displayed is required by EPA.  The scented versions are not registered disinfectants and therefore do not list formula ingredients. Look at other laundry products: liquid or powder laundry detergents, stain and soil removers, even fabric softeners do not list specific ingredients on their labels. Most products are mixtures of 6-20 ingredients which would require a lot of label space to spell out.  So at best you will see general description, like surfactants or enzymes, rather than very long technical names which are meaningless to the average consumer.  How would this information help them decide whether to purchase and use a product?  Believe me as a formulator, I would love it if my competitors would list out their ingredients so I could duplicate it more quickly and get it to market.   The only other reason to have specific ingredients would be for safety.  In fact, all consumer companies share this information, on a confidential basis, with Poison Control Centers to insure appropriate treatments are followed in emergencies. 

Why wouldn’t all Clorox bleach products have the same bleach level?  The Clorox Company has a slogan “We begin and end with the consumer”.  This means that we spend a lot of time monitoring consumer needs and developing products that meet their desires.  Consumer use situations and preferences vary and if you want to be successful in the marketplace, one listens carefully, develops and tests carefully and then markets EACH product to a target group.  So some consumers want strong, disinfecting bleach, while others want less bleach odor or more control of the product.  It is our job to find the best way to deliver those needs to be the #1 bleach company that consumers trust. [PRODUCT LISTING OMITTED by Mouse Print*]

So hopefully, you better understand that there are good reasons to sell a variety of bleach products with different actives levels.  We know this is true and if you check the store shelves you’ll find a number of competitors that try to copy our products.    

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31 thoughts on “Clorox: Making a Stink about Scents”

  1. Let me as a chemist throw in a rough guess: the molecules that smell so nice might not be resistant to the 6% NaClO bleach. They are probably ‘cleaned’ as well as everything else that you’d want to put clorox on. And thus they can’t make the stonger version scented.

  2. I had noticed clothes were not as white.Just checked the bottle ,you are right! nothing about what is in the bottle. crooked huh? Hard to believe, such a trusted name! What a shame!! Thank you !

  3. Thank you! I do not like the smell of bleach. Now, I know why I subscribe to Consumer World.

    I will live with the smell.

  4. When Clorox scented bleach was introduced it contained 5.25% NaOCl which was the same concentration as regular scent bleach. When Clorox converted to the Ultra regular scent formula of 6% NaOCl they were unable to convert the scented bleach to 6% NaOCl because the higher strength NaOCl degraded the fragrance. Rather than keeping the scented bleach at the old strength of 5.25% they decided to make more money and give the consumer less performance by making scented bleach at 2.75% NaOCl.

  5. I’m amazed that they were able to get away with leaving the ingredients percentages off the label. I guess with chemicals they are not necessarily required by law to put the level. I’m guessing that if it’s “pute” bleach (or alcohol or whatever) they are required but if it’s “fruit punch” they don’t necessarily have to specify.

  6. It’s still a good alternative for people who can’t stand the regular smell of bleach. I love it, I love to just sit down at night watch tv and sniff it until the unicorns and leprechauns show up.

  7. http://www.clorox.com/health_truth_about_bleach.php

    Store brand bleach is the same as Clorox® Regular-Bleach.

    Clorox® Regular-Bleach is not the same as store brand bleach. We manufacture Clorox® Regular-Bleach by maintaining strict standards; this enables us to deliver consistent performance. Clorox® Regular-Bleach is an EPA registered disinfectant. ”

    uh, right. Thanks, but I’ll trade a 50%+ savings for “strict standards”.

  8. I love the smell of bleach. Instead of misleading consumers like this they actually missed out a niche market — people who are sensitive to bleach. Lots of people are sensitive to full-strength bleach and might be inclined to use a weaker product that would be (ideally) easier on their skin/nose. If they had marketed it properly, they could have been honest and still made plenty of moo-la.

  9. >> RS wrote: I’m amazed that they were able to get away with leaving the ingredients percentages off the label. I guess with chemicals they are not necessarily required by law to put the level.
    They wouldn’t have been able to do so in France for example where labeling laws are much stricter. It’s not just another case of a brand abusing consumer loyalty, it’s putting people at risk for using a less stronger disinfectant they they have always been used to – I will check at a store to see if they were conscientious enough to change dilution directions accordingly.

  10. I don’t knpw why they put scent in everything! It all begins to clash anyways.

    What worse is a product like dove unscented soap, which still stinks and list scent as an ingredient! Not only I’m assailed by the stench of scented products, they also irritate my skin. I have to rinse 3 or 4 times in the shower everday or I will itch by midday with the odorous crap that is added to bath products.

  11. Some people might be sensitive to perfumes in bleach, just as they are to the perfumes and dyes in detergent.
    The problem with detgergent is that it is not as consistent of a product as bleach, so you never know
    whether a detergent contains what you are sensitive to. Tide, for example, gives many people a horrible rash
    but Arm and Hammer Free which contains no perfumes or dyes does the same thing even though it contains no
    perfumes or dyes.

  12. This is now the marketing trend of companies. Consumers now
    pay more or the same for less product. First it was regular bleach, then Ultra bleach with less volume, now its scented bleach with less sodium hypochlorite. Beware of the Greeks bearing gifts.

  13. You guys were mentioned on 20/20 tonight so I thought I’d check the site out. Pretty interesting info. Thanks for informing people about the fine print.

  14. I never use toxic bleach!There’s a movie called Toxic Brew that would really open your eyes as well as
    Dr. Doris Rapp, who researches the effects of harmful chemicals on children’s health. (You can find her books, including Is This Your Child’s World? at http://www.amazon.com.) In one of her studies, she tested the effect of bleach on six-year-olds’ handwriting. I looked at the printed results, and was amazed at the evidence. Before a bottle of bleach was opened, students wrote their names fairly well. Then, with just an opened bottle of bleach in the room and the fumes wafting through the air, the children wrote their names dramatically different. Some wrote messy, some too small to read, and one even wrote backwards. I choose non toxic earth friendly cleaners.

  15. This speaks poorly of the corporate honesty and integrity of PUREX CORP. Believing that they could do this AND get away with it is surprising. Apparently there must be a few dinasaurs in the excutive wing at Purex. What corporate senior management still believes that lying to the public will go undetected…and that there will be no downside? There are not many of these left…but I think we may have found one in this case.

  16. You got my attention on 20/20. I guess we as consumers have to do our part and read the fine print. Thanks for helping us along.

  17. After reading your article,I went to the market and discovered there
    is no listing of the chemical contents. I checked the Smart & Final
    house brand and discovered the same. If Clorox is CORROSIVE and
    harmful if it gets in your eyes — why isn’t it regulated? Here is
    another case of “let’s rip off the consumer and fatten our bottom
    line.” We’re paying more and getting less of the original product.

    Thank you “Mouse Print” for being a Consumer Advocate. I love you!

  18. I use the regular Clorax and I love it. In the past I did venture to try other bleach brands, but none of them stood up to what I was accustomed to in using the Clorox brand, so I always came right back to Clorex. I’ve learned my lesson so never use or try any other brand of bleach now. As far as I’m concerned, not one can touch Clorex! Since I like the cleaning, disinfecting abilities as well as the smell of the regular Clorex, I’m not interested in the scented product, and even if the Scented version did contain the same amount of bleaching ingredients as the regular, I won’t use them. Regular Clorox cleans my clothes and makes my house smell like it has really been cleaned, and this is why I use it for cleaning my floors and my bathrooms, countertops, and appliances. I also use it to clean my cutting boards and to wipe my sink and cooking utensiils after preparing foods such as chicken to assit in keeping down samonella and other germs.

  19. I have always used the regular clorox and will never use store brand. Or scented. Why change something that is working perfect? Thanks for all the info.

  20. Dr. Chemical, you didn’t explain why your company hid the content. We know it was to keep us from knowing, but why is it so hard for you to admit the truth now that we know?

  21. The comments by people who “can’t stand” regular bleach remind
    me for some reason of the line, “Reality is a crutch for people who
    can’t stand drugs.”

  22. I was in the business of making and selling Bleach years ago, sold business, 5%bleach & 95%water was all you needed for mix,more burns clothes.
    anything else or less is a rip off. fantastic profits….

  23. If it doesn’t clean clothes as well, and it doesn’t disinfect, then WTF are you supposed to use it for?

    @ VICTORIA: Most people don’t take bottles of bleach and let children inhale the vapor. Also, I was unable to locate any scholarly papers on your aforementioned study.

  24. I just found out yesterday regarding the non-disinfecting quality of Clorox scented bleaches. While I am disappointed that there is not a disclaimer on the scented bottles (at least not where it’s noticible, if indeed there is one at all and I am not going to check cuz I’m stubborn) regarding the fact that they do not DISINFECT, only DEODORIZE, I don’t feel I was ‘duped’, only a little dumb for not reading the backside of the label. Nowhere on the instructions does it mention ‘disinfecting’ instructions, only ‘deodorize’ instructions. So, the good news is that I believe that, by an un-intentional 2-year experiment with first, Mountain Fresh and then Fresh Linen Clorox, that I have PROVEN that we will not die if we don’t disinfect our counter tops after we cut up chicken or repot plants on it, or if the toilet bowl gets cleaned but not disinfected, and if the cat box only smells like it got disinfected, etc. I think that while there is no doubt that we must use good cleaning procedures, soap and hot water are as good as they were in my grandma’s days, and we can all back off a bit on the germ-scare tactics the advertisements use to entice us to purchase all those chemical products that kill germs and make it hard to breath because of the fumes. I will switch back to regular bleach for the whites and the bathroom. I like the way Fresh Linen smells – so I think I will keep using it to ‘deodorize’ my kitchen. It’s much better than all the sprays made that claim to do the same and don’t, at least for very long – they just overpower my lungs when I try to breath following the least little spray. Thank you clorox for giving me a choice – but it would have been nice if you would included a courtesy warning on the labels NOT to use for disinfecting or whitening laundry.

  25. Have you noticed that on the label of a regular clorox bottle it does not mention or list the word “disinfectant”. What gives?

  26. Scented or unscented, these toxic chemicals are killing us!!
    Read about the effects on our brains, lungs and other organs.
    There are environmentally safe alternatives. We have been sold a “bill of goods” by the cleaning products industry. They are all harmful to our health! We should insist that these manufacturers produce products that are not harmful to us!!!

  27. Why not just double the dilution of scented versions for proper disinfecting? To achieve 6%??

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