Chlorine gas has a very injurious effect on the human body, and hence cannot be used directly as a bleaching agent. It attacks the mucous membrane of the nose and lungs, and produces the effect of a severe cold or catarrh, and when inhaled, causes death. But certain compounds of chlorine are harmless, and can be used instead of chlorine for destroying either natural or artificial dyes. One of these compounds, namely, chloride of lime, is the almost universal bleaching agent of commerce. It comes in the form of powder, which can be dissolved in water to form the bleaching solution in which the colored fabrics are immersed. But fabrics immersed in a bleaching powder solution do not lose their color as would naturally be expected. The reason for this is that the chlorine gas is not free to do its work, but is restricted by its combination with the other substances. By experiment it has been found that the addition to the bleaching solution of an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice or sulphuric acid, causes the liberation of the chlorine. The chlorine thus set free reacts with the water and liberates oxygen; this in turn destroys the coloring matter in the fibers, and transforms the material into a bleached product.
The acid used to liberate the chlorine from the bleaching powder, and the chlorine also, rot materials with which they remain in contact for any length of time. For this reason, fabrics should be removed from the bleaching solution as soon as possible, and should then be rinsed in some solution, such as ammonia, which is capable of neutralizing the harmful substances; finally the fabric should be thoroughly rinsed in water in order that all foreign matter may be removed. The reason home bleaching is so seldom satisfactory is that most amateurs fail to realize the necessity of immediate neutralization and rinsing, and allow the fabric to remain too long in the bleaching solution, and allow it to dry with traces of the bleaching substances present in the fibers. Material treated in this way is thoroughly bleached, but is at the same time rotten and worthless. Chloride of lime is frequently used in laundry work; the clothes are whiter than when cleaned with soap and simple washing powders, but they soon wear out unless the precaution has been taken to add an "antichlor" or neutralizer to the bleaching solution.