How (and When!) to Take a Bleach Bath to Soothe Eczema

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Like so many people with eczema, Monica Ramos, a 32-year-old from Sacramento, Calif., is always super diligent about skin care when she has a flare-up. But she found that her dry, inflamed hands would still crack despite layering cotton gloves over fragrance-free cream and petroleum jelly several times a day. It was in a “moment of desperation” that she finally found a solution, she tells SELF. She tried a home remedy she’d come across online: bleach baths.

If the idea of soaking your itchy, sore body in a household cleaner sounds less than appealing, we get it, but it’s not as extreme as it sounds. The chemical is thought to calm skin inflammation and get rid of bacteria—sort of a cheaper, easier-to-obtain alternative to antibiotics—for people with this chronic skin condition, who are prone to infections. Dilution is the key here: Picture a tubful of water with just a half-cup of bleach added (which is about the same concentration as a swimming pool).

Here’s what researchers know about bleach baths for eczema, their safety, and how to do them correctly to really help your skin.

Who are bleach baths for?

While bleach has been used as a disinfectant for years, researchers have only studied its eczema-soothing potential relatively recently. Their verdict: Yes, they do work a little better than water baths alone. In a study conducted by Derek Chu, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University, in Ontario, and colleagues, 32% of people who used bleach baths for about six weeks had a 50% improvement in their eczema symptoms compared with 22% of those who took water-only baths.1

That’s not exactly a home run, Dr. Chu tells SELF. But it does make bleach baths something to consider if you have fairly severe symptoms. He says that they can be an option for people like Ramos—but only in addition to their existing treatment. If your eczema isn’t that bad, they may be more of a hassle than a help. “If you have mild eczema,” Dr. Chu says, “it’s likely you won’t see much benefit.”

People who have skin infections in addition to the condition may also see a benefit, Latanay Benjamin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Coral Springs, Fla., tells SELF. “I’ve seen it work wonderfully when used in between flares,” she says.

You should definitely talk with your health care provider before taking the plunge. “Dilute bleach bath is a treatment that requires specific instructions from your doctor to ensure that the correct type of bleach is used in the proper proportion,” Dr. Benjamin says.

Plus, she says, other details—like exactly what parts of your body to submerge (everything from the neck down? Just your legs?)—can vary. “So the safest recommendation will come from your doctor rather than online,” Dr. Benjamin says.

How to take a bleach bath

If you feel ready to try one, here are some tips for doing it correctly.

  • Fill a standard bathtub with lukewarm water (it should hold about 40 gallons) and then add one-half cup of regular (unconcentrated!) household bleach, which generally contains 4% to 9% of the chemical sodium hypochlorite. If you fill the tub halfway, cut the amount to one-quarter cup.
  • Do not put any additional ingredients into the mix, and do not use the “splash-less” type (because it’s concentrated into a thicker formula) or bleach with any additives, such as fragrances, per the 2023 treatment guidelines from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology/American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.2
  • Soak for 10 minutes, then drain the tub and immediately rinse your body off with lukewarm water. (Be sure to use a white towel if you’re concerned about fabric stains, per the American Academy of Dermatology.) Carry on with your usual skin care routine, including slathering on a thick moisturizer before getting dressed.
  • Aim to do this two to three times per week. It may take a while to see results, but if there’s going to be any benefit, you should start to see it within a month, says Dr. Chu. It’s also okay to throw in the towel, so to speak—if it’s not helping, quit taking them.

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