Strategies for Meeting Sodium Hypochlorite Specifications in the Drinking Water Industry

  • Gilbert Gordon
  • Department of Chemistry
  • Miami University
  • Oxford, OH 45056


Sodium Hypochlorite (bleach) manufacturers are now frequently required to provide high quality sodium hypochlorite with limits on chlorate ion and transition metal ions. Sodium hypochlorite "decomposes" by two mechanisms. The first is the 2nd order process that forms chlorate ion:

3OCl- → ClO3- + 2Cl-

In the presence of transition metal ions, decomposing bleach forms oxygen:

3OC- + OCl- → O2 + 2Cl-

Large municipalities are requiring that delivered sodium hypochlorite (9 to 16 wt% NaOCl) have between 0.1 - 0.4 wt% excess caustic, <1,500 mg/L ClO3-, <0.5 mg/L iron and <0.05 mg/L nickel and copper. Important considerations for minimizing ClO3 formation include:

  • pH (i.e. excess caustic)
  • dilution (decomposition is 2nd order with respect to OCl-)
  • and temperature control.

Sodium Hypochlorite filtering produces stable, high quality bleach by removing inert sediments which impart off-color and turbidity to the bleach. Filtration with the proper filter-aid materials can be used to precipitate soluble metal ion species of Fe, Ni, and Cu and helps to reduce the coating of pumps/piping and the accumulation of heavy metal sludge on tank bottoms. It also reduces the potential for the catalytic formation of oxygen and pressure build-up in bleach containers. The analysis of 15% bleach before and after filtration shows a reduction of iron from 2-3 ppm to <0.3 mg/L. The same kind of reduction was observed for nickel ion (0.5 to <0.01 ppm).


Sodium Hypochlorite loses its strength by two decomposition pathways. The more dominant pathway leads to the formation of chlorate ion. A slower, second bleach decomposition pathway leads to oxygen formation.

Chlorate Ion (ClO3) Formation:

The rate of bleach decomposition between pH 11 and 13 is: rate = k2[OCl-]2 with the following stoichiometry:

3OCl- → ClO3- + 2Cl-

The decomposition of OCl- involves chlorite ion (ClO2-) as an intermediate in the following generally accepted mechanism:

OCl- + OCl- → ClO2- + Cl- OCl- + ClO2 → ClO3- + Cl-

More Information:

This article is available as a PDF. Click here to download it. For more information about sodium hypochlorite, visit the Technical Information section.

Additional Information Contained in this document includes:

  • Delivery Locations
  • Sampling and Testing Prior to Unloading
  • Sampling and Test of Shipment after Unloading
  • Specifications of Material
  • Manufacturer's Laboratory Reports
  • Approved Testing Agency
  • Specifying Personnel