for Veterans and the Public
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will cleaning IV-drug needles and syringes with bleach before using them prevent you from getting HIV?
You can be infected with HIV if you use needles and syringes contaminated with blood from a person who is HIV positive. One way to avoid getting HIV from IV drug use is to stop injecting drugs. Another effective way is to always use new, sterile syringes and needles and also to be sure not to use any shared injecting equipment (cookers, spoons, cottons, etc.). But what if you can't get into a drug treatment program, it hasn't worked for you, or you can't get your hands on sterile equipment?
There is some evidence that cleaning your needles and syringes with laundry bleach can lower your risk of getting HIV. In laboratory studies, HIV in syringes was killed after contact with undiluted bleach for at least 30 seconds. Watered-down bleach did not work, and neither did contact with bleach for less than 30 seconds.
Does this process work outside the lab? It's hard to know, because this is very difficult to study. But it's probably a lot better than not doing anything at all to kill the HIV in drug-injecting equipment.
Note: It is important to rinse the syringes and needles with water after cleaning them with bleach, so that you won't inject the bleach into your body. And how do you know when 30 seconds are up? Use a watch or a clock, or hum the song "Happy Birthday to You," all the way through, three times over.