Whether you're actively trying to conceive or desperately hoping you're not pregnant, the two-week wait between ovulating and starting your period can feel like an eternity. Maybe that's why, rather than heading to the store to pick up a pregnancy test, some women dig under the kitchen sink for a common household ingredient that's been said to predict pregnancy: bleach.
It's not clear when bleach became a popular DIY pregnancy test ingredient, but there's no doubt that many women have tried it. Simply Google the phrase "bleach pregnancy test," and you'll find countless YouTubers and mommy bloggers sharing their experiences with the experiment. In most cases, the women simply add a bit of bleach to a cup of their urine. If the urine starts to foam like a mug of frothy beer, supposedly that means they're pregnant. If the urine doesn't change or only fizzes slightly, there's no baby in their immediate future.
Kelsey Escoriaza shared her experience with a bleach pregnancy test, and three other DIY tests, on YouTube in 2017. "The bleach test was the quickest with its positive result," she says. "Before I even had a chance to stir the urine with bleach it had already started bubbling, so I instantly knew that was a positive result."
Turns out, the test was accurate in Escoriaza's case, but she says she'd recommend the bleach test "just for fun." "Although the results were correct for me, I wouldn't want someone to take that as truth and call the doctor saying they're pregnant without taking a store-bought test first," she says.
So how do the tests work? Bleach believers state that the chemical reacts to a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin—HCG—which is one of the first signs that a woman is pregnant. This is the hormone detected in a standard pregnancy test, and it's also supposedly what makes the bleach bubble when it comes in contact with a pregnant woman's urine.
While the internet is full of women touting the validity of DIY bleach pregnancy tests, experts aren't as convinced. Gillian Dean, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, notes that there's no scientific data to support whether bleach or any other DIY tests are safe or effective. "The only way to know for sure if you're pregnant is to take a standard pregnancy test," she says. "Pregnancy tests are highly accurate when you use them correctly."
There are many types of DIY pregnancy tests being discussed online, including methods using sugar, vinegar, toothpaste, and dandelion leaves. Heck, even ancient Egyptians got creative by urinating on wheat and barley seeds. (If they sprouted, it was a sign of pregnancy.) But the problem with the bleach pregnancy test? Bleach is a highly toxic chemical that's particularly harmful to pregnant women.
Some bloggers and YouTubers make a point of turning on their bathroom fans or opening a window before doing the test, but others simply dive right in without considering ventilation. The results can also be messy, with a foamy urine-bleach cocktail overflowing onto the ground.
Jenny Abrams, M.D., a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, advises avoiding exposure to the chemical altogether. "If a woman is hoping to conceive, or is early in pregnancy, I would certainly recommend avoiding as many noxious and potentially toxic exposures as possible, and thus I would limit the handling of bleach," she says.
Even more dangerous is the potential for inaccuracy, "which can cause a delay in a woman finding out she is pregnant," Dr. Abrams warns. "This ultimately could delay her decision to end a pregnancy, if it were unwanted, or establish regular prenatal care."
There are many reasons a woman may choose a DIY pregnancy test over a store-bought one, but cost shouldn't be one of them. Some over-the-counter tests can be pricey, but they can be purchased online for under $1 apiece, with discrete testing strips available for women who may not want their partners to know the results. Some community clinics and health centers even offer them for free, with accurate and confidential results available immediately.
"I know that there are historical and cultural reasons why some women choose home remedies and testing instead of seeking care from a physician," Dr. Abrams says. "In the age of science-based medicine, it's important that we investigate these methods just as rigorously as we investigate new drugs that are out on the market, as both can have potential benefits and harms. At this point, there are no studied DIY pregnancy tests out there, and when there are affordable, accessible, and accurate over-the-counter pregnancy tests available, I would highly recommend women use these instead of less reliable methods."