SAN FRANCISCO - Clorox has apologized for a social media misstep after the household products company sparked outrage by tweeting "where's the bleach" in reference to last week's introduction of new "emoji" cartoons for iPhones that include several faces of people with black and brown skin.

The maker of Clorox bleach and other products says it was attempting a humorous reference to other emoji symbols for objects like toilets and bathtubs that people use bleach to clean.

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But the corporate Twitter post hit a nerve when news reports and online discussions were focusing on the new collection of racially diverse faces that have been added to the symbols people can use in emails and text messages.

"I didn't think it was malicious, but impact negates intent. This is someone being thoughtless, and really not focused on what was trending that day," said Jazzmen Knoderer, a 29-year-old program coordinator at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She joined other Twitter users in posting her dismay about the Clorox tweet after it spread online last week.

Clorox, based in Oakland, California, tried to make amends with another post that said, "Wish we could bleach away our last tweet. Didn't mean to offend."

The company also apologized in a statement Saturday that added, "We did not mean for this to be taken as a specific reference to the diversity emojis -- but we should have been more aware of the news around this. The tweet was meant to be lighthearted -- about having an emoji shaped like a bleach bottle to represent doing laundry or cleaning -- but it fell flat."

The gaffe is only the latest example of companies like AT&T and Kenneth Cole that have sparked controversy or offense on social media. DiGiorno Pizza apologized last fall for a tweet about having pizza, which used a hashtag — #whyistayed — that others had adopted for discussions about the dilemma faced by women in abusive relationships.