Oxygen Bleach an Introduction

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Welcome to another installment of the series on Common Household Chemicals.

I think I was a kid when Billy Mays first showed up on my radar. He pitched Oxyclean late into the night and I’d sit there fascinated watching the red swirl away and magically disappear.

Oxyclean is just a brand name for oxygen bleach or sodium percarbonate.

When Na2CO3·1.5H2O2 is added to water, the H2O2 is released. H2O2 should look familiar to you if you didn’t sleep through your entire high school chem class. It’s the same stuff you buy in the little brown bottle and store in the medicine cabinet. H2O2 is hydrogen peroxide. It’s essentially a water molecule with an extra oxygen atom. This isn’t a very stable molecule, things like light, heat, and agitation, can all break that weak bond leaving behind plain old water.

Sodium percarbonate is made from natural soda ash or borax that has been treated with hydrogen peroxide. Since hydrogen peroxide is so unstable, this powdered form is much better for shipping and storage.

As a regular consumer, you most likely will find oxygen bleach in the following forms: ultra, concentrated, and as an added ingredient to things like laundry detergent and liquid.

When you purchase oxygen bleach, you are going to get the sodium percarbonate you’re after and other filler ingredients. Sometimes it’s a detergent or surfactant; other times its just filler. Experiment with different brands and find the one you find most effective with your water.

Always use in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions, and do not use with silk or wool.

Typical applications for oxygen bleach:

  • mold and mildew stain remover
  • bleach & clean decks and siding
  • color safe stain remover
  • laundry disinfectant

When it comes to laundry, oxygen bleach isn’t particularly good at brightening whites, but if used consistently, it can help prevent the dulling that occurs over time.

In general, oxygen bleach products break down into borax and water, which makes it an environmentally friendly choice.

Oxygen bleach is safe for septic systems when used properly. Don’t go flushing pounds of sodium percarbonate down the toilet.

Since when we talk about sodium percarbonate, we are essentially talking about hydrogen peroxide, it’s time to ask:

What makes hydrogen peroxide an effective cleaning agent?

The extra oxygen molecule in the hydrogen peroxide molecule is essentially a scavenger, just looking for weak bonds to break. These weaker single bonds are often found in organic molecules.

When a material is dyed, the pigments are typically set, rendering the item colorfast. This simply means the colors don’t bleed. Hydrogen peroxide, in low concentrations, can be a color-safe bleach and works by breaking some of the single bonds in the pigments of a stain. Once these weak bonds are broken, you don’t see the color. In higher concentrations, hydrogen peroxide will bleach more than stains. Follow the label directions for proper dilution.

As a disinfectant, hydrogen peroxide acts as an oxidizer. Those rogue -totally not a technical term, but you get what I’m saying- oxygen molecules can oxidize the molecules that make up the structure of bacterial cell walls. When this happens, the cell walls break, killing the bacteria.

It is important to note that there is a big difference between the 3% hydrogen peroxide most people keep in their medicine cabinets and the 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide.  35% food grade peroxide is typically diluted to 6% strength to sanitize food preparation areas. You cannot get 6% hydrogen peroxide from 3% dilution, that busy little H2O2 molecule is just too unstable.

[pullthis id=”peroxide” display=”outside”] In case you weren’t aware, you’re made of organic molecules, the same ones those rogue oxygen atoms like to attack. [/pullthis] [pullshow id=”peroxide”]Yes, at the proper dilution hydrogen peroxide is a fantastic disinfectant. However it is not shelf stable, you’re paying for the shipment of water, and in higher concentrations hydrogen peroxide is a strong irritant. 3% is the only strength approved for contact with skin. Use gloves if you use a 6% solution to sanitize your kitchen and follow the instructions carefully. Just because H2O2 breaks down into water and oxygen doesn’t mean it can’t do damage on the way.

There are a lot of snake oil websites out there touting hydrogen peroxide as a magic cure-all. Some even want to dupe people into believing that hydrogen peroxide is an effective cancer treatment. Please read what the Cancer Institute has to say about oxygen therapy. On a personal note, I think it’s cruel to try to sell a sham to people in pain who are in need of hope.

Use your common sense if you find yourself short on that. Please default to the instructions on the label.

Have more questions about hydrogen peroxide? Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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Home-Ec101's Guide to Oxygen Bleach
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22 thoughts on “Oxygen Bleach an Introduction”

  1. i do alot of sewing and i love to use vintage fabric…which i find in antique and junk shops mostlly..first thing i do is give everything-especiallly anything with lace or embroidery on it a good soaking in water and a small amt. of plain oxyclean (sometimes soaking overnight). then i rinse everything and run it all through a cycle in the washing machine using no detergent but maybe a little vinegar. then it gets hung up to dry. most everything looks better, the stains are gone and after a ironing they look remarkably clean and fresh. and ready for the next project be it clothing or quilting…i also sell the things i make and find that the process i use to refresh these fabrics can actually help up the price/value of the product being sold.

    • I collect and restore vintage radios that usually have a very dirty 70 or 80 year old grille cloth. It is always preferable to save the original where possible, and a brief soaking in oxyclean does a great job without scrubbing. Good for another 80 years!

  2. Would that extra oxegen molecule make it more effective against anaerobic bacteria? I need something that is dry, powderery, effective against anaerobic bacteria (Sperophorus necrophorus mainly) and doesn't kill healthy tissue. Most commercial products available to fight the bacteria kills the healthy tissue, leaving a wide open door to a fungal infection to follow. HMMMMM……….

    • I really don't know, Lucy. I'm not familiar with the one you mention, but I must say that the detergents, fillers, and the manufacturing process that isn't centered on creating a product for use on humans or animals should be kept in mind.
      I'm not sure what you're looking to do.

  3. LOL, it's a prob pretty much out of your orbit, I think, but I woke up this AM thinking maybe this would work. I'm looking for a better way to treat thrush in horse's hooves in the extreme cold winter weather. It's the anaerobic bacteria mentioned above. As much as we clean out their feet, as soon as they set them on the ground….well, I just can't convince them to lay about with their feet propped up to air them out! a lot of the commercial products kill the healthy tissue as well as the bacteria and then I'm dealing with a fungus chowing down on the dead stuff. We do soaks to change the pH to something less hospitable for the infectives and scrub, but outside in winter in Minnesota is a lousy time for dealing with liquids so I was looking for a dry application. I'm going to consult my mentor on this!

    • My mom has horses and one of them has dealt with a similar problem. I feel for you, it's bad enough here in the muggy South.

      I didn't want to imply you were going to use it on people, but I was kind of concerned by your comment. *whew*

      • I'm pretty picky about what I will put on my horses, so if I won't put something on me it's not going on a horse either.

        Yes, the prob is much more severe in the south (where I am originally from) but treating in winter in the north is miserable.

        LOL, I wonder if I sensed some exposure to horses and that's why I like your attitude and sound advice!?! I can suss out a horse person in a crowd of hundreds.

        • this may sound out in left field but have you thought to maybe just apply honey and then wrap the hoof to keep it clean, cause honey is excellent at killing bacteria and fungus , and wont damage the healthy skin in the horse’s frog, just a thought 

  4. Lucy, are you trying to disinfect skin/wounds? If that's the case, I'd follow the doctor's advice and I also wouldn't use hydrogen peroxide. Peroxide doesn't really work to reduce bacteria or speed up healing.

    Oxyclean, sodium percarbonate, etc. don't work unless they are wet, (being combined with water is what makes it release oxygen) so I don't think it would be a powdery dry antibacterial agent anyway.

    • Ah, it has to be wet, then. Fooey!

      The "doctor's advice" is to use one of the commercial products, all of which carry the warning not to get it on yourself because it kills your skin, nails, etc. I won't but something on the horse that I wouldn't put on myself! And having used those sorts of products for 43 years, I know they just aren't effective because they cause more problems than they cure.

  5. As a chemist, those Oxyclean commercials used to drive me nuts! They are so misleading! He would turn the wash water brown with an iodine solution which reacts with that extra oxygen molecule and go clear insinuating that the same thing happens when your dirty laundry! This is absurd unless you spill iodine on all your clothes! The Borax is what aids in the cleaning of your clothes, not the extra oxygen which really doesn’t do anything unless the ph is over 9.0 and over 200° where some light bleaching takes place. Why not just use the straight borax and cut out the middle reaction as well as middle man! Borax is much cheaper and just as environmentally friendly. Just the opinion of a 30+ year textile chemist!

  6. Just a comment on continuous long-term use of sodium percarbonates in the wash… long term use will eventually put tiny pin holes in t-shirts. That’s over about a six to nine month span. I’m sure it was noticiable in the t-shirts due to the relative weight of that fabric. Once I noticed that, and found some other references online that point to the culprit, I stopped, so I can’t say what kind of damage was done to heavier weight clothing…

  7. Lucy done the horse “thing” in Va and in New Hampshire there a couple of things I have used for thrush. Grapefruit seed oil and cajeput oil (big brother tea tree oil). Neither are corrosive to tissues and very good at killing any fungus. Wrapping foot is not a great idea because fungus love anaerobic environment. The honey is good idea if it is Manuka. If you have a stall keep the horse in there packed with thick straw , cleaned frequently.(good luck with the stall thing my horses hated being indoors, even in the winter.) Bragg’s apple cider vinegar is another possible ‘tool’, the ph factor of A Cider really helps as a soak.

    • I would be careful putting honey because your horse may end up looking like a treat to some ants.

      The oil was a good idea. Have you treated inside yet. Systemic may be very bad if it’s showing on skin. Consider diet and supplementation for treatment.

      I know coconut oil can be used as a supplement in humans to kill off candida. Not sure if a horses digestive system handling high fat content but if so I bet would have the most beautiful coat after that treatment.

  8. Regarding horses hooves & thrush treatment in difficult environments:
    Seems plain to me that the key here is keep the horse indoors on suitably dry floor, with absorbent straw maybe or rubber matting.
    Possibly sand which will need regular changing.
    You can treat in dry environments, otherwise you will be ineffective


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