January 16, 2010
Oxygen bleach is a product that's become familiar with millions of consumers thanks to the efforts of dearly departed Billy Mays. It's an alternative bleach you can use safely around your home to clean and deodorize hundreds of things.
Prior to the mid 1990's, only chemists and those who worked in institutional laundry facilities might have know about oxygen bleach. When you say bleach to most people, they think chlorine bleach. It's been sold in grocery stores for decades. However, there's a huge difference between chlorine and oxygen bleach.
Let's discuss chlorine bleach first. The chemical name for chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite. Always check the label of cleaning products to see if they contain chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach has a strong odor, and it's so powerful it can blast apart synthetic dye molecules and fabric molecules. If you've ever spilled chlorine bleach on a colored garment, carpet or fabric, you know it creates a white spot. The bleach changes the structure of the dye molecules and makes it so they can't absorb visible light. Wash a garment enough times in chlorine bleach, and you'll notice that it tears or shreds easily. This happens because the chlorine ions shatter the fabric molecules making them weak.
Chlorine bleach is toxic. In high concentrations, it can cause death to living things. Humans can die when they breathe concentrated chlorine gas fumes. It's toxic to plants. If you spray chlorine bleach on plants or it's absorbed into the roots, it can and will poison plants causing immediate death. A slower death is possible when repeated applications of a bleach solution are allowed to soak into soil around large trees or bushes. My neighbor killed a large maple tree that was adjacent to her patio. Each spring she would use five gallons of chlorine bleach to clean algae from her patio. I told her she was making a mistake, but she ignored my advice. Not only did her bank balance shrink by $3,000 to pay for the tree removal, she lost the wonderful shade the tree provided.
Chlorine bleach can blast apart wood molecules. Wash a wood deck with this chemical and it turns white for the same reasons fabrics turn white. Chlorine beach can also accelerate the corrosion of metal. But for all these bad things, chlorine bleach is an excellent sanitizer. It kills bacteria rapidly.
Oxygen bleach, on the other hand, does all the cleaning and deodorizing that chlorine bleach does, but without all the harmful side effects. Oxygen bleach has no odor. Chemically, oxygen bleach is usually either an aqueous solution like hydrogen peroxide, or it can be a powder that's usually a dried form of hydrogen peroxide mixed with soda ash.
In powder form, the oxygen bleach is activated when you mix it with water. The instant water is added, it releases the extra oxygen ion from the hydrogen peroxide molecule. This oxygen ion is the workhorse that breaks apart stain and odor molecules. But the great news is that the oxygen ion is not as destructive as a chlorine ion. When used properly, oxygen bleach will not break apart synthetic dye molecules. It doesn't harm wood. It doesn't harm metal. It's non-toxic to plants and humans when used as directed.
Millions of consumers use oxygen bleach regularly and have great results. Anything that's water washable can be cleaned or deodorized with oxygen bleach.
It's not the perfect cleaner as it can discolor wool, redwood and silk. It's not recommended to use oxygen bleach on these things.