Oxygen Bleach an Introduction

Heather says:

Welcome to the second 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.

Home-Ec101's Guide to Oxygen BleachSodium 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 it’s 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 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.

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, default to the instructions on the label.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Sweet Potato Risotto with Bacon and Blue Cheese

Heather says:

As many of you know, I’ve moved. I now live in a house with a tiny kitchen that is more fixer-than upper. I spent the whole day working on the yard and wanted needed some serious comfort food. I’ll warn you, the kids did not approve, the blue cheese was too much for them, but it was exactly what I needed, wanted and craved.

Recently, I finally found medium-grain rice at the store that doesn’t have the ridiculous markup of Arborio. Medium and short-grain rice has the starch necessary to create the creamy consistency of risotto. (Around here it has mostly been long grain, parboiled, and occasionally Basmati as the rice options) Save the extra pocket change unless you’re cooking for serious snobs (why would you do that, I ask)

I’d been searching for a recipe to riff on when I found How Sweet Eats’ Roasted Sweet Potato and Bacon Risotto. Close, but I really wanted the unique flavor of blue cheese with the sweet potato, this was a good start and it gave me the idea for the following.

Sweet potato bacon and blue cheese risotto

Sweet Potato and Bacon Risotto with Blue Cheese

  • 4 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 lg sweet potato peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large, yellow onions, diced small
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice -medium grain rice will do
  • 2/3 cup dry, white wine (cooking wine will do in a pinch)
  • 1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles (you can absolutely substitute Parmesan)
  • 4-6 slices bacon cooked and chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste -skip the salt if you use commercial stock like Better than Bouillon
  • Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped -optional – I didn’t have any.

This is a two pot recipe, use one to heat the stock and cook the potatoes. By the time the rice is ready to begin adding the stock, your sweet potatoes should be just tender enough to mash with a fork.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet or a stock pot with a HEAVY bottom – using a pot with a thin bottom is asking to scorch the risotto you’re going to a lot of trouble for. Proceed at your own risk.
Add the onions to the skillet, cook until they just start to become translucent, then add the rice.
Stir frequently to toast the rice for a few minutes (3ish). Add the wine to the pot a little drizzle at a time and continue cooking (stirring frequently) until the liquid is absorbed.

Add 1 cup of the hot stock, stir continuously until the liquid is absorbed (see, I told you this dish was needy).

Add the garlic, and another cup of stock. Cook and stir until absorbed.
Guess what, add another cup of stock, cook and stir until absorbed.

Use a fork to mash the sweet potatoes cooking in the stock. (Unless you have an immersion blender, in that case go that route). Slowly transfer the sweet potato stock mixture into the rice and stir until incorporated.

Continue in this manner until your rice is just tender and creamy.
Stir in the bacon taste, adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Top with blue cheese and serve.
Enjoy!

Hard Water and Dark Laundry

Dear Home Ec 101,
I am very careful about how I wash my darks in order to avoid fading – washing them only in cold water, air drying or drying on the lowest setting. Despite this I feel my darks are fading much sooner than they should. Any suggestions?

Signed,
Dull in Duluth

Heather says

I wrote back to Dull in Duluth and asked her a couple of questions:

Q: What detergent do you use?  Do you have hard water or soft?

A: I have 3 boys ages 4, 2 and 11 months so I use Dreff for everything – their clothes as well as ours. We have hard water.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner, I know exactly why her dark clothes are fading more quickly than expected.

In addition to the faded appearance of the dark clothing, jeans will feel stiffer and even soft cottons may feel scratchy.

Why?

Hard water mostly contains calcium and magnesium ions, but other fun minerals and chemicals can get in on the game, too. Hard water is measured in grains per gallon and the unit grain is about a kernel of wheat. (I just learned that little factoid and had a major duh of course it is moment).

Slightly hard water starts about about 1 grain of minerals per gallon with very hard water containing 10.5 or more grains. (Areas with very hard water also tend to have more problems with kidney stones -looking at you Tennessee).

If your water contains less of hardness per gallon, you may find that using more detergent per load may help. Once you hit the 15 grains point, you simply cannot add enough detergent to bind the minerals AND clean your clothing. It’s time to start looking at non-precipitating water conditioners and household water softeners.

Non-precipitating water conditioners grab the minerals and make it so they can’t attach to your clothing, they stay in solution. (When particles in a solution are no longer able to stay in solution they precipitate)

The problem with this type of water conditioner and automatic washers -which I imagine you use, but feel free to correct me if I’ve found one of the few people who chooses to use a wringer style washer- is that while the conditioner doesn’t precipitate the laundry detergent does. The foam resulting from the combination of minerals and detergent is sticky and can cause buildup in your washing machine and lines which over-time can cause clogs.

Consider investing in a water softening system for your home or the laundry room alone. (Water softeners can add sodium content to the water and those with heart conditions and circulatory issues will need to take further steps and filter the water they intend to use for drinking and cooking.)

Soft water doesn’t leave residue on shower doors, in your toilets, or tubs. You’ll find your hair rinses cleaner and your skin feels less dry when using soft water to wash.

Without the residue left by minerals, your laundry’s colors will stay brighter, the dark colors won’t appear to fade as quickly, and your whites will stay… whiter.

Neat.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

Moving Is a Mess

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I just moved. There are boxes to the left of me, boxes to the right and here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

The house is pretty much a wreck and will be for some time until I can budget for the repairs.
I don’t know where to find the energy. I don’t know where to start.

The worst part? I started this website where people turn to me for advice and if they only knew. . .

Signed,

Heather

Heather says:

Oh, Heather,  Heather, Heather¹ what will I do with you?

So what if they know. What are they going to do? Write about it on some other website where people in different circumstances can giggle about it? Who cares?

You’re farther than you think. You only have one last load of stuff to get from the previous house and most of that stuff isn’t even coming to this house. You are just in that annoying place where it feels like the more you do the bigger mess you’re making. It will get better.

Set a timer.

And for fifteen minutes do things that will let you actually put away other things. Clear off the shelves in the laundry room so you can put away the canned goods instead of tripping over them.

Decide on a dishwasher already so you can have it installed and actually be able to put dishes away. Or maybe suck it up and install it yourself this weekend.

Call your stepbrother and make him commit to picking up the dining room table so you can set yours up. If he won’t commit put it in the yard and on Craigslist. Then at least you won’t look like you’re living in a bar after last call.

Ask for help to put the bunkbeds together. They aren’t magically going to do it themselves and you -no matter what you tell yourself- are not strong enough to do it yourself. But, you do have to actually ask.

Good enough is good enough. The kids aren’t going to care that you had takeout for a week straight or that you made them eat off of paper plates until the dishwasher was installed. Some people will judge, but it wasn’t their decision.

The kids are going to remember that they helped you fix the drain under the sink. They are going to remember that you let them help paint their rooms. They are going to remember the bonfire you’ll have to clear out the yard debris.

They are going to learn that it’s okay to live in a house that needs a lot of work. Well, they will as long as they see you doing the work -and while they will whine about it now, they’ll be glad they helped. They will eventually feel pride in ownership. And if they don’t, play the mom guilt card, that’s why you had kids, isn’t it?

The kids are also going to learn that if you don’t like the way things are that you make an effort and change them.

You just can’t keep letting every obstacle send you back to the start. It’s annoying and I’m tired of you whining about it.

Seriously.

Get off your butt and make those phone calls and see if you can’t at least get two boxes sorted out before you have to get the kids from school.

And hey, Heather, cut yourself some slack. None of this will matter in six months.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

¹If you’re a child of the seventies or eighties, you wouldn’t even blink at the idea of a Heather addressing another Heather. In fact, growing up in this very neighborhood, my best friend was Heather. She lived just around the corner and we were inseparable for years.

 

(I decided to let y’all in on some internal dialogue rather than sitting here and thinking I should write, I should clean, I should work, I should, I should, I should. So I did. Things are getting better, even if from the outside it looks a whole lot messier.)

Where Has Heather Been

Heather says:

Moving.

It’s not a cross-country move, just a one town over, this-won’t-be-so-bad wait, the Internet co doesn’t cover the new house move?

I’m in the process of buying a house. It’s the house I grew up in, but no one has taken care of it in at least ten years.

The upside? Cost. Budgets have been examined, what I’m paying for it, what it’s worth, what it will cost worst-case to fix, and what it will be worth in a year or so when all of the work is done. What’s the market value on sanity?

The downside that may actually be an upside when all is said and done, it was in terrible shape, awful shape, I’m on a first name basis with the exterminator shape.

I’ve learned a lot already. A lot about temporary and permanent fixes. Did you know that if there is a significant gap in the flooring, that you take steel wool, shred it a bit, pack it into the hole and use expanding foam or Great Stuff as a temporary fix? It’s definitely not pretty, but at this minute functional is what I need. Nothing unwelcome coming in to say hello are you going to eat that fixed, not a good as new fixed. That flooring will be ripped out and replaced in a couple of months, so I’ll just pretend I can’t see it for now.

The Fix It category is about to explode¹.

The plan is to tackle the house one room at a time, and get it ready to be a rental. The last six weeks all of my evenings and weekends have been spent getting the house safe for the kids and myself. I couldn’t actually charge anyone to live there, at least not yet.

There are a lot of memories in this house, some are pretty difficult to live with, but with each coat of paint, it gets easier. The kiddos will bring new memories.

I’ve been taking pictures of the progress, but I would like to have a few more afters before I begin sharing. I know that I’m not responsible for the current condition of the house, but I’m still a bit embarrassed by it.

Soon there will be tutorials on: replacing light fixtures, light switches, electrical outlets, dry wall repair, fun with water damage, water heater flushing 101, squirrel eviction, rodent control options, some basic plumbing, how to talk to contractors, and most importantly, why they aren’t kidding about using Killz in a well-ventilated area. I’ve gotten pretty quick at replacing an outlet and I’m really good at painting, even if I hate it.

I’ve started stalking the mis-tint shelf at Lowes. So far I’ve found a super nice tan for the boys and an actually not as institutional as it sounds mint for Ellie. It’s definitely possible to paint a room for under $50, including brushes and roller. (Even cheaper if you don’t have to use three coats of primer)

I keep telling myself it’s an adventure, that it’s going to be worth it.

Moving into the house wasn’t the easiest decision I’ve ever made, but sometimes being a grown-up means sucking it up and doing the things that aren’t much fun.

I hired a moving company to handle the furniture, but I’ve still got to deal with the piddly things. (What was I thinking and I’ve only lived in that house for a year, how did I amass that much stuff?) I’ll have all of my things at the new place soon and more importantly, I’ll have Internet on Friday.

Moving stinks.

¹Here’s hoping we keep that to a metaphorical explosion as I’ve still got a lot of electrical work left to tackle.