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.

Cutting Board Care

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I’m interested in learning proper care of a wooden cutting board. I use one for veggies, and meats (I use bleach on it after it has been used for meats) and a separate board for fruits. The reason is that if I cut fruits on the cleaned veggie board, the flavors of onion, garlic, and other stinky stuff gets picked up by the fruit, and well, it tastes yucky. I’ve tried scrubbing with lots of hot soap & water & scrub brush, to no avail. How do I get it clean, and should I treat the wood with anything?

Thanks!
Vampire-Free Since ’08

Heather says:

I could have written this the other night.

At home I have multiple, large cutting boards, but I was at someone else’s house preparing dinner -mango salsa and grilled halibut with watermelon for dessert. I had been procrastinating cutting up the watermelon as they are a giant pain in the rear and I hate the chore. Without thinking I used the same cutting board that I had used for the mango salsa.

Oops.

Fast forward to the next day when I received a phone call about the leftover watermelon smelling of garlic. /shrug It happens. It can be prevented, I was just lazy and or forgetful, you can choose which.

Garlic odor can be neutralized with white vinegar. Keep some vinegar in a spray bottle, rinse the cutting board, spray it with white vinegar, give the acid a moment to work and then wash the board as you normally would. Yes, you will have to smell white vinegar for a few minutes, but you won’t experience the joy of unintentional flavor transfer.

As a general rule, stick with the multiple cutting boards for marathon cooking and to avoid cross-contamination.

Wooden cutting boards do require special care, check out this post on cutting board basics for the full rundown.

For the TL:DR crowd -never soak, wash quickly with hot soap and water, rinse, sanitize with dilute bleach and dry fully. Treat once a month with food grade mineral oil and remove gouges with a scraper not sandpaper.

While we’re at it, you may want to sharpen your knife skills and learn about how to use bleach safely. Nothing ruins date night -or the entertainment budget- quite like a trip to the ER.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

Can This Smelly Freezer Be Saved

Dear Home-Ec 101,
Help!
Due to a series of unfortunate events, my small chest freezer (that sits under the house) was left unplugged for 3 WEEKS! Of course the entire inventory was a total loss, but the real problem is the SMELL. It really smelled like something died down there, and it permeated the house for a couple of days.

I have cleaned, bleached, Lysol-ed and baking soda-ed, all to no avail. It sat open and unplugged for a couple of weeks to air out It’s not as bad as it once was, but now that I have plugged the freezer in and closed the lid, the once (finally) faint smell seems stronger. I’m afraid the odor will attach itself to any new food I put in. I am almost ready to throw in the sponge and just get a new freezer, but my inner tightwad is having a hard time with that!
Heather, can this freezer be saved?

Kind regards,
Fetid Freezer

Heather says:

I have good news, there is a very good chance your freezer can be saved. There is a product called activated charcoal, which is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen to make it very porous. This means that it has a ridiculous amount of smell grabbing surface area.

There is a term called adsorb, don’t mix it up with absorb. To absorb means to take in and adsorbing means clinging by chemical attraction. See? SCIENCE! (Do you have any idea how hard it is not to do a Jesse Pinkman reference right now?)
Oh what the heck, I can’t resist, but I’ll stick to the clean version.

 

jesse-science

Those funky odors are the result of organic chemical compounds, which thankfully activated charcoal is super good at attracting and trapping. It’s thankfully much better at grabbing bad odors than the plastic in your freezer.

You can find activated charcoal in the aquarium supply sections of some large box stores and it is also on Amazon under the name activated carbon. Some people complain about the cost of activated charcoal, but compared to the cost of a new freezer, it’s pretty reasonable. It’s really going to come down to how much time and disposable income do you have to invest. If you’ve got enough money to replace the freezer and your time is at a premium, that may the route to take as I also suggest completely dismantling the freezer to clean it.

Think of the freezer as a plastic box wrapped in a Styrofoam or other insulating material and wrapped in another box with a motor and freezer coils attached.

You’ll want to dismantle your chest freezer as much as possible, without disturbing the coils or messing with the motor. You’ll want to be really sure none of the liquid from the thawing meat filtered is still inside the freezer insulating materials of the unit. Look for screws, unscrew them, and gently pull the plastic liner out. In most cases, the insulating material is nonporous.

Once the freezer has been disassembled and any missed leakage cleaned up -use an enzymatic cleaner or dilute vinegar OR dilute bleach.  Let the material dry fully, reassemble, and plug it back in. Now place the activated charcoal in the interior of the freezer and turn it on to its lowest setting. You’re not going to want it to run a lot, but you do want the fan circulating the air.

Close the door, cross your fingers, and give it 24 – 48 hours and I bet you’ll be surprised by the difference.

I have heard some people have had success with regular charcoal  briquettes, but please just NOT the kind with lighter fluid as those have their own smell and you’ll just be trading one funky odor for another. You could also crush the briquettes to increase the adsorbing surface area, too.

For those of you out there who have noticed their ice cubes taste like onions or other strong cooking odors, you may find that keeping a mesh bag of activated charcoal in the freezer really improves the taste and smell of your ice.

Best of luck, what an aggravating experience that had to be.

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

Where Do You Find that Cleaning Motivation

Dear Home-Ec 101,

How do I motivate myself to clean? What do you do?

Signed,
Do I Have To

PS I’m also ADD

Heather says

Living in a mess is like being in a bad relationship. It starts off comfortable enough, let’s just stay in tonight. You don’t need to put that away.

But sooner or later it starts to whisper things that aren’t very nice:

If you weren’t messy, maybe you’d be more successful.

If you could just keep a clean home, you would have more friends.

If you weren’t so messy someone would love you.

Over time those whispers aren’t whispers anymore. You don’t want to go home from work, you are ashamed to have people over, the amount of energy it takes to fix things seems overwhelming.

One day though, you snap, and kick the jerk to the curb. You throw out all the reminders and let the sun back in. Friends come over, I’ve missed you they say.

If you aren’t careful though, the phone calls start, I’ll get to it tomorrow. The temptation to just let the mess stay one night, you’ll kick it out in the morning. . . and you’re right back in it all over again.

Yeah, I’ve drug the metaphor out far enough. You get it though, right? It sucks. Eventually though it clicks that it’s just not healthy to ignore the mess because it moves in and makes itself comfortable every. single. time.

My motivation to clean isn’t that I’m a particularly neat person, it’s that I’ve learned that letting the mess in takes too big a toll on my energy -physical and emotional. Sure, none of that stuff it says is true, but I sure as hell don’t have to listen to it.

It takes less energy to unload the dishwasher or fold and put away the clothes than it does to hear that garbage.

The secret to keeping a clean home is simply putting your stuff away. You might have to start off by creating a place for your things, but getting into the habit of putting things away takes tiny spurts of energy, not the herculean amount needed to tackle a huge mess.

Use a chore chart to keep yourself on track and prevent the bigger tasks,

I listen to podcasts while I clean, staying on top of tech news. And when I’ve let a room get out of control, I don’t let myself leave the area, because I will get distracted. I use timers when I need to.

And, just to be honest today, my house is not company ready. Someone was ridiculously kind and gave me a couple of chairs, which started the whole If You Give a Mouse a Cookie phenomenon of furniture rearranging. You’ve been there, right?

Most of us don’t like to clean, some of us have figured out it’s easier to do it before it gets out of hand. You’ll be okay.

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

Soap Scum and Acrylic Bathtubs

Dear Home-Ec 101,

How do I remove built up soap scum from my acrylic tub?

Signed,
Scummed in Scuddy

Heather says:

Soap scum is a generic term for that funky film that is created by soap and hard water creating a loving bond with your tub or shower.

It’s ugly and a pain in the rear to remove without scratching the surface you’re trying to clean. Once you scratch your tub or its surround, you create all kinds of new nicks and crevices for the next layer of soap scum to adhere to, which lets soap scum build up even faster.

Bar Keepers FriendSince I started writing Home-Ec 101 back in 2007, I have often recommended Barkeeper’s Friend and once again it is my go-to recommendation.

Why? It’s cheap and effective. Barkeeper’s friend relies on oxalyic acid to clean. This is a mild acid that you can find in foods like spinach and tea.

We’ve covered Bar Keepers Friend and acrylic in the past, if you want to read. The quick and dirty version is, follow the directions* and don’t forget to rinse to prevent chemical etching.

*Do not apply with steel wool or a honey badger, even if he don’t care.

As a consumer you may find the liquid version of Bar Keepers Friend easier to apply to vertical surfaces like the side of your acrylic tub or the shower doors. But if you only have the can lying around, just make a paste and gently apply.

Do not use Bar Keepers Friend or any acidic cleanser on natural stone, it’s a bad idea. Try not to get acidic cleansers on your grout or it will need to be resealed more often -use the water bead test to check.

Yes, you still need to use common sense when you use Bar Keepers Friend and not rub it in your eyes -ever squirt a lemon in your eye? It’s not pleasant, is it? And you probably should wear gloves if you’re going to be in contact with Bar Keepers Friend more than incidentally. Why? Acids aren’t great for your skin. You’ll get raw hands if you spend a lot of time, cutting up fruit, too.

And finally, don’t let your kids or pets eat your cleaning products.

Got it? Good.

If you want to prevent soap scum, use a squeegee on your tub after use.

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

PS Thank you all for sending in these great questions. You’re helping me get back into the habit of writing consistently and often which is good for both Home Ec 101 and me. It is deeply appreciated. <3