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.

Mattress Cleaning and Other Indoor Sports

Dear Home-Ec 101,

What is the best way to clean a mattress? Dec 2008 I splurged and upgraded from a queen bed to a fabulously huge king size bedset.I’m wondering what is the best way to clean the mattress? I have a small “spot” cleaner by Hoover (I think)-and I use that to get stains/spills-thank goodness there have only been a few. But I’ve been thinking how does everyone clean their mattresses? I’ve heard of putting it outside and letting it “air out” but that’s not feasible where I live. Recently in a yoga catalog I saw a sanitizing “wand” sort of thing (uses UV I think) and have thought about getting that. Just curious as to what other people do.



Heather says:

We humans are fairly nasty creatures and we spend a lot of time in bed. We shed skin cells, which the dust mites adore and then there’s hair oil, sweat, drool, and potentially other bodily fluids. Even if you don’t have allergies, it’s something to think about. Mattresses can get pretty funky without attention.

How to clean your mattress

Let’s give a thought to prevention. Let your bed air out daily and no, I don’t mean drag the whole thing outside. Just fold the sheets back toward the foot of your bed. Take a shower, eat breakfast, then make your bed. Dust mites love moisture and if you create a favorable environment, they’ll hang out eating, breeding, excreting. . .

Change your sheets frequently, they are your mattress’s first line of protection.

Invest in a good mattress pad. These are absorbent and made to soak up sweat and other people funk.  Wash the mattress pad every other week or once a month. In the Solos house, it’s every other week in the summer and monthly in the winter, unless someone has been ill.

If you have allergies, consider encasing your mattress in an allergen barrier, these can make a huge difference if your mattress is several years old.

Speaking of allergies, your bed is a haven for dust mites.

Vacuuming is the only recommended cleaning technique by Sealy. Simmons, Serta, and Sealy all recommend using a mattress pad since stains are not covered by their warranties.

Never use dry cleaning chemicals on a mattress, not only can they damage the fibers, most are toxic.

Never soak a mattress, they take a long time to fully dry and this could encourage the growth of mildew.

If your mattress is dirtier than a vacuum can clean and still under warranty, contact the manufacturer for advice.

As a last resort, for a mattress that is no longer under warranty, consider steam cleaning, but approach the job with care, try not to get the mattress too wet, and remove as much moisture as possible with the unit. Allow the mattress to dry fully before replacing the mattress pad.

Some carpet cleaning companies offer mattress cleaning services.

Good luck and take care of your investment.

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

Bathroom Cleaning 101: What you Need, What to Use and How to Use It

Heather says:

Thursdays mean clean bathrooms here on Home-Ec 101. Don’t believe me? Please check out the printable weekly chore chart or look at the every popular sticky note right there ↑. (If you’re reading this via the Home-Ec 101 Newsletter, well you’ll just have to click through to the site to see what I’m talking about.)

What if you’re a Home-Ec n00b? Don’t be ashamed, we all start somewhere and not everyone’s parental units taught them basic life skills like cleaning toilets.

It’s okay, it’s what keeps me employed*. (Parents, don’t teach your kids anything, I’d like to be useful for the NEXT generation, too.) I kid, please teach your kids to clean. . . Please? If for no other reason to get a break from doing it yourself for a few precious years. As my own kids slowly begin taking over chores, I’m beginning to think that’s what empty nesters actually miss, the ability to cajole, bribe, or sometimes even just ask someone else to take over the chores we hate.

Today we’re going through a bathroom cleaning how-to. (Would anyone like this in video format? I can probably pull that off now)

How to Clean the Bathroom

Remember how to clean like a professional?

Say it with me: Top to bottom, left to right, dry to wet.

Before you choose your bathroom chemicals, I’d like to point you in the direction of the Home-Ec 101 Guide to Household Chemicals (I got rid of the ones you probably wouldn’t even think about using in the bathroom) DO NOT MIX BLEACH with anything. Got it?

So, let’s gather our bathroom cleaning supplies (this is for a heavy duty, deep clean, you don’t need ALL of these items every time, keep what you use daily in the bathroom if possible)

  • Broom (if the exhaust fan is dusty, you may want a foxtail or whisk broom and step ladder, or grab an old pillow case and put that over the broom straw)
  • Vacuum preferably with a soft bristled brush
  • Rags
  • Paper Towels or coffee filters or newspaper -for the mirror / window
  • Bucket
  • Mop
  • Grout Brush -if you have tile
  • Acid Based All-Purpose Cleaner
  • Bar Keepers Friend -not for use on acrylic
  • Q-Tips
  • Squeegee -optional
  • Window Cleaner
  • Carnuba Wax – optional
  • Fan -if there isn’t a window / exhaust fan… bathroom cleaning should always be done in a well-ventilated situation.

Let’s get started on page 2 of Bathroom Cleaning 101

PSA: Is Your Can Opener Clean?

Bran says:

This is a public service announcement from Home Ec 101.
Let me ask you a quick question: When was the last time you washed your can opener?*

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m the dude who, when cooking in your kitchen, scrubs the can opener before I use it. And nearly every time, I’m fighting against caked-on rusty-red sludge. Or actual rust. Really.

Help me.

Do me a favour. Do yourself a favour. Do anyone who eats food from your kitchen a favour. Please keep your can opener clean. It’s one of the things health inspectors check for a reason—I mean, you open a can of tomato puree, and as it opens tomato seeps up through the cut in the metal and smears all over the blade. Sometimes, it sloshes over the side and hits the wheel, too. If left unwashed, that stuff builds up and becomes that dark, rusty-brown home for things you don’t really want to ingest. “Unsanitary”, meet “Ew”.

Electric can openers are even worse for this, I’ve found. Cleaning them well is a nightmare—particularly if the goo has already set up well on it. You’re gonna need some elbow grease and some vinegar to get that off. If you have an electric opener and the lever/cutting wheel is removable, (unplug the machine first! and) pop that lever-piece into a bowl of white vinegar for a soak until the gunk comes off when brushed with a toothbrush. In the meantime, scrub the heck out of the main body of the opener, all around the mechanism, everything. Rinse it clean, dry it all very well so you’re not just inviting rust back in, and reassemble.

If you have one where the blade and lever can’t be removed, chuck that thing and get a hand-held one. I’m serious. Better still, if you have an electric one at all my recommendation is to chuck it and get a hand-held one. Because you really should be cleaning your can opener whenever you use it, and isn’t it a pain-in-the-butt chore with that electric one?

Manual can opener technology has come a long way since we were kids; even the middle-of-the-road brand will open up a can with less effort than you’d expend trying to clean one of those blasted electric machines, and a good quality one will open your can like a hot knife through butter. Gone are the days of busting your knuckles with some dull contraption of twisted steel. Some of the can openers on the market are actually a joy to use. …Don’t look at me like that. It’s true. And a lot (most, I’d wager, but check the packaging) of these manual marvels of engineering are even dishwasher-safe.

If you already have a manual can opener, and it’s dirty, the same trick with the vinegar and a toothbrush should work on it. Alternatively, if it’s old, and you notice it’s taking a little too much work to use it, take the opportunity to toss it and get a new one with a sharp blade and a distinct lack of food build-up. (In fact, having a sharp blade is a key factor in cutting metal—I know, it’s a shock—so if you’re having to put in a whole lot of effort, or if your opener skips or gets stuck, a dull blade might be the problem. Replace the blade or buy a new opener.)

And this time, this time, keep your can opener clean. Clean it every time. Keep the hinge well-oiled with food-grade mineral oil. It’s a tool, and tools deserve to be taken care of.

Thanks, on behalf of Anyone Who Eats Food From Your Kitchen and other interested parties. You won’t regret it.

*Tin opener, if you’re inclined to call them tins instead of cans. In my house it could really go either way.

Synthetic or Distilled Vinegar, Is It the Same as Apple Cider Vinegar for Cleaning?

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I came across your blog via Stumbleupon… I thought you would b he right person to ask this question… In a lot of homemade cleaning products people use vinegar as a component. I get only the synthetic vinegar here in India. I do get apple cider vinegar but its far too expensive (Rs 160 per 0.5L against Rs 30 per 1L of synthetic). Can I use that to make those cleaners? Or do I use the Apple Cider one?

Unsure in Udaipur

Heather says:

You’re in luck. Distilled and / or synthetic vinegar will work just fine for cleaning.

Recently we talked about solubility, it’s the amount of stuff that can go into solution. When we are talking about cleaning solutions, the stuff is usually dirt and oil. We want to the dirt to come off of a surface and go into the cleaning solution where it can be wiped away. Lowering the pH (increasing the acidity) of a solution can increase the amount of dirt that can be wiped up.

Creating homemade cleaners is playing chemist in your kitchen.

Vinegar is a common ingredient in most household cleaners; it’s relatively cheap and known to be a safe and effective cleaning agent. Distilled vinegar is your go to for cleaning recipes. You know the pH and therefore have a good idea of its effectiveness as a disinfecting agent. (Do you know the Difference Between Clean, Sanitary, and Sterile?)

Please remember that creating your own cleaning solutions is a great way to save money, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

1) Never mix chlorine bleach and vinegar.

2) Know that acidic cleaners are not safe for some surfaces.

3) Vinegar is a good disinfecting agent, but if someone in a household has a compromised immune system, it may not be effective enough.

Thank you for sending in your question.

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