Not your mom’s chlorine bleach
Oxygen bleach can whiten grout and take the gray out of untreated wooden decks.
If you’re familiar with hydrogen peroxide, that liquid you keep in your medicine cabinet to clean cuts, you’ve heard of oxygen bleach.
While I’ve used chlorine bleach for years for disinfecting and removing stains, I’m now learning that oxygen bleach can accomplish many more tasks in a gentler, safer, and in a more environmentally friendly way.
“Oxygen bleach is not chlorine-based at all,” says Bruce Vance, owner of Town and Country Services, a commercial cleaning company in Chapel Hill, and an instructor at the Institute for Service Excellence in Charleston, S.C. He often uses and recommends oxygen bleach because it’s the best combination of stain and odor removal available without harsh chemicals.
There are at least three types of oxygen bleach, Vance says: hydrogen peroxide, sodium percarbonate, and sodium perborate. In each case they release free oxygen that reacts to bind to organic molecules and break them apart.
That’s why as a laundry additive, oxygen bleach does a good job on grease, grass stains and food. While chlorine bleach will remove the color from a garment and eventually weaken fabric, oxygen bleach is color and fabric safe and has actually has been used in commercial laundries for years as a de-staining additive.
As a multi-purpose cleaner, it can be used to clean and deodorize kitchen and bathroom surfaces, eliminating the need for many different cleaning products.
“Oxygen bleach does a good job taking the gray out of untreated wooden decks and for whitening grout,” says Vance. “It’s also good for removing algae and mildew from wood and vinyl siding. It’s excellent for removing pet stains and urine odors.”
And of course, swishing a capful of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide in your mouth can help cure mouth sores and whiten teeth. It’s a common ingredient in whitening toothpaste.
Made from natural ingredients, hydrogen peroxide has no odor and leaves no residue except water. The granulated types of oxygen bleach may leave a small amount of powder residue that requires thorough rinsing, especially on carpets. Unlike chlorine, it can more safely be mixed or used with other household cleaners, and is not harmful to children, pets and plants.
I tried oxygen bleach on my deck, but I wasn’t too thrilled with the results. In fact, there was no visible difference at all.
“Almost no one is following labeling directions anymore,” says Vance.
One of my mistakes was not using hot water to dissolve the granular powder. Vance stresses that following the label instructions is vital for choosing the right type of bleach in the right concentration for your job and handling the product safely for the best outcome.
Since oxygen bleach is an oxidizer, you should not use it on materials that can be damaged by oxidation. For example, rust is the oxidation of iron. Vance recommends that if you are unsure, test in an inconspicuous area to make sure the product is right for that surface.
My second mistake was trying to use the pressure sprayer I generally use for spreading herbicide.
“Just remember that when oxygen bleach is mixed with water, it begins to react and generate oxygen,” explains Vance. Apparently, if I had mixed the solution properly, my sprayer could have exploded. For outside use, Vance recommends using a mop or handled brush to apply the solution and rinsing with a garden hose. Cleaning preparations using sodium percarbonate work well with a surfactant (detergent) to increase penetration.
The granular form of oxygen bleach, sodium percarbonate for cleaning decks and siding, is available at hardware stores and home centers as well as online at very reasonable prices. Products for laundry and household cleaning are available at grocery and variety stores.
Now that I know more about oxygen bleach, I’m going to try again. I can barely wait to see the results of this versatile and natural cleaner.