Oxygen Bleach for Laundry and Stain Removal

Powdered soap for washing clothes
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Oxi or Oxy. No matter how you spell it, oxygen bleach is a hot commodity in the laundry world. How does it work and do you really need it in the laundry room?

What is Oxygen Bleach?

Oxygen-based or all-fabric bleach is a gentle bleaching agent that removes stains, whitens, and brightens laundry and is safe for use on almost all washable white and colored fabrics. Because of its chemical ingredients, it works more slowly than chlorine bleach, is less corrosive and damaging to fibers, and is more environmentally friendly.

Different brands of oxygen bleach may contain sodium perborate, sodium precarbonate, or hydrogen peroxide as ingredients. Some formulas also contain other ingredients like dyes, fragrances, or anti-caking products. When the dry bleach is introduced to water, the chemical ingredient oxidizes to help remove soil, stains, and cut through residual detergent and fabric softener build-up that dulls fabric.

When you head down the laundry products aisle, you'll see that oxygen bleach is sold in both powder and liquid formulas. Powder formulas (sodium perborate or sodium precarbonate are the active ingredients) are more stable and will retain their cleaning power much longer than liquid formulas. It is easy to use and can be mixed in warm or cool water to create the amount needed for each application.

Powdered oxygen bleach has a shelf life of several years. Over time and exposure to air, the active chemicals in powdered oxygen bleach will revert to environmentally friendly natural soda ash or borax after the oxygen is released. 

Liquid oxygen bleach formulas are actually a solution of hydrogen peroxide in water. Liquid oxygen bleach will break down more quickly after opening, especially if exposed to light, leaving only water. Even unopened, the shelf life is six months or less.

For many years, laundry detergents of all types have added the same chemical ingredients that constitute oxygen bleach to their formulas. They have called them brighteners or whiteners. The popularity of stand-alone oxygen bleaches has prompted many manufacturers to add the term OXI to brand labels. Yes, oxygen bleach is in there but in very small quantities.

Popular Oxygen Bleach Brand Names 

How to Use Oxygen Bleach in Laundry

Oxygen bleach will boost the cleaning power of your regular detergent and is often added to homemade laundry detergents. In both top and front loading machines, add the powder to the empty washer tub first, then add clothes. As with any product, take a moment to read the package directions because each brand is slightly different. Follow the directions as to how much product to use per gallon of water or load of clothes.

Oxygen bleach can be used in any temperature of water. If the water is exceptionally cold, some powders may not dissolve easily so mix with a cup of very warm or hot water first. While oxygen bleach is safe on most fabrics, it should never be used on silk, wool, or any garment that has leather trim or wooden buttons.

To use oxygen bleach in a sink or separate container for soaking, it is best to mix the powder or liquid solution with the water before adding clothes. Completely submerge the stained garment and allow it to soak for as long as possible, up to eight hours or overnight. Since oxygen bleach works slowly you will get the best results by allowing fabrics to soak for at least one hour.

Oxygen bleach does not disinfect fabrics of viruses and bacteria. Choose another method for disinfecting laundry, if needed.

Other Uses for Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach solutions work well to remove stains from carpet and upholstery. Mix a solution and blot onto the stained area, trying not to overwet the surface. Allow the solution to work for at least 30 minutes and then blot away the excess soil with a clean white paper towel or cloth. Repeat as necessary.

Oxygen bleach can also be used to clean grout between tile, shower walls, brick and exterior siding, ceramic and granite countertops, plastic furniture, and sports equipment.

Follow product directions for solution strengths. Always follow up after cleaning with a good rinse with plain water. Without rinsing, a powdery white residue can remain.