Oxygen Bleach: Alternative to Chlorine
Cleaner Clothes and Safer for the Environment
Gaseous chlorine when bubbled through caustic soda and filtered through special membranes produce liquid chlorine. Aqueous dilution with water to create the nominal percentage strength for home use is the final essential step in the creation of liquid chlorine beach.
Used since the end of the 18th century, chlorine has been used as a surface sanitizer, disinfectant, and as an oxidizer. Its ability to kill bacteria, germs, mold and algae, and parasites is well-recognized. Through its oxidizing actions, it is an effective whitener for removing organic stains and brightening surfaces. It is also excellent for whitening agent (bleach) for fabrics when used in wash water at even minimal strength.
Chlorine is toxic to humans and pets. Chlorinated products when in contact with surfaces emits harmful fumes and by-products that are damaging to you and to the environment. While chlorine is still used in municipal water treatment plants, some nations around the world are considering and implementing a hydrogen peroxide alternative to this toxic disinfectant.
In recent years, interest in non-chlorine bleaching agents for home use has also been on the rise. Availability and effectiveness of 'Oxygen Bleach' products has given rise to consumer awareness of a safer alternative to chlorine bleach.
What is 'Oxygen Bleach?'
Oxygen Bleach is one of three different types of oxygenating agents that are considered safe and shown to be both effective and safe at whitening fabric and general cleaning/disinfecting where chlorinated products would otherwise be used.
The three main 'Oxygen Bleach' items are:
- Hydrogen Peroxide .......(liquid, multiple concentrations available)
- Sodium percarbonate ...(powder form)
- Sodium perborate .........(powder forrm)
Properties of the Three Main Oxygen Bleach
The 3% concentration of hydrogen peroxide is often also used in some brands of facial cleanser, and also used in contact lens solution. This is why these products recommend not allowing splatter or drips upon your clothes. The mild hydrogen peroxide formulation is still sufficiently strong enough to potentially bleach or fade the color at the point of contact. Like all Hydrogen peroxide, even the stabilizers in the commercial 3% preparation it loses its strength over time but likely remain stable for up to a year. To prolong the natural degradation it is typically packaged in a dark or brown plastic bottle to hide the product from direct light. Concentrations of hydrogen peroxide other than the 3% typically have a shelf-life of several months.
Hydrogen Peroxide is probably the most immediately recognized and easier to procure, albeit the typical retail commercial strength (3%) is fairly mild. The addition of stabilizers and other chemical agents in the OTC preparations of Hydrogen Peroxide are a possible concern, it is possible to obtain FOOD GRADE hydrogen peroxide which comes at a concentrated strength of 35%.
At this strength, FOOD GRADE hydrogen peroxide is also considered to be a hazardous material and therefore not readily available for home/private/domestic use. It can be specially-ordered and shipped from a select few manufacturers however however. The buyer likely must allow an inspection of the intended place of storage however, as this is considered to be a hazardous material.
Sodium Percarbonate is a powder-form of oxygen bleach (H2O2, hydrogen peroxide in dry powder form) which releases its oxygen payload when added to water. This product is most often used for cleaning and whitening of moldy and stained-covered patio decks, awnings, lawn equipments (plastic chairs, tables, etc.)
It is also used for whitening/cleaning of indoor carpets and area rugs, as well as for use in laundry. Sodium percarbonate becomes less potent over time so quantities purchased for home use should be used within the stated period of maximum efficacy.
- Lastly, Sodium Perborate (NaBO3) is another oxygen bleach agent. Also in powder form, it is effective at whitening fabrics and household surfaces. Advantage here in that Sodium Perborate remains more potency-stable in consumer detergent formulations and does not lose its effective potency as quickly.
Disadvantage of Oxygen Bleach
Oxygen bleach products cost more than chlorine-based cleaning/whitening products. Oxygen bleach products also degrade in strength far faster than their chlorine counterparts.
The powdered oxygen bleach products may require it to be slurried in water to effectively mix them. Liquid chlorine products blend faster in wash water. Sodium Percarbonate and Sodium Perborate require time when mixed with water to liberate hydrogen peroxide and borate in solution. Oxygen bleach products while very effective may require an extended 'soak' time for maximum efficacy. Those late-night infomercials don't really show the time-lapse required for true whitening of yellowed fabrics.
Also, some natural fabrics such as wool might degrade in the presence of oxygen bleach products, so care must be used when choosing what product to whiten clothes with.
The advantages of oxygen bleach of chlorine bleach seem obvious however. They brighten and whiten, and can be used with any other detergents or household cleaners safely. Oxygen bleach kills bacteria, germs and mold quite effectively.
Non-toxic so oxygen bleach is safe for humans, animals and the environment. Oxygen bleach cleaners degrade after use into harmless substances such as soda ash or borax after the oxygen payload has been released.
Chlorine products remain toxic even after it has been used and when the discharged chlrinated water enters the environment, it requires more time to break-down into lesser-harmful chemicals. For some, the reasoning is clear. Oxygen bleach products are the better choice for whiter, cleaner clothes while keeper a safer and cleaner world.