A Peek Into OxiClean’s Ingredients Proves it’s a Powerful Laundry Staple Everyone Should Have at Home
I use OxiClean for everything and it has never failed me. It’s the only way I’ve been able to clean my white shag rug and it’s saved many of my husband’s favorite work shirts. I always felt somewhat guilty for using it because I thought that since it worked so well it must be filled with harsh chemicals, fragrances and dyes.
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I finally decided to face my guilty cleaning demons and find out what was in my favorite cleaner and was pleasantly surprised with what I discovered.
The OxiClean product information page clues us in to four key ingredients in its formula: sodium percarbonate, sodium carbonate, surfactants and polymer. Let’s dig in deeper to what each one does.
Sodium Percarbonate and Sodium Carbonate
OxiClean’s most important active ingredient is sodium percarbonate: Which is basically dry/powdered hydrogen peroxide plus washing soda. Washing soda is also called sodium carbonate, which is very similar to but not exactly baking soda.
When we asked laundry expert Patric Richardson to recommend a homemade substitute that was the most chemically similar to OxiClean, he told us to mix hydrogen peroxide with washing soda. You can add that mixture to the laundry to remove organic stains or brighten a load, the same way you would OxiClean, but you’d have to use it right away. Richardson said that once the homemade mix touches water, it off-gases oxygen and loses its effectiveness.
The next ingredient on OxiClean’s ingredients list is a surfactant. Surfactants are a category of substance that forms the backbone of almost every cleaner you use at home. They’re designed to reduce the surface tension of water, allowing the water and your cleaner to better penetrate whatever it is you’re cleaning (i.e. fabric). The surfactant molecule also features both hydrophillic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-fearing) ends. Those double-ended molecules form micelles that cling to dirt on the hydrophobic ends, then using the hydrophillic ends to clear away the dirt with the wash water.
If you’re interested in learning more, this article from the American Cleaning Institute does a great job at explaining how surfactants work.
The reason OxiClean has such a lasting shelf life compared to Richardson’s closest guess at a homemade solution might be due to another element that the makers of OxiClean lists among its ingredients: polymer. Polymers are chemical compounds, and without knowing more about OxiClean’s specific polymer, we’d guess it’s there to stabilize the mixture and provide a longer shelf life.
That brings me to another point: It’s impossible to know every detail about every ingredient in OxiClean. Most cleaning companies will often keep the formula of their solutions a proprietary secret. And contrary to popular belief, cleaning products aren’t regulated by the FDA, which would require them to disclose full ingredients lists, since they’re not intended for human consumption or skin application.
So while these four ingredients are things we know are included in OxiClean’s formula, there’s likely to be more. For example, OxiClean sells both a regular and “free” version of it’s powdered formula: the free version claims to be free of dyes and fragrances, which seems to imply that the regular formula contains both.