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Is OxiClean Safe?

Learn about the dangers of Oxiclean to your health and the environment, from SustainableBabySteps.com

OxiClean makes some big promises about their environmentally-safe product and its effectiveness. But are the claims true? How safe and enviromentally friendly is an "oxygen bleach"?

Oxygen bleach the name for a substance that releases oxygen as a way to "lift" stains.

And as it turns out, it is nothing new. If you look at the ingredient list of this popular oxygen bleach product, you might see what look like unfamiliar ingredients, but they are actually not uncommon at all.

  1. 55-65% of the product consists of sodium carbonate.
  2. 30-40% is sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate.
  3. And 2-4% is ethoxylated alcohol C12-C16. 1

In order to really understand whether Oxiclean is safe, we need to look at each of these ingredients separately.

1. Sodium Carbonate

This is a commonly used salt-based product and can be mined or extracted from the ashes of plants. It's also sometimes referred to as "soda ash" or "washing soda".

Sodium carbonate is most commonly used (and probably used in OxiClean) as a water softener by preventing certain hard water minerals from binding with the cleaner. Its use minimizes the amount of detergent needed.

It is a naturally occuring mineral. But does that mean its safe?

Yes and no. It's certainly a much safer alternative to many surfactants. But the MSDS does report issues such as respiratory tract irritation, damage to the nasal septum, coughing and difficulty breathing if inhaled. Large doses may be corrosive to the gastro-intestinal tract, cause burns or irritation with blistering and redness, and may be corrosive to eyes, causing conjuctival edema and corneal destruction. 2

It is not carcenogenic, nor is it a neurotoxin. But it is caustic to our body and if used, should be used with care.

2. Sodium Carbonate Peroxyhydrate

Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate is a granular substance made by combining sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide. Yup, plain old hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in OxiClean.

Hydrogen peroxide is not carcinogenic, nor is it a neurotoxin. It's environmentally-friendly and non-toxic.

However, it can cause irritation to the gastrointestinal system if ingested and irritation, redness and pain if it comes in contact with the eyes.3

And sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate been shown to cause acute toxicity to fish, crustaceans, and other land animals, as well as irritation or damage to the eyes, nose, throat, and skin and some gastrointestinal irritation and disrupt.4

3. Ethoxylated Alcohol C12-C16

This one is the most complicated. Basically it's an alcohol that has been industrially processed to create a surfactant (surfactants reduce the surface tension of the water, essentially making it wetter and easier to penetrate into soiled fabrics.) Simply put, it is used in OxiClean to help cleaners penetrate fabrics better.

It's been linked to gastrointestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, respiratory irritation, can cause redness, irritation and scaling of the skin, as well as corneal inflammation.

But perhaps the most disturbing bit about ethoxylated alcohol is that it is toxic to aquatic life and should never be flushed into a sewer system. Hmm, kind of hard to avoid this one when you're doing laundry.

And when you do a bit of digging into the process of ethoxylation, you discover it is the addition of ethylene oxide that creates the compound. And ethylene oxide has been classified as a human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as well as a reproductive hazard by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Biodegradable? Yes, eventually. After it wreaks havoc on our health and ecosystems.5

A Safer Alternative to OxiClean

Hopefully all this information is enough to convince you that this so-called "safe and natural" cleaner can pose a real risk to our health and our environment.

But taking a quick look at the ingredients above can also lead you to a safe alternative: hydrogen peroxide.

By adding a safe surfactant, such as the naturally-occurring surfactant found in a few teaspoons of liquid soap nuts, a water softening ingredient, such as several teaspoons of baking soda, and a cup or more of hydrogen peroxide, you can create your own safer alternative of OxiClean for a fraction of the price.

Try this recipe out for yourself:

  • 1 cup water + 1 cup homemade liquid soap nuts (or 2 cups water if you don't have soap nuts)
  • 1 cup hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 cup baking soda or washing soda

Combine in a spray bottle for a liquid stain spray, or use 1/2 cup in your laundry loads. This doesn't store for more than 1-2 weeks before losing efficacy, so make your batch sizes according to how quickly you'll use them.

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1. http://www.ahprofessional.com/MSDS/MSDS-1605-OxiClean%20VSR.pdf
2. http://www.jtbaker.com/msds/englishhtml/s2954.htm
3. http://www.jtbaker.com/msds/englishhtml/h4070.htm
4. http://www.solvaychemicals.us/static/wma/pdf/9/6/8/7/TECHPCS.pdf
5. http://www.sasoltechdata.com/MSDS/BYPRODETO.pdf