It all began a few years back with the “Oxy Clean” TV ads.
Usually these TV sales pitches are for marginally effective products, but in the case of Oxy Clean it does so well that all the leading “name brand” makers have started producing their own “Oxygen” cleaner.
Good Housekeeping recently tested a bunch of these and found that some (e.g. Shout Oxy) did better than others, but all actually seemed to work and were relatively harmless to most fabrics.
Basically these cleaners work along the same lines as whitening tooth pastes. A chemical reaction is formed when the crystal hit water and oxygen is formed along with hydrogen peroxide (a bleaching agent used on teeth) and soda ash, which can be a skin irritant, plus it is also not good for some fabrics such as silk or wool.
Some rug makers actually encourage you to use these cleaners to remove spots and rug spots are one of the high points of success with these products.
What these products don’t do is instantly clean anything like they show you on TV. Spill some grape juice on a white rug and any given “oxygen” clean won’t clear it away in seconds flat. You have mix the crystals with water, soak down the rug with it, wipe, let dry and vacuum. The whole process takes several hours and you may have to apply the oxygen cleaner a second time.
We tried some on yellowing whites in the laundry. We put a whole scoop into a few inches of warm water and let the clothes soak for a short while (you’re supposed to wait at least 30 minutes, we didn’t), then we filled the rest of the machine with water and added our soap.
The clothes still came out yellow-brown, but they did seem a little lighter in the stained area.
We took the same white cottons two weeks later and soaked them in a scoop of "oxygen" cleaner in a gallon of cool water for over and hour and a considerable amount of stain and grime was removed. Equal to what chlorine bleach is capable of doing, so if you follow the instructions to the letter you will see some results, just not the instant clean you see in those TV commercials!
One of the nice things about these cleaners is that unlike bleaches they don’t weak the fabric nor fade the colors. They also don’t smell, plus they are relatively “environment safe.”
On the negative side a by-product of the reaction is “soda ash” which is somewhat harsh to the skin and certain fabrics. This is the same stuff found in industrial type A fire extinguishers.
When you dissolve the cleaning crystals in water extra oxygen is released, thus you can’t put the liquid into a sealed bottle lest it potentially burst. This oxygen and the resulting peroxide work as a bleaching agent that is not as harsh to the fabrics as chorine bleach, but also doesn’t brighten as much or as quickly.
These products vary widely in price. We used one from “Sun” priced at 88 cents for a full pound. Some other brands cost as much as several dollars for a lesser size container.
Good housekeeping found that some spray pre-cleaners worked better on some stains than the oxygen cleaners.
One of the toughest stains to remove was ink and many of the oxygen cleaners didn’t far to well with this stain at all!
One of the very, very white pieces of clothing we washed got very white, however we also put liquid detergent directly only the collar, pocket tops and button area where the dirt and grim was the worst.
In our tests the combination of oxygen cleaner and common liquid detergent did better than pre-treating with lemon juice followed by liquid detergent.