An Ode to Oxygen Bleach: My Favorite Laundry Additive

Oxygen bleach laundryI’ve mentioned oxygen bleach in a bunch of my previous blog posts, but it has so many merits that I figured it deserved its own write up. Spoiler:  I absolutely LOVE oxygen bleach! In fact, if I had to choose only one laundry additive to use for the rest of my life, that would be it.

Bleach vs Oxygen Bleach

The word “bleach” in “oxygen bleach” is a bit misleading since the active ingredient (sodium percarbonate/perborate) is much closer to hydrogen peroxide than it is to regular household bleach – sodium hypochlorite. Unlike household bleach, oxygen bleach does not have the same aggressive color removing action (hence the often found label “color safe bleach”), it is primarily sold in powder form and it needs warm to hot water to activate. It is generally safe to use on a variety of fabrics, it’s septic-safe, odorless and it does not degrade fabric with use. It is also much better for you and the environment – I personally never use household bleach for laundry applications, but oxygen bleach is a staple!

Now that the difference between household bleach and oxygen bleach is clear, what is it that oxygen bleach actually does? Here is a good link that explains the chemistry behind sodium percarbonate. Not being a chemist I will put it simply: it keeps your whites bright, removes most stains and deodorizes your laundry in a safe and gentle way.

Bleaching and Whitening Action

Let me illustrate with a photo that I’ve shown before:

Persil vs laundromat

These are two pillowcases from the same set: the one on the left after three years of being washed with liquid detergent at the laundromat, the one on the right after a soak in boiling hot water and pure sodium percarbonate plus Persil

Before I got my Miele washer, we used a wash and fold service at our local laundromat. I sorted our loads by color, and they used Tide liquid, but you can see that our whites were beyond dingy. The reason? Liquid and pod laundry detergents do not contain oxygen bleach. It is unstable in liquid form, so it’s added to most powder detergents but not pods or liquids. If you use primarily liquid detergent, even if you are satisfied with the stain removal properties, I’d highly recommend adding oxygen bleach on a regular basis to keep your whites bright white.

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Stain Removal

The combination of warm to hot water and oxygen bleach give you the most versatile stain remover ever. Best of all? No need to pre-treat. You add 1-2 Tbsp of oxygen bleach (I prefer pure sodium percarbonate that I buy in bulk, but I’ll dive deeper into other options in a bit) to the main wash cycle of your washer, and enjoy clean, bright clothes. One thing to note here is that even though oxygen bleach is considered color safe, I do not use it on dark loads.

For extremely tough stains you can do what I did with the pillowcase pictured above: put it in a dishpan, add oxygen bleach and hot water (I even poured in a tea kettle of boiling water – this is not an option for anything other than 100% cotton or linen though!), cover (I use foil for this) and let sit for several hours. When you mix oxygen bleach with hot water that triggers the chemical reaction and it starts to bubble – a process that’s pretty cool to watch! But make sure you have plenty of room in your soaking vessel so that doesn’t overflow and cause a mess.

Another way I’ve used oxygen bleach was for “nothing to lose” stain removal. My husband had a uniform with a large ink stain that was several years old and had been washed and dried dozens of times. I was curious to see if sodium percarbonate would do the trick in this case. So I put the stained part in a bowl, poured some oxygen bleach powder right on it and then added boiling hot water – that way only the stained area was getting treated, not the whole garment. I had to do this a couple of times, but the stain faded almost to the point of not being visible which I consider a huge success!

Oxygen bleach plus hot water equals lots of stain fighting bubbles

One thing to note, grease/oil stains do not respond as well to oxygen bleach as they do to good old dishwashing liquid. Most other stains get taken right out though.

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Oxygen bleach does not sanitize like regular household bleach, however it does have some antibacterial properties when used at regular laundry concentrations which is great for tackling odors. In fact, Tide Odor Rescue pods use sodium percarbonate as the active ingredient. Oxygen bleach is a great additive for athletic clothes because of this, as well as cloth diapers and any other loads that are prone to leaving residual odors.

Natural Laundry Boosters

Types of Oxygen Bleach Products

I’ve mentioned several times that oxygen bleach requires “warm to hot” water in order to activate and work properly. What exactly does this mean? On its own, pure sodium percarbonate requires temperatures above 60C/140F to be fully effective. The lower the water temperature, the less effective it will be and the more contact time it will need. To counteract this, bleach activators were developed. TAED (mostly used in Europe) activates percarbonate at 40C/104F, and NOBS (USA/Japan) activates at an even lower 20C/68F.

Bleach activators are commonly found in powder laundry detergents, but are quite rare in additives. I’ve summarized some of the commonly available oxygen bleach products in the table below, and you can see whether they contain an activator or not.

Product NameSodium PercarbonateSodium Carbonate (Soda Ash)Other AdditivesActivator
Pure Sodium Percarbonate100%--No
Charlie's Soap Oxygen Bleach>85%2-12%Disodium MetasilicateNo
Dropps 4-in-1 Packs60-70%-TAED - activator
Subtilisin - enzyme
Clorox II Oxi Max Powder30-50%>50%-No
Clorox II Stain Remover & Color Booster Pods30-50%>50%TAED - activator
Enzymes (amylase, mannanase, protease)
Sodium Sulfate
Optical brightener
Clorox II Stain Remover & Color Booster Powder7-13%>50%TAED - activator
C12-15 Alcohol Ethoxylates - surfactant
Sodium Chloride
Sodium Orthosilicate
Optical brightener
Blue dye
Tide Odor Rescue Pods30-35%>15%NOBS - activator
Sodium aluminosilicate
Pentasodium DTPA
OxiClean24-38%>55%C12-15 Alcohol Ethoxylates - surfactantNo
OxoBrite Powder15-40%>40%-No
OxoBrite Booster Packs++Enzymatic Blend
Coceth-3 - surfactant
Fatty Alcohol Polyglycol Ether - surfactant
Citric Acid
Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus++Sodium Sulfate
Sodium Gluconate
Sodium Chloride

As you can see, many different products to choose from!

Liquid oxygen bleaches also exist (Seventh GenerationEcover, Clorox II are some options), but I find the powder form much easier to use and to store. On top of that, if non-chlorine bleaches are poured in the standard bleach compartment of the washer, the contact time will be too short and water temperature will be too low for it to have a true effect.

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How To Use Oxygen Bleach

I love trying different oxygen bleaches, but my two staples are: pure sodium percarbonate (or Charlie’s Soap Oxygen Bleach, since it has the highest content of active ingredient of all the products I’ve considered) and Dropps 4-in-1 Packs for lower temperature loads that require an activator. I do prefer the flexibility of powder, since it lets me adjust the amount of product based on my load, so that is normally my go-to. I would love to use the Tide Odor Rescue Pods more, but it, along with its cousin the Tide Brights+Whites Rescue are VERY strongly scented. I can’t tolerate that much perfume, so will only use it on an odd load of white towels that will get some extra rinses. That’s a real shame, since the NOBS activator would have otherwise been perfect for cool water athletic wear loads.

I will typically add 1/2-1Tbsp of pure sodium percarbonate to all of my loads excluding dark colors and delicate fabrics. Smaller loads of microfiber towels get 1/2Tbsp, and if I’m using a liquid detergent on white clothes or sheets I’ll do a full 1Tbsp, all other loads fall somewhere in between. Note that this is for a Euro compact washer.

If I’m trying to revive old, dingy cotton garments, I will soak them in very hot water along with a generous amount of oxygen bleach. I believe the cleaning action lasts somewhere between 4-6 hours, so typically an overnight soak will do the trick.

To summarize, oxygen bleach is a very inexpensive yet highly effective laundry additive with so many different uses. I love it so much that I buy it in bulk, and can definitely recommend to anyone looking for a great all-around booster.



5 thoughts on “An Ode to Oxygen Bleach: My Favorite Laundry Additive

  1. LB says:

    From one laundry nerd to another, thanks for putting this together! I have to wash in cooler water and knowing what oxygen products contain activators and the temperatures those activators work at makes doing laundry so much easier!

      • LB says:

        Tell me about it! I got a couple bags as part of my Prime Pantry order and I could smell them before I opened the box. I had to put them out in the garage because I couldn’t take the smell. *sigh* A girl can dream (of not overly scented laundry products).

    • Olga says:

      For my dark loads I tend to use detergent only – either a specialized powder with no oxy and no OBAs, or a liquid with no OBAs. Most of the time I’ll prewash with powder and use liquid for the main wash.

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