An Alternative Bleach

Modern laundry detergents are highly sophisticated formulations that are able to remove most stains if used correctly.  One of the ways they do this is with bleach – laundry bleaches such as perborates and percarbonates.

The term “bleach” is a generic term – that is, it does not refer to any one particular chemical.  Most commonly, of course, it refers to the stuff that we put in swimming pools, either sodium or calcium hypochlorite.  This is the same stuff that is in Exit Mould, and any of the products that we buy from the supermarket or hardware store that are simply called “bleach”

The difference simply refers to their respective strengths.  In particular, they are oxidisers. That is, they simply oxidise things.  Many food stains for the example are large, complex dye molecules which are susceptible to oxidation.

If the laundry bleaches don’t do it, however, there is the option of using a stand alone bleach.  The problem with this, however, is that it can also oxidise the fabric – particularly cotton.

Bleach was the only way my mother knew how to get grass stains out of my cricket whites.  And consequently, they didn’t last long.  They were polyester cotton, so they were not as prone to attack as ordinary cotton, but they eventually fell apart anyway.  But there is another option – hydrogen peroxide.

I haven’t raised its in discussions before, simply because I didn’t think it was available over the counter.  Quite by accident, however, I found a company in Wangara – Tasman Chemicals – that sell it over the counter as a 50% solution, which is mighty strong.

In comparison with ordinary bleach, there are some pluses and minuses.  On the plus side, it doesn’t smell, or to be exact, it has a very fresh smell.  The reason is that it composes spontaneously into water and oxygen.  Pure oxygen has a very fresh smell, and that’s what you smell when you use it.

On the minus side, it is worse when you get it on your skin.  Or eyes.  It stings like blazes, and turns your skin white.  It eventually recovers, but it’s a very unpleasant experience – so if you are going to use it, wear gloves.

Tasman tell me that they sell its as a booster for laundry powders – that is, you add it to your wash to boost the bleaching power of your laundry detergent.  Not a bad idea if you were using a cheaper detergent.  But I don’t know how much they sell it for or whether it would be economical.

But if you had a spot stain you wanted to remove, you could spot it on the garments.  I wouldn’t use it at 50% – I’d dilute it down to 10% (one in five) and see how it went.

It would also be a handy mould remover.

As an aside, it used to be used as a disinfectant for contact lenses – and the idea is that you would neutralise it before you put the lenses on the next morning.  Unfortunately, everyone who used this at some stage, me included, forgot to neutralise it.  The consequence was that when you put it in your eye, it stung like blazes, and the problem was that you couldn’t get it out, because the stinging sensation meant that you closed your eye instinctively.

Not pleasant.

So there you go – hydrogen peroxide is a more pleasant smelling option to applications where you would normally use bleach.  But store it in a cool, dark place – it decomposes to water and oxygen upon exposure to light and heat.

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