Oxygen cleaners use the powerful reactivity of oxygen to drive out smells, remove stains, and even kill bacteria and mold. Unlike other cleaning methods that require detergents or chemicals that need to be rinsed off or removed, many oxygen cleaners produce harmless, breathable oxygen after they have done their job.
In the air we breathe, oxygen is present as a molecule with two atoms. Called dioxygen, this molecule is very stable. In order to be able to use oxygen as a cleaner, the oxygen atoms need to be made to be more reactive. There are a few different ways to produce reactive oxygen.
Peroxide cleaners provide reactive oxygen by delivering an unstable oxygen-to-oxygen bond through a water solution. Hydrogen peroxide, for example, is an unstable oxygen cleaner. This is why hydrogen peroxide is sold in dark bottles, and at low concentrations. In a clear bottle, the hydrogen peroxide would decompose into water and oxygen before it was able to be used. In higher concentrations, the result of the hydrogen peroxide decomposing could be an explosion1. Other peroxide cleaners use a water-soluble solid that is relatively stable until mixed with water. When mixed with water, the peroxide becomes reactive.
Another method for producing reactive oxygen is with an ozone machine. An ozone molecule has three oxygen atoms instead of two, and this makes it very reactive. An ozone generator uses electricity to ionize oxygen and create ozone. Since ozone decays so quickly, ozone disinfection requires the ozone cleaner to be used in close proximity to the area of items being treated.
Uses of oxygen cleaners
The way oxygen reacts means it is effective against many complex molecules. For example, stains on fabrics may be insoluble in water because the molecule that creates the discoloration is adhered to the fibers. Oxygen can react with the molecule and change it so that it is either invisible, or becomes soluble and washes out. Reactive oxygen also damages living things like bacteria and mold. This is why hydrogen peroxide is used as an antiseptic: the reactive oxygen kills bacteria.
In many situations where using a liquid might damage the item or area being treated, ozone can be used. Ozone exists as a gas, which means it can penetrate small areas and diffuse through surfaces. Ozone cleaners also have the advantage of not requiring any sort of replacement chemicals to be effective. This can be a huge plus if cleaning something every day, like a CPAP machine. A machine to clean CPAP masks or tubes that uses a chemical solution that has to be replenished could end up going unused, leading to a dirty CPAP.
What’s the difference between oxygen bleach and chlorine bleach?
Bleaching involves breaking chemical bonds through some process, whether it be with light or with chemicals. Sun bleaching occurs when something is exposed to sunlight for long lengths of time, allowing chemicals to be damaged by the light. Chemical bleaching achieves the same thing, but uses a chemical bleach such as chlorine or oxygen-based bleaches. Chlorine bleach uses chlorine as the reactive chemical, and oxygen bleach uses oxygen to drive the reaction. While chlorine has a distinctive smell, oxygen bleaches release pure oxygen as the result of the bleaching process.
Is borax the same as oxygen bleach?
No, borax is not the same as oxygen bleach. Borax, the common name for sodium and boric acid salts, is a detergent. Detergents clean by allowing oils and greases to mix with water. Detergents do not necessarily cause a chemical reaction in the materials they clean; they simply help the oily parts of stain dissolve and get carried away. Oxygen bleaches, on the other hand, actually chemically react with the molecules that make up stains. The reaction causes the colors of the stains to either be broken down into invisible components, or to become water soluble and rinse out.2
Is oxygen bleach the same as hydrogen peroxide?
Hydrogen peroxide is an oxygen bleach, but the term “oxygen bleach” encompasses other chemicals as well. It’s the same way apples are a type of fruit, but not all fruits are apples. Oxygen bleaching uses the fact that peroxides, two oxygen atoms in an unstable bonding arrangement, easily break apart and expose reactive oxygen to whatever is being bleached. Hydrogen peroxide is one method of peroxide bleaching and oxygen bleaching.
Master Sources List for Oxygen Cleaners