What's so good about natural bleach?
Natural bleach is an environmentally friendly and biodegradable chlorine-free bleach. Unlike chlorine bleach, it does not persist in water systems or harm aquatic life when disposed of down the drain, and is safe to use around food areas.
Natural bleach (also called oxygen bleach or green bleach) is simply sodium percarbonate, which is made up of sodium carbonate (soda ash) and hydrogen peroxide (a bleaching agent). It is supplied as an inert powder which is only activated by water.
When dissolved in water, the sodium percarbonate quickly breaks down and releases oxygen, sodium carbonate and water. This makes it great at removing stains, deodorising and disinfecting, whilst still being harmless to the environment. It is also considered safe for use with septic tanks.
You can use natural bleach anywhere around the home as a replacement for chlorine bleach, but here are five quick ideas to get you started:
give your wash a boost
Natural bleach is particularly effective in the laundry. It is safe to use with all fabric types with the exception of silk and wool. Unlike chlorine bleach, it lifts dirt and stains without actually bleaching the fabric, so it's suitable for coloured and dark fabrics, not just whites.
If you have a laundry load that's unusually dirty, or particularly smelly, natural bleach works really well as a simple boost to your normal detergent.
To use natural bleach as a general laundry boost:
Add 1 to 2 tablespoons (depending on how soiled the items are) of natural bleach powder to the dispenser drawer of your washing machine, along with the usual dosage of your standard laundry detergent.
Run the wash cycle as normal.
Top tip: Washing your recent acquisitions from the thrift store with a dash of natural bleach added to your normal laundry detergent is a great way to perk up dulled colours and remove any lingering musty smells.
Remove stains from fabric
To brighten whites, remove yellowing and lift most stains, natural bleach is most effective as a pre-soak:
Mix 2 to 4 tablespoons of natural bleach powder in 4 litres of warm water. Stir well until the powder is all dissolved.
Add the clothes to the liquid and leave to soak for as long as possible, up to 6 hours.
Stir occasionally to ensure that all parts of the fabric are submerged.
Remove the clothes from the soaking liquid then wash as normal, to enjoy brighter whites and coloureds.
Top tip: For items that are too fragile or are otherwise unsuitable to go in the washing machine, soaking them in a natural bleach solution as described above is a good way to get them clean. This is a particularly good way to clean soft toys and precious cuddlies which can't go through the wash. Make sure to rinse them thoroughly afterwards.
For the most stubborn stains you can use natural bleach as a paste to spot treat specific areas. To spot treat stains with natural bleach:
Mix up a paste of natural bleach powder and a little warm water.
Leave the paste to stand for 15 minutes in order for it to fully activate (it should froth a little).
Dab the paste onto the stained area of fabric* and gently rub it in. Leave it to get to work on the stain for 15 minutes.
Wash the item as normal.
* Natural bleach is generally safe to use on all fabrics other than wool and silk, but if your item is particularly delicate or precious, spot test the bleach paste on an inconspicuous area first.
as a general disinfectant
You can use natural bleach just like standard (chlorine) bleach, to clean toilets and disinfect surfaces.
Simply mix a couple of spoonfuls of natural bleach powder with warm water (about 4 tablespoons per litre of water, but follow the instructions on your packet).
Stir well until the powder has dissolved and is just starting to froth.
Either pour the natural bleach solution directly onto areas that need cleaning (such as the toilet bowl) or decant it into a spray bottle to use as a surface cleaner.
After applying the natural bleach to a surface, leave it to work for 10-15 minutes before scrubbing, wiping or rinsing off.
Note that unlike chlorine bleach, natural bleach breaks down into its consituent parts and becomes inactive within 4 to 6 hours, so you need to mix up a fresh batch of natural bleach for each cleaning session. You can't mix up a large batch and save some in a bottle for another day.
Remove stains from crockery and plastic
As well as removing stains from fabric, natural bleach is also very effective at removing discolouration from inside mugs, vases, plastic containers etc. It is particularly good at getting rid of tea and coffee stains!
To clean cups, mugs, teapots and vases:
Tip a couple of teaspoons of natural bleach into each item (use more for larger items like vases and teapots), then top up with hot water. Don't fill them quite to the brim as the natural bleach will froth up a little as it gets to work.
Stir well to make sure all the powder has dissolved, then leave the natural bleach to get to work. For light staining in cups and mugs this might take only 15 minutes or so, for more extensive staining you may need to leave the solution for up to an hour. For a deeply stained teapot you may need a couple of hours.
Once the stains have disappeared, pour away the bleach solution, and rinse well.
To clean plastic containers:
Tip a couple of teaspoons of natural bleach into the container (use a little more for larger items), then top up with warm water remembering to leave a little space for the natural bleach to froth up. Don't use boiling or very hot water as this may damage the plastic.
Stir well to dissolve the powder. This will take a little longer than when using hot water.
Leave the natural bleach to get to work. Check after 15 minutes to see how it's going, and leave for up to an hour if necessary.
Once the discolouration is gone, pour away the bleach solution and rinse the item well before use.
Deodorise sinks and drains
If the plug hole in your sink is getting a bit smelly, or your waste disposal is less than fresh, you can use natural bleach to deodorise your drains and keep them free flowing.
To freshen your plug hole and clean your drains with natural bleach:
Tip 2 to 3 tablespoons of natural bleach into the offending plug hole (or waste disposal).
Gently pour over roughly half a litre of very hot water.
Leave to get to work for at least 15 minutes for simple freshening, and ideally for longer so that the natural bleach has time to take effect.
Rinse through with plenty of hot water.
The above method will also deal with most minor blockages or slow draining sinks. If it doesn't improve the flow the first time, try repeating the steps but using a larger quantity of bleach in Step 1 above, and then leave it to sit in the drain for much longer before rinsing through.
The above are just a few examples of how to use natural bleach around the home. Natural bleach has many more possible applications, for example you can use it to:
sterilise home brewing and home preserving equipment*
clean out fish tanks and bird feeders*
clean and deodorise litter trays*
remove mildew stains from shower curtains
clean garden furniture
* Natural bleach is non-toxic once dissolved so any remaining traces are harmless, however make sure that you rinse the items well afterwards to be on the safe side.
For ideas and instructions for more homemade cleaning solutions:
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