Three Generic Cleaners Same as Brand Names but Way Cheaper

Most people are well familiar with the term “generic” when it comes to drugs, a term referring to any drug marketed under its chemical name without all the fancy packaging and advertising. We know that by law, for a medication to be labeled as “generic” for a name branded prescription, it must be chemically identical to its  branded cousin.

Today I want to offer you cheap generic alternatives for these three popular cleaning products—Bar Keepers Friend, Super Washing Soda and OxiClean.

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BAR KEEPERS FRIEND. It’s been years since I learned about oxalic acid. Sounds scary doesn’t it? Like something in the chemistry lab that could blow any second. Relax. It’s not what you might think. In fact, if you look on the back of a can of one of my favorite cleaners, Bar Keepers Friend, you’ll read: Contains oxalic acid.

That miraculous product, Bar Keepers Friend, that costs about $5.50 for a 12-ounce can is nothing more than generic oxalic acid. Are you familiar with Zud, another household and garage cleaner? It too contains oxalic acid.

The minute I learned this generic fact, I went online and ordered a 5-pound bag of oxalic acid for about $15 (price varies) and marked Bar Keepers Friend off my shopping list forever. I keep my oxalic acid in a well-marked little bucket that has a tight-fitting lid. I use a pint-size mason jar with holes poked in the lid as a dispenser. What an amazing and versatile cleaner. Caution: Keep in mind that a bag of oxalic acid is 100% oxalic acid, while Bar Keepers Friend contains oxalic acid (plus inert fillers). You can use a lot less oxalic to get great response than the amount of BKF you might use to accomplish the same result.

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ARM & HAMMER SUPER WASHING SODA. One of the ingredients in our homemade detergent for both standard and HE washers (get the recipe HERE), Super Washing Soda is not easy to find. And when you can find it, it’s pricey—$5.50 for a 55-oz. box is typical. You can stop looking for it. Super Washing Soda is a brand name for sodium carbonate (NOT to be confused with sodium bicarbonate, which is baking soda). 

But hang on, it’s gets even more confusing: Sodium carbonate goes by another name as well: soda ash. It’s annoying that it has two generic names until you discover when purchased as soda ash, it is much cheaper. Soda ash is used in swimming pools to keep the pH balance in check. It comes in quantities from one to hundreds of pounds. It looks, smells and feels just like Super Washing Soda because (ready?) it’s the same thing! Look for soda ash as you get ready to make our homemade laundry detergent, which is fabulous and costs only about a nickel per load to make.

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OXICLEAN. Made popular by its late-night infomercials, basic Oxi-Clean is a not a laundry detergent but rather a non-chlorine bleach. It releases oxygen to remove stains, which is evident by the bubbles it makes as the white powder hits the water. The active ingredient in OxiClean is a generic white powder substance called sodium percarbonate. Generic sodium percarbonate is not diluted, unlike OxiClean, which is only about half sodium percarbonate with balance filled in with soda ash (see above) and inert fillers.

Since sodium percarbonate is highly concentrated, where you would use 1/2 cup of OxiClean in your laundry, you would substitute with only 2 tablespoons of its generic, sodium percarbonate.

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Sodium percarbonate is really cool stuff. It is a highly concentrated powder that releases hydrogen peroxide. It is easy to use for cleaning, stain removal, and laundry. Mixing it with water activates it. Sodium percarbonate has a long shelf life as long as it remains dry.

Sodium percarbonate is best when used with HOT water—such as mixed into the cleaning solution in a carpet cleaning machine. It is great for cleaning and disinfecting things like the cat box, the birdbath, bedpans. Mix sodium percarbonate in hot water, fill your (empty) cat box or birdbath or bedpan, and give it time to soak. Just like hydrogen peroxide, sodium percarbonate needs to have time to do its work. Two tablespoons is enough to clean a whole cat box (filled with water), or a whole birdbath (filled with water). Just make sure you use hot water.

Mix sodium percarbonate into a thick paste to use on light colored tile grout. Let it sit and it will bleach out any stains.

If you think of sodium percarbonate as an alternative form of hydrogen peroxide, that pretty much covers it. It can be used for most of what hydrogen peroxide is used for, bearing in mind it is a very concentrated powder.

The only precaution I would give you is that you may be tempted to use too much sodium percarbonate. It’s easy to sprinkle some on a stain and scrub it in, when a much less concentrated form would likely do the trick. Go easy and you’ll be happy with the results.

Bonus: Sodium percarbonate the product you want handy if you need to remove the orange mystery stains left by avobenzone, which is the active ingredient in nearly every sunscreen product. Just make sure you treat that stain before it goes into the clothes dryer, which will set it for all eternity.

All three generics—oxalic acid, soda ash and sodium percarbonate—are available for purchase. Click on the linked words to order them online. Or if available in your area, check your local pool supply and  janitorial supply stores.

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  • Mark Hom

    Since two of these items go into the homemade laundry detergent (Oxiclean and Super Washing Soda), can you come up with a recipe for the detergent using these generic ingredients?

  • elad69

    I have tried commercial and generic products and services to clean grout tiles in my kitchen to no avail. Any suggestions?

  • Bobbi

    Does anyone know of a product that will rid a house of skunk odofr? My downstairs neighbors dog was sprayed last week & though he has scrubbed his carpet, etc. the smell is still wafting upstairsinto my home. I have used vinegar in bowls with some improvement but the smell is in clothes & furniture even though I’ve washed all the clothes. HELP!!

    • John White

      I know – the question is a year old but. What you need to do is find somebody with a ozone machine. Ozone is a powerful oxidizer, is dangerous (you must leave the area being ozoned) but it REALLY gets rid of offensive odors, like skunks (most animal smells), rot, smoke, etc.

  • TekWiz

    I was looking for Zud (great at removing rust!) at Acme (which replaced PathMark recently) but instead I found Bar Keeper’s Friend, I saw it contains Oxalic Acid and remembered Zud listed this same chemical on the label. However it was cheaper than Zud. I think Zud cost around $4 or $5 but this was just $2.49 for 12 oz. I haven’t tried it yet. If you do the math, it is pretty much the same as $15 for 5 lb (80 oz) But who knows how much of it is inert fillers…

  • Stefan Ravalli

    You realize that 100% oxalic acid is extremely dangerous to use. Do you plan to recommend a safe way to use that “alternative” such that there are not burns and respiratory damage?

  • Michael Weaser

    If you don’t know for the inert fillers in oxiclean the only thing it is sodium carbonate , they add extra of that in it, because when sodium percarbonate is dissolved it turns into hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate. I have no idea why they add extra sodium carbonate into the powder, probably because it helps it clean better. Also If you see blue crystals in oxi-clean it’s just dye.