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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Always test something new in an inconspicuous place first. Always. And read and heed the CAUTION messages on any product before proceeding.