Most people are well familiar with the term “generic” when it comes to medications, a term referring to any drug marketed under its chemical name without all the fancy packaging and advertising.
Today I want to offer you cheap generic alternatives for these three popular cleaning products—Bar Keepers Friend, Super Washing Soda, and OxiClean.
1. 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, a 12-ounce can is highly diluted 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 2-pound bag of oxalic acid (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 standard pint-size mason jar with a shaker lid as a dispenser and use it most sparingly to clean pots and pans, my stainless steel sink and so muc more—while wearing gloves, keeping in mind that it is highly concentrated—much more than Bar Keepers Friend or Zud.
Mixing oxalic acid for household use is simple and takes just a few moments to complete. The strength of the oxalic mixture depends on the cleaning and bleaching needs of the project.
Oxalic acid is often used to bleach stained wood (NOT used with bleach but used to bleach; read that again). Here’s a quick tutorial from our friends at Hunker on how to do that.
How to bleach wood with oxalic acid
Oxalic acid paste
Step 1. Mix three parts oxalic acid crystals with one part warm water to create an oxalic acid paste. The paste can be used on wood with dark stains created by watermarks. This paste can also be used as a spot treatment but should not be used to cover an entire surface. Work on a small area at a time.
Step 2. Apply the paste to the stained areas with a paintbrush and allow it to dry.
Step 3. Remove the oxalic acid paste with a wet sponge. Thoroughly clean or discard the sponge after removing the oxalic acid paste.
Oxalic acid wash
Step 1. Create an oxalic acid wash to bleach larger sections of wood that do not require the deep bleaching the oxalic paste creates. For small areas mix 1 ounce of oxalic acid with one-cup warm water. For larger areas mix 8 ounces of oxalic acid crystals with one-quart warm water.
Step 2. Apply the wash to the wood surface using a sponge. The wash will bleach the surface of the wood evenly. It is important to cover all areas of the wood to achieve the desired result. Be certain to get the wash in trim pieces and into corner pieces.
Step 3. Remove oxalic acid wash with a clean sponge and clean water.
Keep in mind that a bag or bucket of oxalic acid is 99.6% oxalic acid, while Bar Keepers Friend contains less than 10% oxalic acid (plus inert fillers). Oxalic acid in its pure form should be considered toxic and corrosive and should be carefully handled. Label clearly, store well out of reach of children and pets. Read the label thoroughly and respond accordingly.
You can use far less oxalic acid to get a great outcome than the amount of BKF you might use to accomplish the same result. Please make sure you always wear gloves when using either BKF or oxalic acid! You should also use protective glasses and a dust mask to avoid eye irritation and to prevent the noxious fumes from getting into your lungs. Always mix oxalic acid in an area that is well-ventilated—preferably outdoors.
2. Super Washing Soda
One of the ingredients in our homemade detergent for both standard and HE washing machines, Super Washing Soda is not always easy to find. And when you can find it, it can be pricey. Super Washing Soda is a brand name for sodium carbonate (which is NOT edible and should NOT be confused with sodium bicarbonate, which is baking soda).
- MORE: How to Make the Best Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent
- MORE: How to Make the Best Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent
But hang on, it 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 can be much cheaper. Super Washing Soda used to be easily found in supermarkets and discounts stores. But it’s disappearing from many such locations.
Soda ash is used in swimming pools to keep the pH balance in check. It is also used in the textile industry to “fix” dyes. It comes in quantities from one to hundreds of pounds. It looks, smells and feels just like Super Washing Soda because (ready?) it’s exactly 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 when you make it yourself.
Made popular by its late-night infomercials, basic OxiClean is 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 the balance filled made up of 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.
To be clear, sodium percarbonate releases hydrogen peroxide and soda ash. As we know, hydrogen peroxide breaks down into oxygen and water. As you may expect, then, sodium percarbonate breaks down into oxygen, water, and soda ash.
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.
How to use
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 are sufficient 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 stains.
If you think of sodium percarbonate as an alternative form of hydrogen peroxide, that pretty much covers it. You can safely use it for most of what hydrogen peroxide is used for, bearing in mind it is a very concentrated powder. Do not use it as a mouthwash, however in the way some use hydrogen peroxide.
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.
All three generics—oxalic acid, soda ash, and sodium percarbonate—are available to the public for purchase. Click on the linked words to order them online. Or, check your local pool supply and janitorial supply stores.
CAUTION: Always test something new in an inconspicuous place first. Always. And read and heed the caution messages on any product before proceeding. Always wear protective gloves and eyewear when using cleaning chemicals.
WARNING: We have not tested every formulation that we list. This list is strictly for informational purposes and a guideline to various detergent, cosmetic and coating formulations. This information is provided without warranty of any kind or fitness for a particular use or purpose. I encourage you to conduct your own tests. Read all labels and MSDS Sheets.
One last thing
As the global economy is in upheaval, prices on many things are all over the place! You may discover you can purchase Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda cheaper at your supermarket than generic soda ash at Amazon. Or Oxiclean may be less expensive ounce for ounce than sodium percarbonate. Compare by unit price and also keep in mind the facts that BKF is only 10% oxalic acid while sodium percarbonate is 99.6%, and so forth. Compare, research, then make the best decision with keeping in mind you’re doing this to make your dollars stretch even farther!
First published: 12-16-15; Modified and Updated 10-19-21
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