Three Generic Cleaners Same as Brand Names but Way Cheaper

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.


Cheaper then brand names

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 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 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 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. Here’s a quick tutorial from our friends at Hunker on how to do that.

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.

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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.


Oxalic acid and Stain

Safety Precautions

Keep in mind that a bag of oxalic acid is 99.6% oxalic acid, while Bar Keepers Friend contains oxalic acid (plus inert fillers). Oxalic acid in its pure form is very dangerous. It is toxic and corrosive and should be carefully handled. Read the label carefully and respond accordingly.

You can use much less oxalic acid to get a great response than the amount of BKF you might use to accomplish the same result. And 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.


Arm & Hammer 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).

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 is much cheaper.


Carbonate and Sodium


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 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.


A close up of a bottle

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 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 any 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.

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.


Sodium percarbonate is 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 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. You are encouraged to conduct your own tests. Read all labels and MSDS Sheets.

First published: 12-16-15; Republished: 4-15-19; Modified 9-14-19


More from Mary's Everyday Cheapskate

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spring cleaning concept with tools and products
Tired cleaning lady on white with spray bottle that won't spray!
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  1. Hertha Scheule says:

    great issues altogether, you just won a new reader. What might you recommend about your put up that you made a few days in the past? Any positive?

  2. Steve Cook says:

    While there is oxalic acid in Barkeepers Friend, there is also the abrasive compounds which is why it’s more useful. All oxalic acid is is an oxidizer, which makes it useful for bleaching, but it’s complete rubbish for scouring.

    This is why you need to be careful when trying to find a low-cost alternative to a brand-name products that you’re actually comparing apples to apples.

  3. js says:

    I recently tried bar keepers friend and was pretty disappointed. I use oxiclean with just about everything. The only thing I’ve found better for certain cleaning jobs is charlies’ surface cleaner, which is very expensive if you can’t get it on sale. But, I had oxi to my laundry and also I make a paste of it with dishwashing soap. When I want to clean the stainless sink, I just make a paste, spread it around the sink and wait overnight. Works with cleaning any stainless steel. I haven’t scrubbed a toilet in years. I pour a small amount of lysol in the bowl and then add oxi sprinkled around and leave it set. Okay, so occasionally I have to use a brush but I don’t have to scrub the bowl. And be careful with oxalic acid. When I was in college we used that stuff to remove old wax on grocery store floors. I still have a small scar on one finger where it ate thru the skin.

  4. johnjjjj2 says:

    Is the oxiclean actually cheaper? If you buy OxiClean baby it’s pure washing soda and sodium percarbonate, no filler, retails for $.21 / oz. Assuming (as reported for oxiclean), the ratio is about 2/3 percarbonate, 1/3 washing soda, using the links above we’d pay about $.34 / oz to make it at home?

    I found some cheaper ways to buy ingredients, but only got it down to $.13 / oz. Cheaper than oxiclean baby but still 2x oxiclean.

  5. annie56 says:

    Well, here’s another use for Bar Keepers (or Zud if you prefer). It has to do with those ugly black marks that appear on plates from repeated use of utensils. A little Bar Keepers with a little water takes those right away. Makes my dinner plates look new again!

  6. olandobob says:

    Don’t know where you priced Bar Keeper’s Friend, but it’s a whole lot cheaper at Home Depot (for one) – about ¼ or 1/5 the price you paid.

  7. farrockgrandma says:

    Yes, many times generics are cheaper, but please do the math first. A lot of name-brand goods (ie groceries and breakfast cereals) may cost less after considering store sale and coupons.

    • Marti Buurkarl says:

      Yes, please always do the math yourself. The link to soda ash on Amazon is 17 cents per ounce. My price for Super Washing Soda at Walmart is 8 cents per ounce.

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