Many cloth diaperers including myself swear by OxiClean (oxygen bleach) to disinfect and brighten cloth diapers. In fact, OxiClean was patented as a cleaner, sanitizer, disinfectant, fungicide, sporicide, and chemical sterilizer. But does oxygen bleach actually work as a disinfectant? To answer the question, I whipped out my research skills. The short answer is that, yes, oxygen bleach does disinfect.
What Is Oxygen Bleach?
OxiClean is a name brand for oxygen bleach. (Much like Clorox is a name brand of bleach, or sodium hypochlorite.) One of the active ingredients in OxiClean is sodium percarbonate (Na2CO3•H2O2), an adduct of sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). (In chemistry, an adduct is a chemical addition product, that is, two or more distinct molecules combine to form a single reaction product containing all atoms of all components.) Sodium percarbonate is used in some eco-friendly cleaning products such as OxiClean and as a laboratory source of anhydrous hydrogen peroxide. Dissolved in water, the chemical yields a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate. Applications for sodium percarbonate include disinfectant.
What Is Hydrogen Peroxide?
When mixed with water, sodium percarbonate forms sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide. (The hydrogen peroxide then further decomposes to water and oxygen.) Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used as a bleaching agent and disinfectant. Hydrogen peroxide works as a disinfectant by producing destructive hydroxyl free radicals that can attack membrane lipids, DNA, and other essential cell components. The chemical is active against a wide range of microorganisms including bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and spores. Concentrations of hydrogen peroxide from 6% to 25% show promise as chemical sterilants. OxiClean reports to contain 18% hydrogen peroxide.
What Is Sodium Carbonate?
Sodium carbonate, or soda ash, is a sodium salt of carbonic acid commonly used as a water softener.
Does Oxygen Bleach Disinfect?
Yes, oxygen bleach works as a disinfectant. One of the active ingredients of oxygen bleach is sodium percarbonate, which becomes hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate when added to water. Hydrogen peroxide is a known disinfection at concentrations between 6% to 25%. OxiClean contains 18% hydrogen peroxide, a level well within the disinfecting range of the chemical. Furthermore, some microorganisms such as the parasite Cryptosporidium are resistant to (sodium hypochlorite) bleach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend hydrogen peroxide. In other words, oxygen bleach disinfects cloth diapers, and, in some cases, the hydrogen peroxide in oxygen bleach disinfects better than sodium hypochlorite bleach.
Additionally, although bleach also disinfects, oxygen bleach is a better cleaner for use in hard water. Bleach can react poorly to the minerals such as iron in hard water. Even Clorox advises against using bleach in hard waters with metals. In fact, Clorox specifically recommends oxygen bleach for use in hard water. The sodium carbonate in oxygen bleach works as a water softener while the hydrogen peroxide works as a disinfectant, both without reacting poorly to irons in certain hard waters.
Yes, based on the chemistry behind the cleaning product, OxiClean disinfects cloth diapers.
Analysis of OxiClean: An Interesting Comparison of Percarbonate Stain Removers: http://www.umich.edu/~chemstu/content_weeks/F_06_Week11/pics_notes/Bracken_JCE_2005_p762_oxyclean.pdf
Bleach and Hard Water/Removing Baby Food Stains: https://www.clorox.com/dr-laundry/bleach-and-hard-waterremoving-baby-food-stains/
Cleansing and Disinfecting Compositions: http://www.google.com/patents/US4941989
Diverging Trends Drive Percarbonate: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/8103/print/8103soaps1b.html
FDA-Cleared Sterilants and High Level Disinfectants with General Claims for Processing Reusable Medical and Dental Devices – March 2009: http://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/deviceregulationandguidance/reprocessingofsingle-usedevices/ucm133514.htm
Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008: http://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/pdf/guidelines/Disinfection_Nov_2008.pdf
Hydrogen Peroxide: http://www.ocichemical.com/index.php/hydrogen-peroxide
Hydrogen Peroxide: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_peroxide
Hydrogen Peroxide, Peracetic Acid, and Sodium Percarbonate: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/agr/pesticides/aquatic/sodium-carbonate-peroxyhydrate-and-hydrogen-peroxide.pdf
Joseph M. Ascenzi, Handbook of Disinfectant and Antiseptics, CRC Press, 1996, ISBN 0824795245, page 161.
Methods of Using a Cleaner, Sanitizer, Disinfectant, Fungicide, Sporicide, Chemical Sterilizer: http://www.google.com/patents/US5320805
Outbreak Control Measures: Intensified Cryptosporidiosis (Crypto) Control Measures for the Child Care Setting: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/crypto/resources/childcare_outbreak.pdf
OxiClean Frequently Asked Questions: http://www.oxiclean.com/FAQ.aspx
Soda Ash: http://www.ocichemical.com/index.php/soda-ash
Sodium Carbonate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_carbonate
Sodium Percarbonate: http://www.ocichemical.com/sodium-percarbonate
Sodium Percarbonate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_percarbonate
Sodium Percarbonate Peroxyhydrate: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5057633
OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover: http://www.oxiclean.com/versatile/Products/oxiclean-versatile-stain-remover.aspx