1-800-Science

Airing out not-so-airtight advertisements

Photograph by John B. Carnett

“Powered by the air you breathe,” OxiClean promises to “remove your stains like magic.” Sure, it works-quite well, in fact. But we couldn’t help thinking that the commercial’s description of how OxiClean removes stains is unhelpful at best, misleading at worst. Does the cleaner somehow use air, the atmosphere, to remove stains? Seems unlikely. But what else could the very specific tag line mean? After we dwelled in ignorance for the better part of the infomercial, a ray of hope appeared on screen: a 1-800 number, instructing viewers to call with any questions about the product. Well, we had some questions, and hoped the OxiClean folks could sort them out for us. Here’s a transcript of what followed.

OXICLEAN: Thank you for calling Orange Glow. How can I help you?

Popular Science: I came across the OxiClean infomercial last night and had some questions. The commercial said that OxiClean is “powered by the air you breathe.” Can you explain what that means?

O: Ummmm, oxygen. It’s an oxygenated stain lifter so it adds oxygen to the stain and most stains are, they have oxygen in, you know, it’s an
oxygen-based stain. Meaning it’s
natural … based from the planet … somehow. Ummmm, and that’s how it adds oxygen and releases the stain.

PS: Is it sucking oxygen from the air?

O: Well, no. We just breathe oxygen and the cleaning is activated by water and releases oxygen. So that’s what that’s pertaining to.

PS: OK, then how’s the oxygen, which doesn’t come from the air, being used to combat the stain?

O: It’s adding oxygen to the stain thus releasing it because most stains are oxygen-based.

PS: I see. So what percentage of the stain remover is oxygen?

O: Well, it’s not really like that. It’s actually hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, basically, and they create oxygen.

PS: So it’s hydrogen peroxide and baking soda mixed together.

O: Right, but we can’t really call it that.

PS: So why not buy hydrogen peroxide instead?

O: Because this is a patented formula. You’re not just going to dump hydrogen peroxide on your clothes, are you? It’s not like that. This is different. I mean, we’re not scientists here so I can’t disclose a patented formula, but I can send more information on the stain remover.