Thursday, April 12, 2012

Barkeeper's Friend: Is it Safe?

A few weeks ago, commenters on The Best Way to Clean Your Bathtub were giving rave reviews about a product I'd never heard of—Barkeeper's Friend. I researched it a little, and found that its active ingredient is Oxalic Acid – which is naturally derived and found in lots of green leafy things. Intriguing. . .

I had to try it out. I picked up a can of the powdered variety, and Holy Clean Pots, Batman!

Yep, it definitely works.

My favorite stainless steel pot was all brown on the bottom and now. . .well, it's not "as good as new," but it's pretty darn good all the same. BKF also took a rust ring out of my stainless steel kitchen sink. (Who's the wiseacre that left the cast iron skillet in there overnight??)

You know, we eat oxalic acid all the time in spinach, carrots, and a bunch of other things. But it's the reason that rhubarb leaves are considered poisonous—too much can cause nausea, kidney stones/failure, and even be fatal.

So the question remains, just how safe is Barkeeper's Friend? 


Here's what I've read about it:
  • The MSDS is rather dire about oxalic acid, citing it not only as toxic when taken internally, but a dangerous skin, eye, and respiratory irritant.
  • Oxalic Acid can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Commenters on a number of blog posts about BKF have cited peeling skin after use.
  • Of course, being in crystal form in a cleaning powder, the oxalic acid is probably much more concentrated than what you would find in plants.
  • The MSDS on Barkeeper's Friend seems to indicate that oxalic acid constitutes just 5-10% of their powder by weight. (Am I reading that right?? I wonder what the other 90% is, then.)

      These are my thoughts on it:
      • Barkeeper's Friend is definitely a poison. But then again, you wouldn't drink your bleach or dishsoap either, would you?
      • It seems like it isn't bio-accumulative, since it's flushed out through the kidneys.
      • I used BKF before I read anything about it being a skin irritant. So I didn't use gloves. . .But I didn't notice any unusual reactions to it.
      •  It also seems pretty negligible as a respiratory irritant. The stuff dissolves in water so readily that you'd almost have to be deliberately snorting it to inhale it.
      • It does concern me that it can be absorbed through the skin. I think I wouldn't use it for a large job—like cleaning the shower—where there would be prolonged exposure.
      • I also think I wouldn't use it for surfaces that come in direct contact with food. (Dishes, cutting boards, whatnot.)

      Overall, it seems to me that Barkeeper's Friend does have the potential to be very toxic, so I will probably reserve it for just the toughest jobs—badly stained stainless steel, for instance. It's highly effective, and I think in small doses it shouldn't pose any health hazards.


      What do you think of Barkeeper's Friend? 
      Does it belong in the Green Cleaner's repertoire?

      Note:  I'm not a licensed anything! So definitely use your own judgment about Barkeeper's Friend, and you use it at your own risk!

      36 comments:

      1. I love this product! Like you said, it is great for removing rust stains. I use it mostly on our sinks and bathtub. It's not something I use everyday though, only for the really tough jobs. I have never noticed any type of irritation to it and did not know of all the controversy about it until reading this post. I would be very sad not to have it anymore!

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      2. My oldest daughter introduced me to this product when her mother-in-law shared it with her. I too love it! I have a stainless steal sink in my craft room and Bar Keeper's Friend makes it look like new! I have used it on my plates to get rid of marks that my flat ware has left, then run through the dishwasher. They too look like new! I may wear gloves the next time I use it. I do notice my hands feel dry after I use the product.

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      3. This is slightly off topic, but when I think of many green cleaning materials, such as borax, they can also harm the skin and are not good to eat.

        And I love Bar Keeper's Friend. I use it to clean my flat-top stove.

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      4. The people I bought my house from left me some saying it was all they could find to clean the sink... and I absolutly love it! I have an off white sink that gets "scratched" by everyday use. There are nasty marks everywhere and it starts to look like it belongs at the dump, not in my kitchen. I pull out the Bar Keepers Friend.. and it looks almost brand new! I'd never thought of it being bad for me, but I always rinse well. I think from now on I am going to have a washcloth specifically for it instead of just using a random one. But the stuff is truely amazing! :)

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      5. Not sure if it's green, but I love this stuff! It works great to clean grout. My grout was getting really dark and gross and I made a paste with water and BKF, then scrubbed with a toothbrush to get each line good, and the grout looks like new! :)

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        Replies
        1. Good idea! I've been trying different things on my grout lately. Hmmm...

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        2. I second that! I have light-colored grout that was sealed initially. However, especially in high traffic areas like at the kitchen sink, the grout sealant has long since worn away and the grout has absorbed oils and who knows what over the years and is now discolored and dark and cannot be scrubbed clean (I've tried!). I just tested a small area with my Bar Keepers Friend powder and a little water and it cleaned it up considerably! I am going to get the liquid paste version and use that, rinse really well, let it dry overnight, and then apply more grout sealant. A big job, but it will be a big improvement. It looks horrible now.

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      6. I'v used BKF for years on our Wolfgang Puck cookware, it prevents them from getting water spots. I also use it on our sink and the faucet. I've never had any issues with it. My hands are usually dry afterwards, but after the grease it can cut through, I'm not surprised by this.

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      7. You should try Bon Ami! It does the same thing, but is all natural. It doesn't scratch, but scrubs great. I use it with a bristle scrub brush on the bottom of my tub---it's the only thing that gets the textured bottom clean and shiny! It's only a little over $1 at the grocery store. Here's a link to it on Amazon so you can see what it looks like. I have no idea why it's so pricey on Amazon, though!

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      8. Forgot the link, sorry!
        http://www.amazon.com/Faultless-Starch-04403-Bon-Cleanser/dp/B000RPXJ8S/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1334972924&sr=8-2

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      9. Love Bar Keepers. Just slip on a pair of kitchen gloves and you will be totally fine.

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      10. BKF also works great if you have oxidized plastic headlight lenses. It takes elbow grease too if they're badly oxidized, but much cheaper than replacement or those kits at the auto store.

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      11. It is great on glass stove tops. It makes them look brand new.

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        Replies
        1. This answer alone will make me try this.

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        2. This answer alone will make me try this.

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      12. In 2008, I used BKF for a prolonged period of time (2.5 Hours) cleaning white tile floor and shower tile in a guest bathroom with no gloves. Recommended by a friend I found the product in a local store, read the label and didnt see any warning other then the eye irritant warning, so I purchased it and used it about 2 weeks later as stated above. I used only tap water and sponge without gloves. Cleaned the entire bathroom floor and tub area. Stepped over in the tub barefoot and cleaned the shower walls. Feet were exposed to the rinsing for about 30 minutes, my hands a total of about 2.5 hours. Later than night, my asthma flaired up. Next morning, my first urination felt like I was peeing battery acid - very painful. After painful urination for over 6.5 weeks (every time), I had a scope done to check my bladder at week 7.5. Since they flushed my bladder with some kind of liquid, the painful urination stopped within a little over a day. During those 8 weeks, I never had a kidney infection or anyting...just it was painful. Urologist felt it was from possible absorption of the oxalic acid.

        WAIT! There's more! WIthing the 2nd day after usuage, both hands and feet turned very red, irritated, burned, hurt, and skin began to peel. 1 week after the use, I was diagnosed by both my Primary Care Dr (for nearly 20 years) and a leading Dermatologist with severe 1st Degree Chemical burns on both hands and both feet, followed by a subsequent diagnosis of "permanent dermatitis" because it damaged the cells in the epidermal layers of my skin. I literally 3-4 layers of skin on my palms of feet and hands, around fingers, etc, with burning, bleeding, oozing hands. Also lost some feelingin hands. Feeling in hands returned but as of now (almost 4 yrs). I have recurring issues with hands peeling I never had before...

        WAIT, THERE IS STILL MORE... After a couple weeks after usage, I started feeling ill, uncomfortable,etc. at week 3-4, I had a severe panic/anxiety attack plus periods of dizziness. Once rushed to the ER for what I thought was a stroke or heart attack.. Subsequent Primary Care Dr Visits, Dermatology visits, Urological Dr Visits led to visit to an ENT specialist for the Dizziness. I was put on Anti-anxiety medications, then was reviewed by the ENT Dr for the Dizziness. Outcome was not ear problems, but Central Nervous system dysfunction causing the dizziness.. this lead to Neurological exams that reveal toxic chemical poisoning. End results. recurring skin problems, recurring anxiety/tremor issues, dizziness..now in year three and nearing year four after the exposure.

        Oxaclic Acid dihydrate is classified as a Caustic Substance, Toxic and falls within the Code of Federal Regulations as a "POISON" as the product labeling should containt "POISON" along withthe list of warnings you find on the company's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)< yet they fail to warn you of. The company was notified of the issue and changed their website after we advised them of the issues, cleaning up their prior statements the BKF was a Safe product containing no "hazardous materials". That statement was incorrect because Oxalic Acid is a hazardous material. They also relabeled their can in early 2012 to include the additional prolonged use skin irritation warning...too late for me of course.

        So.. I would highly recommend everyone use gloves, no matter how long you use this product.

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Yikes, I'm so sorry for your experience, but thanks for sharing to help everyone else out!

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        2. Did you find anything to help with the burning? This is the first time I've used the liquid on my tub...I used my foot with a scrubbie to do the bottom of the tub. I the showered myself. Went out for dinner with friends and my foot was getting hotter and hotter. Now (4 hrs. later) my foot feels like it's burning and feels cut even thou it is not. Rewashed my foot and put vaseline on it. Hope I don't experience what you've been through. I pray you heal completely someday soon and that my foot feels better in the morning.

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        3. I totally agree with Marissa's reply, hope someday you heal completely. Yes, we should always use rubber/latex gloves while use and not expose directly to skin. A protective face/nose mask would be good for us, esp. with respiratory problems... thanks for sharing..

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      13. I clean house for a living and have been using BKF for almost 3 years! I however do not use the powder. I use only the liquid. I find it to work even better and have a much nicer smell to it. Works great on iron and hard water stains. Also it is NOT abrasive! I have never had any kind of reaction to it and have never used gloves while using this product. FYI- I have only ever seen the liguid at Menards. .

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. FYI, I got my liquid BKF at Ace Hardware.

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      14. it's the best thing and CHEAPEST thing ever to clean glass topped stove with. i just sprinkle it on there make a wet paste and leave it on any cooked on spots. and just leave a few minutes (like while i wash some dishes) and wipe it all right off. i love it!

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      15. HAS ANYONE USED IT FOR removing a white spot on furniture, caused by water or something like that? If it's not abrasive I thought it would be safe -- but would it remove the spot?

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. The white spot on your furniture is almost guaranteed to be moisture trapped in the finish. Use a dry powder left on the spot for a few days. Wood ashes work well as odd as it sounds. Something has to be applied to draw out the moisture and absorb it or evaporate it. Sometimes you can use a hair dryer set on low and keep it at a good sized distance from your finish or it will melt it. Keep a close eye on this. Heat and wood are not friends . The heat must be gentle. A light bulb will work in some cases too. Good luck and do be careful with it.

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      20. I first discovered Barkeeps Friend in a metal-smithing class. We used it for fine finishing of metals. It's a fantastic abrasive. But it is an abrasive. I do use it at home, but only on the worst jobs that really need cleaning and nothing else will take it off. You're basically polishing with BKF.

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      22. As to the peeling skin. . . the product Pretty Feet (exfoliator) used to have oxalic acid in it. It's since been reformulated without it and doesn't work at all. You would put some of it on your feet or a callous and rub gently followed by a good rinse and quality lotion, and after a few treatments it was like having baby skin. But if you didn't rinse it off really well, it would sting afterwards.

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      23. just cleaned grout. Freaked out when I saw article and took long shower to get off legs and face, etc....didn't use gloves. Anyhow, probably did 300sq feet over 2 hours. Hope this doesn't cause crazy damage. Really appreciate this.

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      24. I discovered if I used BKF in bath area where i've used chlorine based products like TILEX or Chlorox, it produced fumes that made me wheeze. I now have asthma if I am exposed to harsh smelling cleaning products. oh well!

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      25. Oxalic 'acid" with when mixed with a "base" like bleach give off fumes. Lables often recomment not mixed chemicals especially acid and bleachers. So do rinse the tub clean of residue before switching cleaners.

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      26. I've been using it for years. I use it mostly for kitchen purposes and always rinse well. I have taken no precautions and have detected nothing out of the ordinary as far as reactions to it. Gloves are usually a good idea, and seldom used, but if I had them, I would use them, probably. In higher concentrations than 10%, perhaps it would affect me differently, but I don't use it in higher concentrations.

        Bon Ami is not oxalic acid. It is diatomaceous earth and has the same composition as chalk. It works for scratch free cleaning, but has none of the chemical interaction that characterizes BKF. Different animal, altogether.

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      27. Bon Ami (1886 formula) is readily available on Amazon. It is tallow soap and feldspar. Feldspar is a naturally occurring mineral and tallow soap is soap made from suet. Bon Ami (1886) formula is mildly abrasive but not enough to notice.

        Bon Ami formulas change according to which Bon Ami you buy.

        I use Bon Ami (1886 formula) to clean my "Emril" stainless cookware, my stainless cup, and my stainless sink. It works great!

        I use Bar Keeper's Friend for different heavy cleaning such as the tub and shower.

        I do not use Comet or Ajax anywhere.

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