Bar Keepers Friend is an effective all-purpose cleaner praised for its ability to restore stainless steel and other hard surfaces.
But is it safe to use? Is Bar Keepers Friend toxic?
In this article, I answer these questions by diving deep into Bar Keepers Friend ingredients, warnings, and safety measures.
I also answer frequently asked questions about the brand and offer natural alternatives to consider.
If you’re concerned about the toxicity of Bar Keepers Friend, keep reading.
Use the links below to navigate the article:
- Is Bar Keepers Friend Toxic? The Short Answer
- A Deeper Dive Into Bar Keepers Friend Ingredients
- What Bar Keepers Friend Says
- Is Bar Keepers Friend Safe to Use on Cookware?
- How to Use Bar Keepers Friend Safely
- FAQs About Bar Keepers Friend
- Bar Keepers Friend Alternatives
- Bottom Line: Is Bar Keepers Friend Toxic?
Is Bar Keepers Friend Toxic? The Short Answer
Let’s get straight to the point: is Bar Keepers Friend toxic?
Bar Keepers Friend contains toxic ingredients that are harmful if you swallow or inhale them or if they directly contact your eyes or skin. However, if you use Bar Keepers Friend as directed and take safety precautions, such as wearing gloves, it’s safe to use.
The main ingredient in Bar Keepers Friend is oxalic acid. Although it occurs naturally in some plants and vegetables, such as chives and rhubarb, it is considered toxic. You must use caution with this ingredient because it has caustic (corrosive) properties.
That said, oxalic acid is 100% water-soluble. As long as you thoroughly rinse areas cleaned with Bar Keepers friend, the toxicity isn’t an issue.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit promoting safety in household products, gave Bar Keepers Friend an F due to the presence of oxalic acid and concerns over its possible impact on the skin, the environment, and organ development and function.
Despite the presence of oxalic acid, you can use Bar Keepers Friend safely if you follow the directions and take these precautions:
- Always protect your skin, mouth, nose, and eyes.
- Wet the area or object before applying the cleanser.
- Use a cloth or sponge to work the product into the soiled surface.
- Rinse the cleaned area or object completely and wipe it dry.
Besides oxalic acid, what’s in Bar Keepers Friend? Are the other ingredients toxic?
There has been some confusion around what’s in Bar Keepers Friend for a few reasons.
First, the ingredients are not listed on the packaging. I asked a product specialist at Bar Keepers Friend why that is, and he told me the product is distributed globally, and ingredient reporting requirements vary by region and country. Plus, limited space on the packaging. Those two reasons are why the makers share safety data sheets instead.
You can find a safety data sheet on each product page by clicking the “Safety Info” tab within the product pages on BarKeepersFriend.com.
Second, the company has modified the formula over the years, and certain information on BarKeepersFriend.com is still not updated.
I reached out to Bar Keepers Friend for clarification, and its head chemist confirmed that these are the current ingredients:
- Oxalic Acid
- Glass Oxide
- Benzene Sulfonic Acid
- Mono C10-16 Derivative
- Sodium Salt
Here is what each ingredient does, as well as the associated health risks:
It’s the main active ingredient responsible for removing rust, scale, and stains and easily mixes with water. It can be corrosive to the skin and is harmful if swallowed, inhaled, or if it gets in your eyes.
With repeated or prolonged exposure, it’s believed to cause adverse effects or damage to the body’s systems and organs, including, but not limited to, the nervous system, kidneys, endocrine system, and reproductive system.
Glass oxide is finely ground glass and serves as the abrasive element of the product. It’s manufactured in-house by Bar Keepers Friend primarily from crushing recycled glass shower doors.
The fine white powder, which makes up 85–94% of the product, is inspected to ensure the particles are the correct size. It’s as effective but safer than a mineral abrasive used in a prior formulation.
As far as safety, it can scratch your eyes if it gets into them and causes respiratory distress if inhaled.
Benzene Sulfonic Acid, Mono C10-16 Derivative, and Sodium Salt
Together these ingredients form a surfactant — a common synthetic soap used in laundry detergent. It will cause extreme irritation if you get it in your eyes, inhale or swallow it. It can irritate or may burn skin on contact.
The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) aims to protect and improve human health globally. Bar Keepers friend is an NSF-certified product, and products with an NSF certification have proven compliance with public health standards.
The NSF has accepted bar Keepers Friend as a general cleaner, acidic cleaner, and scouring cleaner around food processing areas. You must rinse thoroughly after use for safety.
According to the Bar Keeper’s Friend safety data sheet, it’s best to drink milk or water and call for immediate medical assistance if you accidentally swallow the product. Bar Keepers Friend also recommends a 15-minute eye flush with water if the product gets into your eyes.
It’s important not to have your nose or mouth near the powder so you can avoid accidental inhalation, and gloves are a must to protect your skin.
Never mix Bar Keepers Friend with anything other than water. It’s reactive and can produce dangerous gas when mixed with bleach, ammonia, or other chemicals.
I’ve mentioned that ingesting Bar Keepers Friend is harmful, so you might be wondering if cleaning your cookware with it puts you at risk.
The good news is Bar Keepers Friend is safe to use on cookware.
It’s 100% water-soluble, meaning it washes away completely as long as you rinse the surface thoroughly. Rinse the cookware or food prep surface immediately after cleaning and ensure all residue is completely gone.
Read this letter from the NSF confirming that Bar Keepers Friend is safe to clean cookware and food prep areas.
As long as you follow the instructions, refrain from mixing it with other chemicals like bleach, and wear protective gear, you can use Bar Keepers Friend safely.
When using Bar Keepers Friend:
- Use the product in a well-ventilated area.
- You can use it on stainless steel, copper, glass (except mirrors), ceramic, tile, porcelain, and much more. Test the product on a small area first if trying it on an unlisted surface.
- Always wear protective gloves, a mask to prevent inhalation, and safety goggles to protect your eyes. For big jobs, you may need more than safety gloves to protect your skin. If you are cleaning a large item or area, be sure to wear long sleeves and extra long chemical-resistant gloves.
- Always wet the area or object before applying a small amount of cleanser. That makes the powder damp on contact, instead of loose and therefore easily airborne.
- Rub the surface or object with a sponge or cloth for up to one minute. Never use your bare hands.
- Thoroughly rinse the cleaned area or object within a minute after cleaning. Do not let it sit.
- Wipe the area completely dry.
- Dispose of gloves and mask and thoroughly wash your hands afterward.
- Keep Bar Keepers Friend in its original packaging so you can reference the proper cleaning instructions. Keep the product away from children and pets. An elevated and locked cabinet is a safe place to store it.
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Bar Keepers Friend:
Yes, it is septic system-safe as long as it is used as directed.
Yes, it is toxic to dogs if it is sniffed, swallowed, gets in your dog’s eyes, or is applied directly on their skin. However, you can safely clean pet areas and feed dishes using the product as directed and thoroughly rinsing after.
No, all Bar Keepers Friend products have the same level of toxicity based on the presence of oxalic acid and other chemicals.
Bar Keepers Friend uses oxalic acid as its main cleaning ingredient. Ajax and Comet use bleach (trichloroisocyanuric acid). Oxalic acid is more effective than bleach on mineral deposits and rust stains.
Plus, each product uses different surfactants. Ajax uses sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate, Comet uses alkylbenzene sulfonic acid, and Bar Keepers Friend uses a combination of benzene sulfonic acid, mono C10-16 derivatives, and sodium salt.
Read this comparison of Bar Keepers Friend vs. Comet to learn more.
No, it is not safe to use on bare cast iron. It will strip the seasoning. However, you can use it on enameled cast iron.
Do not use Bar Keepers Friend on the following surfaces: non-stick cookware, cast iron, granite, marble, fabric, wood, leather, painted surfaces, gold, mirrors, and silver (unless it’s sterling silver).
If you’re concerned about the toxicity of Bar Keepers Friend, here are the best alternatives.
Bon Ami is the closest product to Bar Keepers Friend in terms of performance, but the ingredients differ significantly.
The powder, made from natural elements like feldspar and limestone, has a finer grit than Bar Keepers Friend. It’s a great alternative because it’s biodegradable and non-toxic, containing no bleach or oxalic acid.
Plus, it works well — powering through residue, stains, and grime on various hard surfaces.
Method Stainless Steel Cleaner + Polish
Method offers a plant-based cleaner and polish for stainless steel. It does not come in a powder or cream like Bar Keepers Friend, but it provides similar cleaning results.
It’s one of the best alternatives to Bar Keepers Friend because it is effective on stainless steel, is less toxic, has a pleasant scent, is easy to use, wipes away quickly, and doesn’t require rinsing like Bar Keepers Friend.
Five Star P.B.W. (Powder Brewery Wash)
If you are looking for a powder-based cleaner like Bar Keepers Friend, P.B.W. is another excellent alternative. It’s a non-corrosive, eco-friendly, and alkaline cleanser designed to clean commercial stainless steel equipment, but it can also be an effective household cleaner.
It’s similar to Bar Keepers Friend in that you should use gloves and safety goggles during use to protect your skin and eyes. It differs from Bar Keepers Friend in that you can use the product to soak hard-to-clean items.
Now that you know the ingredients in Bar Keepers Friend and how to use it safely, you can make an informed decision as to whether its toxicity is worth the risk.
First, let’s recap and address the main safety concerns:
Does Bar Keepers Friend contain toxic ingredients? Yes, it is made with toxic ingredients such as oxalic acid. However, you can significantly reduce any risk of harm by using it correctly, wearing safety gear, and thoroughly rinsing the cleaned item or area. Bar Keepers Friend is 100% water-soluble; a thorough rinse will remove it completely.
Can you use Bar Keepers Friend safely on cookware? Yes. It is NSF-certified, meaning it is safe to use on surfaces that touch food, such as stainless steel cookware and food prep areas. The key is rinsing off the product thoroughly.
Are there good alternatives to Bar Keepers Friend? Absolutely. If you don’t feel comfortable using it but still want great results for cleaning stainless steel, try Bon Ami, Method Stainless Steel Cleaner + Polish, or Five Star P.B.W.
Bottom Line — Bar Keepers Friend is safe to use. Just be sure to use it as directed and while wearing the proper safety gear, such as gloves, goggles, and masks. Protecting your skin and eyes and using it in a well-ventilated area can reduce the risks of adverse reactions. Yet, if you don’t feel safe using it, there are other products on the market with similar performance.
To learn more about Bar Keeper’s Friend, visit BarKeepersFriend.com.
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