If this is the first article on prepping you encounter here, I will briefly repeat what I have said in many articles and videos in the past.
Oxygen absorbers are readily available for purchase on Amazon and Ebay, and directly from LDS. I think it was LDS that made them popular, and in the thinking of many people, absolutely required.
My feeling has always been that they are drastically over-rated, though they may have a qualitative effect. Maybe they help the food to not degrade as fast as it would when an 02 is present. But I don’t think the actual viability of the food is effected at all.
Some foods, like flour, rice, and even small beans, sugar, etc. have very little airspace at all. Elbow pasta probably has the most of all the core food I usually suggest. Something like oatmeal also maybe a bit more. But from the “cubic foot” charts I have seen on people selling oxygen absorbers, there is way more misinformation out there than truth. Oxygen is currently 21% of the air, and the rest of the gasses are inert. Oxygen reacts most severely with fats, so maybe beans are more sensitive. But overall, there is very little overall reactive material, in very little actual oxygen.
Couple that with the fact that a lot of people selling oxygen absorbers are sloppy with how quickly they vacuum pack them. The cheapest ones are available in bulk from overseas, and the seller generally splits them into smaller packs, which they then vacuum pack. And usually they include a freshness indicator in their individual packs, but who knows if they filled 50 bags, left them open, then threw in a freshness button one at a time and sealed them individually. Most of them are using a Foodsaver!
DIY Oxygen Absorbers
I can’t take credit for thinking this up myself. Someone forwarded me a TikTok video or something. The premise is that easily rusting steel will oxidize and use up the reactive oxygen in the air of the bag long before it will effect the food. I think this is sound.
In the video, they ground salt into steel wool, and that was enough to get it started rusting. This works fine, but of course I had to overcomplicate it. I used a salt solution to boil out with the steel wool and leave the salt crystals stuck. It worked perfect, but maybe it’s a little overkill, I don’t know. The steel wool did start rusting right away.
I think these oxygen absorbers are likely to be far more effective long term than the chemical version. In fact, on the LDS store, it specifically says that chemical oxygen absorbers do not work in plastic buckets, or unsealed ziplock bags. I don’t think that they absorbers are going to run out of steam anytime soon, even if the bucket leaks a little over the years.
As you can see in the video, I used some empty teabag bags I had purchased to make mine. You can use coffee filters just as well, and staple them. The staples will also rust! And all of these will most likely stain your food a bit, but rust is harmless to eat. We cook almost everything in cast iron and eat rust all the time. Iron deficiency is never a problem.
Please don’t hold up your purchase of large scale food supplies because you don’t have the stuff to make absorbers, or you don’t have bags, or whatever. This is a short time horizon now and all of this stuff is irrelevant. Please see the companion article to this on food storage options, and the things that you do have to look out for. And subscribe to GunsAmerica Digest for free so that you will get the Grid Down quarterly magazine.
This is a great article, thanks for the write-up. I also approve of your upgrade of adding salt to water and soaking the steel wool – what a smart move!
I had a couple comments about the legitimacy of absorbing oxygen for long-term storage. First of all, the average 5 (or 6) gallon plastic buckets have a slow “seepage” problem with surrounding chemicals. Submerged in any environment long enough, whatever is on one side will make its way through to the other side. If you use oxygen packs in a plastic bucket, more oxygen will inevitably seep through and eventually overpower the absorbers as some point, since they all have limits. Best to line the bucket with a mylar, sealable bag.
Secondly, the lack of oxygen does 2 things for food: for one, it prevents oxydation, which is a breakdown of flavor and proteins due to exposure to oxygen. Oxygen also turns fats and oils rancid. Without oxygen, the contents will remain preserved for MUCH longer than otherwise – general rule of thumb is 20 years, if done right, but there’s a lot of give or take. The second thing is more immediately important. Without oxygen, bugs / bug eggs are less likely to survive. The last thing anyone wants to see is huge bug nests in their food in a crisis.
Hmmmm. What about a simple cloths iron or hair curler for sealing Mylar bags? Looks like this author is either ignorant of the basics or trying to sell an expensive product. Also no specifics on bag thickness, and iron oxidation without chemistry calculation of amounts or documentation of experimental verification. Nice try, some good overall logic is appreciated.
I believe steel wool is treated with a rust preventative. Some bluing solutions come with an instruction to degrease steel wool before burnishing gunmetal pre-bluing. So, I wonder if washing the steel wool with a mild detergent might help the oxidation process. Also, what happened to the preppers method of putting a small false bottom with a small piece of dry ice in the bucket to drive out residual oxygen from “between the cracks” of your stored food? They sometimes use a tube to the bottom and inject argon or CO2, but I think these techniques are mostly for drums, not buckets.
It seems to rust right away as you can see in the video. Dry ice is difficult to get here. Plus you have no measure of when the bucket is full of CO2. I think it’s clunky.
This is an informative article, and I appreciate the education of how to make these absorbers at home.
There is something that bothers me about the article, however. It is the misconception surrounding the reasons to make and use oxygen absorbers…
The first concept left out is the possibility of weavils, moth larvae, or other bugs / eggs that might be in the food we intend to store. Without oxygen, these bugs cannot survive. If there IS oxygen, they can thrive, for at least as long as they have oxygen, and plastic buckets leach oxygen, meaning that such insects can still live on in small numbers, eating all your food long before you ever get to it.
So first of all, it’s NEVER a good idea to attempt to store food in un-lined plastic buckets, with or without the oxygen absorbers. Even these home-made versions will eventually run out of capacity to absorb oxygen if it keeps leaching in.
In my estimation, you need the sealed mylar as a minimum, and to keep me from eating even a few dead bugs, I’ll definitely use oxygen absorbers every time!
If you read the recent article on Mylar, you will see my suggestion that people freeze their flour and pasta before putting it away. I don’t know if you are an armchair prepper repeating what you read, but in practice that never happens, except with flour and sometimes pasta. Plastic buckets definitely do leak oxygen, but the overall quality of most foods over the years do not suffer. Your 02 absorbenrs will run out long before the steel wool will entirely oxidize. There is no advantage to putting mylar inside of plastic buckets, outside of the potential insect egg issue. Plastic buckets are not rodent proof. Just use the Mylar, as I have suggested.