Types of Household Cleaning Products
Cleaning house means cleaning surfaces like floors, walls, windows, rugs and appliances. Except for rugs and upholstery, most household surfaces are “hard.” Technically, household cleaning is “hard surface cleaning.”
No single product can provide optimum performance on all surfaces and all soils. Thus, it is not surprising that many different household cleaners are available in the marketplace. They are formulated to clean efficiently and conveniently in the many different situations found in the home. Some are designed for more general use, such as all-purpose cleaners, while others are designed to work best on specific surfaces and/or soils.
Click on the links below to learn more about the following types of household cleaning products:
- All-purpose Cleaners
- Abrasive Cleaners
- Scouring Pads
- Non-abrasive Cleaners
- Abrasive Cleaners
- Specialty Cleaners
- Kitchen, Bathroom, Glass and Metal Cleaners
- Disinfectants and Disinfectant Cleaners
- Drain Openers
- Glass Cleaners
- Glass and Multi-surface Cleaners
- Hard Water Mineral Removers
- Metal Cleaners and Polishes
- Oven Cleaners
- Shower Cleaners – Daily
- Toilet Bowl Cleaners
- Tub, Tile and Sink Cleaners
- Floor and Furniture Cleaners
- Carpet and Rug Cleaners
- Dusting Products
- Floor Care Products
- Furniture Cleaners and Polishes
- Upholstery Cleaners
- Kitchen, Bathroom, Glass and Metal Cleaners
- Other Cleaning Aids
- Baking Soda
Abrasive cleaners are designed to remove relatively heavy amounts of soil often found in small areas. They come in powder and liquid form and contain a kind of built-in elbow grease, which helps cut down on the hard rubbing required to remove soil. Scouring pads are also included in this category.
The abrasive action is provided by a variety of ingredients: small particles of minerals or a network of fine steel wool, copper, nylon or metal particles imbedded in a matrix of solid plastic.
The degree of abrasiveness of products varies. Over an extended period of time, the overuse of some abrasive cleaners can remove the glaze or coating from some surfaces. Always read and follow the surface manufacturer’s instructions before using a product.
Some cleaners disinfect surfaces. They include an antimicrobial agent to reduce the bacterial population that lives on soiled surfaces. Such agents can include pine oil, quaternary ammonium compounds or sodium hypochlorite. Such products will be labelled “disinfectant” or “kills germs.” In order to use this labelling, these products are regulated and approved by Health Canada.
Powdered cleaners have a long established place among household cleaners. Their cleaning and polishing action is provided by fine particles of minerals, such as calcite, feldspar, quartz and silica. In addition, powdered cleaners contain small amounts of surfactants for removing oily soils, such as the greasy film often found in sinks after dishwashing. Where removal of food, beverage, or mould and mildew stains is required, a bleaching agent is usually present. Where removal of rust stains is a performance feature of the product, oxalic acid or sodium hydrosulphite may be present.
Liquid cleaners are a suspension of solid abrasive particles in a thickened liquid matrix. They contain more surfactant and softer abrasives than are found in some powdered cleaners. As a result, their abrasive action is usually gentler than powders.
Scouring pads, like powdered cleaners, are products with a long history of use. In the most widely used types, a ball of fine steel wire provides the scouring action. For chemical cleaning and as a polishing aid, the steel wool pad may be filled with a cleaning mixture whose principal ingredient is soap.
Particularly on metal surfaces, the soap and metal pad can provide effective cleaning and a pleasing shine. On continued use, the cleaning mixture is used up and the pad begins to corrode.
Some scouring pads are made of non-corroding materials, such as a mesh of copper, stainless steel wire or nylon, while others are a plastic material imbedded with small particles of abrasives. These pads are not impregnated with a cleaning mixture and rely on mechanical action alone.
Other scouring pads consist of a cellulose sponge with a polyurethane backing. These pads significantly reduce the scratching of surfaces.
Non-abrasive, all-purpose cleaners are marketed in different forms. They are offered as powders that can be dissolved to the proper strength and as liquids that can be diluted or used full strength. The newest powders and liquids are concentrated products. Liquids are also available as trigger sprays, in aerosol cans or in pump-actuated bottles.
Non-abrasive cleaners can also contain antimicrobial agents to disinfect. Such products will specify on the label that they “kill germs” or “disinfect” and are regulated and approved by Health Canada.
Powdered or liquid cleaners mixed with water are most often used on fairly large washable surfaces like floors, painted walls, countertops and woodwork, where accumulations of soil are relatively uniform. For heavy soiling, more concentrated solutions can be prepared. Liquids may also be used full strength.
The major ingredients in non-abrasive cleaners are surfactants and builders. A surfactant’s presence is noticeable by the appearance of foam, particularly in diluted water solutions. All-purpose cleaners are generally formulated to produce only a moderate amount of foam, which makes rinsing easier.
Since most all-purpose cleaners work best in alkaline conditions, they often contain an alkaline buffer salt, such as sodium carbonate. Sodium carbonate can also function as a builder.
These cleaners can also contain other ingredients, such as ammonia, pine oil and organic solvents like ethanol or isopropanol.
Spray cleaners are designed for use on smaller washable areas. Soiled walls around switch plates, chrome fixtures, appliances and cooktops are examples. Like the dilutable products, sprays are formulated with surfactants and low levels of builders; most contain an organic solvent. The combination of surfactant and solvent makes such products particularly effective on greasy soils.
Specialty cleaning products have a narrower spectrum of uses than all-purpose products. They are designed for specific surfaces, such as glass, bathroom surfaces, ovens, drains, metal, floors, carpets, furniture and upholstery, and the soils that usually collect on these surfaces. By concentrating on specific conditions, specialty products can deliver optimum performance and convenience.
The following are several home chemicals which can be used for light cleaning tasks. In a fully formulated product, manufacturers have the opportunity of providing multiple functions, like cleaning with the assistance of a surfactant. In general, a formulated product may provide more advantages in performance and convenience than a single-ingredient product can.
As with formulated cleaning products, you should not mix home chemicals unless you can confirm that the mixture is safe and effective.
Ammonia and baking soda are weak alkalis. Because some soils are acidic in nature, these alkaline materials can be helpful in their removal.
Ammonia is a volatile alkali and hence leaves no solid residue as it dries, making it easy to rinse off completely. The combination of volatility and mild alkalinity is the reason why low levels of ammonia are frequently found in formulated glass cleaners. Ammonia can also be used to strip wax.
The scratchless abrasive action of dry baking soda helps in removing light soils because the baking soda crystal is harder than soil, but softer than sensitive surfaces such as fibreglass. Baking soda can also be used to deodorize refrigerators and freezers, where it destroys and also absorbs food odours.
INGREDIENTS IN HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS
In household cleaning formulations, the surfactant (surface active agent) is often the most important single component. One or more surfactants are present in most all-purpose and specialty products. Other ingredients soften water, provide alkalinity, bleach, destroy microorganisms, and provide a wide variety of specific cleaning and aesthetic functions.
Surfactants are organic compounds whose molecules consist of two parts: a water-hating (hydrophobic) part and a water-loving (hydrophilic) part. When a surfactant molecule is introduced into water, the water-hating part tries to escape by attaching itself to any available surface other than water. At the same time, the water-loving part tries to remain in water. As a result, surfactants tend to strongly “absorb” or cling to many surfaces, such as fabric, soil, glass, and where the water and air meet (the water/air interface).
When they absorb to a surface, surfactants can loosen and remove the soils from the surface.
When they absorb to soil, surfactants hold soil particles in suspension and help prevent them from redepositing onto the surface from which they have been removed. When they are absorbed at the water/air interface, they reduce the surface tension of water and allow the water to spread out. Without the use of a surfactant, water tends to “bead up” in droplets. This beading slows down the wetting of the surface and inhibits the cleaning process. Surfactants make water “wetter.”
Surfactants are classified by their ionic (electrical) charge.
Anionic surfactants have a negative charge. Anionic surfactants are effective in removing particulate (dirt, dust, etc.) and oily soils. In hard water, they react with positively charged water hardness minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. Soap is the original anionic surfactant. In hard water, it combines with calcium and magnesium salts to form an insoluble soap film or scum. In general, anionic surfactants tend to generate higher suds levels than other classes of surfactants. Cationic surfactants have a positive charge. In hard surface cleaners, they can be used as effective antimicrobial agents. non-ionic surfactants do not have an electrical charge. Because of this, they tend to be less seriously affected by water hardness. In general, they are low foaming and are especially useful in products which are designed to require little rinsing.
The major surfactants in cleaning products are biodegradable. This means that in sewage treatment facilities they are broken down by bacteria, first to smaller molecules and ultimately to carbon dioxide, water and minerals.
Builders follow surfactants in importance as ingredients in household cleaners, particularly in all-purpose cleaners. The most basic function of builders is to soften water by tying up the hardness minerals in water so they do not interfere with the cleaning action of the surfactants. Some builders also aid in keeping soil particles in suspension, thus assuring that cleaned surfaces remain clean.
There are three types of builders.
- A sequestering builder is, in many ways, the most effective type. Sometimes also referred to as a chelating agent (from the Greek word for crab’s claw), this type of builder forms a tightly bound, water-soluble complex with calcium or magnesium ions. These water hardness ions are then removed in the rinsing operation.Some builders also tie up the ions of heavy metals, such as iron and manganese. Heavy metal ions can form coloured products when oxidized by air, oxygen or bleaches. Their inactivation thus contributes to good cleaning results. Complex phosphates, ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) and sodium citrate are common sequestering builders.
- Precipitating builders also remove hardness ions. They do so by forming insoluble calcium compounds. In the cleaning process, this precipitate needs to be removed along with the other soils on the surfaces being cleaned. Sodium carbonate and sodium silicate are examples of precipitating builders.
- Ion exchange builders function by trading electrically charged particles. Sodium aluminosilicate (zeolite) is an ion exchange builder.
Other ingredients are present in household cleaners to varying degrees, depending on the job the product is formulated to perform.
- Abrasives contribute to the mechanical effectiveness of scouring cleaners. In general, abrasives consist of small particles of minerals. Among other properties, they are distinguished by their hardness, a property that is measured on the Moh scale. This scale ranks substances by their relative ability to produce a scratch. Diamond, with a value of 10 on the Moh scale, can scratch almost anything. Glass, on this scale, has a value of 7. The following are among the minerals used in scouring cleaners in order of decreasing hardness: silica (7), feldspar (6) and calcite (3).
- Acids can dissolve calcium and metal salts and find use in tub, tile, sink and toilet bowl cleaners. Phosphoric acid is a common ingredient in such formulations. Hydrochloric acid is a strong acid used in some toilet bowl cleaners. As an organic acid, hydroxyacetic acid is milder than hydrochloric or phosphoric, but one which provides a measure of sequestering effectiveness. Vinegar (acetic acid) is the weakest acid in this series.
- Alkalis ensure that pH is maintained at a desirably high level during cleaning. Sodium hydroxide and sodium metasilicate are strong alkalis which not only maintain a high pH, but also play a primary role in removing solid grease. Sodium carbonate, in addition to providing a moderately high pH, provides buffering to maintain pH levels when a product is diluted. It can also precipitate out water hardness ions and, thereby, provide some building function.
- Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) provides alkalinity at a somewhat lower pH. It is useful for buffering formulations which will contact the skin and for other uses where mildness is important.
- Silicates perform additional useful functions. They provide corrosion protection, particularly on “white” metals like aluminum. They are also helpful in suspending fine particles and reducing the redeposition of soil that has been removed from surfaces. Ammonia is a particularly useful alkali in floor wax removers.
- Antimicrobial agents can destroy bacteria and viruses by interfering with their metabolism or destroying their cell walls. Different chemical structures can serve this purpose, including alcohol, sodium hypochlorite, iodine, pine oil, phenolic and quaternary ammonium compounds. Such molecules act as disinfectants in household cleaning product formulations.
- Bleaching agents act as soil and stain removers. They attack soil chemically, breaking it down to smaller units. Coloured soils and stains are oxidized to a colourless, more easily removable form. The most commonly used bleaching agent is sodium hypochlorite, which is prepared from chlorine gas and a solution of sodium hydroxide. Sodium hypochlorite is an effective, relatively indiscriminate oxidizing agent. Not only does it attack soil, but it is also a disinfectant capable of attacking and destroying bacteria, viruses and mould. It is an important component in many tile and grout cleaners.
- Colourants are present in most products. They provide a product with an individual characteristic and an appealing appearance. Often, they also act as tracers. In certain toilet bowl cleaners, for example, the disappearance of colour indicates the product is exhausted. In other products, the tracer indicates the location of product and helps assure uniform product application, as in certain floor cleaners.
- Enzymes break down soils into simpler forms that can easily be removed by the cleaner. They are proteins that are classified by the type of soil they break down: amylase works on starch soils, lipase on fatty and oily soils and protease on protein soils.
- Fragrances cover the base odour of the chemicals used in cleaning products. They may also counteract any malodour inherent in soil itself and leave a pleasing scent after cleaning.
- Polymers are compounds whose molecules are very large, compared to most of the other materials found in household cleaners. The molecules are made up of many (up to millions) smaller molecules, which may be identical or which may be of two, and sometimes three, kinds. Linking the smaller molecules to each other is a process referred to as polymerization. When polymers dry, they form films, much in the same manner in which paint dries to a thin film. This is particularly helpful in floor care products where the film protects the surface and may provide a shine as well.Polymers can also be used as builders and can assist as thickening agents.
- Processing aids are added to keep the product homogeneous under varying storage conditions, and to provide desirable dispensing characteristics. Such aids include clays, polymers, sodium silicate and sodium sulphate.
- Preservatives protect the product against the natural effects that occur when a product ages, like decay, discolouration, oxidation and bacterial attack. Preservatives include ingredients such as butylated hydroxy toluene, ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid and glutaraldehyde.
- Solvents (organic) have a specific place in products where grease removal and cleaning without leaving a residue is important: window cleaners and products for removing finger marks on walls, for example. Since such products are generally liquids with water as the main ingredient, useful solvents must not only be able to dissolve grease, but must also be compatible with water. Organic compounds make up the solvents of choice in these products.