Purpose of Cleaning Products

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Purpose of Cleaning Products


cleaning products fall into five general categories based on similarity of function. A few special cleaning products, however, are one of a kind, designed to solve individual problems (opposite).

Gritty compounds containing mineral particles, abrasives are sometimes mixed with detergent, bleach, or other substances. Suitable for cleaning and polishing met­als, they are often present in scouring powders for clean­ing and brightening surfaces such as ceramic tile and porce­lain plumbing fixtures.

work by dislodg­ing dirt, then the detergent in the mixture lifts the dirt par­ticles from the surface. Use care when cleaning plastic, fiberglass, imitation marble, or chrome with abrasives— some can dull the surface permanently.

These powdered substances soak up fresh spills from porous materials. Cornmeal, cornstarch, salt, and talcum powder are excel­lent all-purpose absorbents; clay-base cat litter is good for drawing oil from stained asphalt and concrete.

Containing chlo­rine, hydrogen peroxide, sodium perborate, or sodium percarbonate, bleaches are designed to clean, brighten, and deodorize. Chlorine bleach also disinfects and can remove stains from sinks, tubs, and tiles; lighten dark or discolored wood; disinfect swimming pools; and strip mildew from exterior wood or masonry.

These products dissolve soil without water. Perchloroethylene (PERC), a staple in commercial dry cleaning, is available for home use to remove stains from fabrics. Orange oil dis­solves grease and gummyresidues left by tape and chewing gum. Other solvents include mineral spirits and paint removers.

These synthet­ic substitutes for soap work by breaking up and dispers­ing soil particles so they can be rinsed away. The most common detergents are a mild liquid for dishwashing and the general-purpose household type, sold in pow­der or liquid form. In addi­tion, a liquid glass cleaner comes in handy; for tough jobs you’ll need a heavy-duty degreaser (available as a spray or as a concentrate from janitorial supply stores). Automatic dishwasher deter­gent—2 CUP diluted in 1 gal­lon of water—serves as an effective degreaser.

your household includes children or anyone vulnerable to infection, you may want a disinfectant cleaner for the bathroom and sick rooms.

To protect the environment, choose and use cleaning products with

Buy only as much of a product as you need for the job.

Use products with phosphates only if your municipal water-treatment system has a phos­phorus-removal process.

Choose water-base cleaners over solvent- base ones when possible, and avoid environ­mentally hostile chemicals when there is a practical alternative.

Pass any leftover products to a neighbor rather than throwing them away.

Flush water-base cleaners down the drain, but never pour them on the ground or down a storm sewer, and avoid dumping large quanti­ties of any cleaning product into a septic sys­tem. Dispose of solvents and other nonwater- base substances through a municipal hazardous waste-disposal program.

Purchase cleaners in concentrated form to cut down on packaging.

Rinse containers that held water-soluble liquids thoroughly before throwing them away; shake out dry products. Recycle the containers when possible.


Cleaning agent


Cautions and dilutions



Removes varnish, lac­quer, nail polish, and airplane glue from natu­ral fibers, wood, tile, and vinyl.

Do not use on acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic fibers. Do not dilute.

Drugstores, ahardwre stores

Isopropyl alcohol

Disinfects; used in poul­tices to draw stains out of masonry.

Available full strength, or in 70% solution sold as rubbing alcohol.

Paint stores, drug stores, supermarkets


stains from ce­ramic tile and nonalu­minum cookware; re­moves perspiration, urine, and grease from fabrics. Cuts grease and grime on appliances.

Use at full strength for stain removal. Mix \ cup in a gallon of water for cleaningm appliances; do not apply to aluminum or painted surfaces.

Drugstores, supermarkets

Muriatic acid

efflorescence from concrete and stains from concrete swimming

When used on concrete, dilute with 10 parts wa­ter; on swimming pools, dilute with 4 parts water.

Hardware stores

Oxalic acid

Removes most inks from fabrics and wood floors; rust and copper stains from porcelain bathtubs and sinks; rust from masonry and stone.

For fabrics or wood floors, dilute 1 table­spoon in 2 cups water; for porcelain, masonry, or stone, dilute 1 part in 20 parts water.


Deploying specialty cleaners.

Some are powerful enough to damage certain surfaces if used at full strength— remember to dilute them when neces­sary. Before using any of these chemi­cals, read and follow the package directions, and test the product first on an inconspicuous area of the material being cleaned. All of the chemicals may be purchased in generic form; they are also available as active ingredients in brand-name products.

A variety of light cleaning tasks can be accomplished with the ordinary household products vinegar and baking soda. Although you may need to clean more often and use more elbow grease than with many commercial products—and will still need a disinfectant when one is called for—they are safer for human health and the environment.

Plain white vinegar contains a mild acid called acetic acid. Diluted in water, vinegar removes perspira­tion, urine, and metallic stains from natural fibers; do not use it on ac­etate. It also removes hard-water scale from kettles and chrome fix tures. Full-strength vinegar is excel­lent for cleaning glass or taking rust off sinks and dishes. One gallon of hot water and \ cup of vinegar is a good all-purpose cleaner for appli­ances and vinyl or tile floors.

Baking soda—sodium bicarbon­ate—is a mild base that deodorizes, cuts grease, and provides gentle abra­sion. Use it to scrub countertops, tile, ovens, and porcelain fixtures.

Vinegar and baking soda combine to create fizzing that can clear a partially clogged drain: Pour in \ cup baking soda, then \ cup vinegar, then close the drain. When the fizzing stops, flush the drain with boiling water.



The labels of household cleaners provide signal words—followed by specific directions for use—that indicate the level of care with which to handle the product. “CAUTION” (or “WARNING”) means that the product will irritate the skin or eyes, is harmful when ingested, or is somewhat flammable. “DAN­GER” indicates that the agent may harm skin or cause adverse effects if swallowed. “POISON,” the strictest warning, signifies a chemical that can cause serious harm or even death if it contacts the skin or is taken internally. When using a cleaner labeled with any of these signal words, follow the written in­structions, and keep the product out of the reach of children and pets.

Use only as much of a cleaning agent as you need to do the job and, unless specifically directed to do so, never mix different cleaners. Some combina­tions—such as ammonia and chlorine bleach—form compounds that emit fatal fumes. Leave products in their original con­tainers, properly closed, and do not reuse the containers for other purposes.

Avoid splashing the prod­uct, and wear safety goggles, long sleeves, and gloves. Rubberkitchen gloves are adequate for some substances, but for harsh chemicals you’ll need a special pair made of heavy-duty nitrile. When using a product that gives off noxious fumes, work outside or in a well-ventilated area and take frequent fresh-air breaks. If necessary, wear a respirator with cartridges appropriate for the chemical you are using.

When working with a flammable product, do not smoke; and keep away from heat, sparks, or flames. Extinguish pilot lights when working near a gas stove, clothes dryer, or water heater. Do not place anything that has been cleaned with a flammable agent into a clothes dryer.

If someone accidentally ingests a dangerous chemical, call an emergency room or poison pre­vention line immediately. Follow the instructions on the product label, which may direct that the person drink a glass of milk or water; do not induce vomit­ing unless advised to do so.


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