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:
- Abrasive Cleaners
- Scouring Pads
- Non-abrasive 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
Other Cleaning Aids
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.
KITCHEN, BATHROOM, GLASS AND METAL CLEANERS
|Bleaches||Use of liquid household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) for removing stains on fabrics is well known. Sodium hypochlorite is similarly effective on stains found on hard surfaces. In addition, it can be used as a disinfectant to kill bacteria, viruses and fungi, including moulds and mildew.|
|Disinfectants and Disinfectant Cleaners||Disinfectants contain antimicrobial agents, such as pine oil, sodium hypochlorite, quaternary ammonium compounds or phenols, which kill bacteria and viruses on surfaces. A surface should be free of heavy soil for effective disinfection.Disinfectant cleaners contain surfactants and builders to remove soil in addition to antimicrobial agents to kill germs. Therefore, they are effective at cleaning surfaces as well as killing germs. Label instructions must be followed to assure the surface is disinfected.|
|Drain Openers||Today, drain opening products fall into two categories. The newer category includes maintenance products or “build-up removers”; the second category includes traditional drain openers.Build-up removers are liquids formulated to prevent the grease and soap scum build-up which causes clogged drains. They contain enzymes or a culture of bacteria which produces enzymes. The enzymes break down and digest organic materials, such as grease, that accumulate in pipes. Build-up removers can be used on an ongoing basis to keep drains free flowing.For opening clogged drains, a traditional drain opener may be required. Drain openers are chemically strong liquid or crystal products formulated for this demanding job. Clogged kitchen drains are often caused by plugs of solid grease which may have all types of materials imbedded in them, obstructing the free flow of water. Sodium hydroxide is often used to generate heat to melt fat and break it down to simpler substances that can be rinsed away. Some products also contain agents to produce gas which provides agitation in the drain, a further help in opening drains.Clogged bathroom drains are often caused by hair, soap particles, toothpaste or combinations of these materials. On these problems, liquid drain openers containing sodium hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide can work well.|
|Glass Cleaners||Glass cleaners are designed to clean glass surfaces without streaking or leaving any residual soil or product. Liquid glass cleaners are available in bottles with trigger sprays or in aerosol containers.The products contain surfactants to loosen soil, solvents to dissolve oily soils, and water as the medium to carry surfactants and solvents. Builders are included to remove heavier soils, especially oily soils. Alkaline builders, such as ammonia, are more effective on acidic soils like body oils or cooking grease. Acetic acid (vinegar) provides better performance on alkaline soils like mineral salts.The spraying arrangement, a pump or a pressurized aerosol container, helps in applying the product across the surface to be cleaned, assures uniform distribution and minimizes product waste.Opaque creamy glass cleaners contain surfactants and solvents. They also contain colloidal clays and silica, which absorb soil and dry after spreading. Any remaining dried solid shows areas that need to be wiped.|
|Glass and Multi-surface Cleaners||These function as effective cleaners on a variety of kitchen surfaces and have the additional feature of being non-streaking on glass. The unique combination of surfactants, solvents, mild alkalis and builders provides the non-streaking characteristic.|
|Hard Water Mineral Removers||Water hardness is caused by the presence of dissolved mineral salts, such as those of calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese. When hard water evaporates, a mineral deposit is left behind which can build up over time. Hard water mineral removers are formulated to remove such deposits.These products come as powders or as liquids with push-pull tops or trigger sprays. They contain acids, such as citric, oxalic, sulphamic or hydroxyacetic acid, to dissolve minerals, limescale and rust. Some include surfactants to aid in cleaning and organic solvents to help remove soap scum.Mineral removers are effective where mineral deposits are visible around faucets, shower doors, and in tea kettles, humidifiers and toilet bowls. Their regular use helps prevent mineral deposit build-up.|
|Metal Cleaners and Polishes||Metal presents a special cleaning problem, tarnish (the oxidation of metal), which is the principal soil to be removed. Metal cleaning products are sold as pastes, thick opaque liquids or clear liquids which may hold a fine abrasive in suspension.Surface impurities on most metals are removed more easily in an acidic medium. Metal cleaning products, therefore, usually contain organic acids, such as oxalic, sulphuric or citric. To aid in mechanical removal of tarnish and soil and contribute to metallic luster, a very mild abrasive is present as a polishing/buffering agent. Clay-like materials, such as kaopolite or finely divided hydrous silica, are common mild abrasives used.Metal cleaning formulations may also contain surfactants for ease of spreading the product as well as an aid in soil removal. Some products also contain an antioxidant, which protects the clean metal against rapid retarnishing.|
|Oven Cleaners||These generally are liquids that are packaged in aerosol containers. Charred grease and other food components make up the soils deposited on oven walls. For most oven cleaners designed to work in a cold oven, strong ingredients are necessary to remove burned-on soils. A strong alkali, like sodium hydroxide (lye), is the principal agent in such oven cleaning products. During use, the alkali converts the grease to soap,Another product type uses a combination of less alkaline salts plus oven heat to aid soil removal. Surfactant is also present to help penetrate soil and wet the surface.Oven cleaners are formulated to be as thick as possible to allow the product to cling to the soiled, greasy, vertical oven surfaces.|
|Shower Cleaners||Daily shower cleaners are formulated to prevent build up of soap scum, mildew stains and hard water deposits without rinsing, wiping or scrubbing, and without leaving a dull residue or streaks.Daily shower cleaners are available as liquids in trigger spray bottles. The products contain surfactants to help clean and prevent soap scum and hard water deposits and to aid water in sheeting off shower surfaces. Some products contain builders or chelates, and alcohol or solvents to assist in the continual cleaning process. Some also contain antimicrobial agents to kill germs, including mould and mildew. All the daily shower cleaners contain fragrance.Daily shower cleaners are safe to use on many shower and tub surfaces. However, some products may not be suitable for marble, some plastics or other surfaces; read the product label for specific information. Mist shower surfaces right after showering while the walls are wet and warm. No further scrubbing, wiping or rinsing is required, so simply spray and walk away. For best results, start with a clean shower. If the shower is soiled, it will take two to four weeks to remove pre-existing shower deposits.|
|Toilet Bowl Cleaners||This category comprises many product forms. Whatever the form, the products are designed to maintain a clean and pleasant smelling toilet bowl. Some products also disinfect.Included in this category are thickened liquids that cling to the sides of the toilet bowl, fresheners that keep the bowl smelling fresh, and various forms of in-tank cleaners that release active ingredients into the bowl with each flush of the toilet.Surfactants plus oxidants or acids are the primary ingredients for soil removal. The presence of acids or sequestrants facilitates removal of stains caused by hard water deposits and iron. Specific organic stains are cleaned by oxidizing agents present in some products. Toilet bowl cleaners with disinfecting action contain antimicrobial agents, such as quaternary ammonium salts.To dissolve stubborn rust and hard water stains, some products may contain strong acids, such as hydrochloric acid. Products containing sodium hypochlorite as the oxidizing agent also include alkalis, such as sodium hydroxide, sodium metasilicate or sodium carbonate. Most toilet bowl cleaners contain a pleasing fragrance.
Because of the incompatible nature of these products, manufacturers often warn the consumer not to mix them with other cleaning products.
|Tub, Tile and Sink Cleaners||These specialty products are formulated to remove not only the normal soils found on bathroom and kitchen surfaces, but also hard water deposits, soap scum, rust stains and discolourations due to mould growth, which are common to these areas.Tub, tile and sink cleaners are usually liquids. They are marketed as dilutable liquids, trigger sprays and aerosols. Because many soiled surfaces are vertical, some sprays are dispensed as foams to prevent excessively fast run-off of the cleaning product.Almost universally, such cleaners contain surfactants to penetrate and loosen soil. In addition, they may contain special sequestering agents and specific solvents to dissolve and keep calcium (hardness) deposits, soap scum and metal discolourations in solution.Products designed to remove mildew stains may also contain an oxidant, such as sodium hypochlorite, antimicrobial agents to attack mould and mildew, and alkaline ingredients, such as sodium carbonate, sodium silicate and sodium hydroxide.
Depending on the soil, both acidic and alkaline conditions promote cleaning. Tub, tile and sink cleaners which target soap scum and water hardness deposits may contain acids, such as hydroxyacetic or sulphamic acids, in addition to the ingredients mentioned above.
FLOOR AND FURNITURE CLEANERS
|Carpet and Rug Cleaners||Carpet and rug shampoos are sold as concentrated or ready-to-use liquids, trigger sprays, powders and aerosols. They are formulated to wet the pile of the carpet and take up oily and greasy soils. Such products provide a system that traps soil in suspension and dries to a brittle solid residue. The brittle residue containing the soil particles is then removed by vacuuming. Carpet and rug cleaners actually clean a surface and should not be confused with carpet fresheners which are formulated to reduce malodours that may be found in carpets and rugs.As with many cleaning products, a surfactant is the essential ingredient. A polymer, which helps in making the dried foam brittle, is usually present in carpet/rug cleaners. In addition, shampoos may contain colour brighteners, deodorizers to counteract malodours, and soil retardants to keep carpets cleaner longer.Carpet cleaning can also be achieved by the use of wet, free-flowing powders. These powders contain water, solvents and surfactants to emulsify soil. The emulsified soil is absorbed onto the powders. Once dry, the powder can be easily removed by vacuuming.Besides products to be used directly on carpets or rugs, there are liquid cleaning formulations which are marketed for use with carpet/rug shampooing equipment. The ingredients are essentially identical for both products.
Steam cleaning equipment requires special formulations, as foam interferes with the steam cleaning process. If there is residue from previous shampooings, a defoamer (silicone emulsion) may be used.
|Dusting Products||Dusting products are usually marketed as trigger sprays or aerosols that dispense the ingredients in a fine spray onto surfaces or a dusting cloth. Such products can be used on furniture to attract, pick up and retain light dust and soil on cleaning cloths. They are not appropriate for use on floors as they may make the surface slippery.These products function by picking up and holding dust on the applicator rather than simply spreading and redistributing the dust over furniture or in the area. Some products also contain additives for helping remove oil-based and water-based stains from furniture.Ingredients may include a light hydrocarbon oil used for dust pick-up. An organic solvent is the active ingredient for removal of oil-based stains; water may be present to pick up water-based soils.|
|Floor Care Products||In this group of liquid and paste products, it’s necessary to formulate specialties within specialties because flooring materials come in many types: hard flooring such as stone, masonry and wood; and resilient flooring such as vinyl, asphalt, rubber, linoleum and cork. Each requires a specially formulated product for maximum effectiveness in removing soil, polishing the surface and leaving it with a shine and a protective coat. No-rinse products offer added convenience and easy application. Dusting aids are often used to help remove light particulate soil.Most floor care products contain water as the carrier for small particles of wax such as polyethylene, and polymers such as polyacrylate. When dry, they leave a shine and a light, clear protective layer on the surface.In products for wood or cork flooring, a solvent acts as the carrier for wax particles, such as those of natural carnauba wax which is especially effective in providing a pleasing shine and a hard finish.Floor care products that only clean are closely related in composition to the all-purpose cleaners. In products formulated for resilient flooring, special emphasis is on clear drying without leaving a cloudy or sticky residue. Most resilient floor cleaner products also contain a low level of surfactant to loosen and suspend soil.
With continued use, most floor polishes build up a layer of residue that eventually needs to be stripped off with specially formulated strippers or a mixture of ammonia, all-purpose cleaner and water. True one-step products are designed to be self-stripping. They are formulated so that a new application of product dissolves the old polish and re-applies a fresh coat which dries to the original shine. The sponge mop or cloth is rinsed after each section is done and most of the dirt ends up in the rinse water.
Also marketed are products which do not clean but are used solely for imparting a gloss to floors. Such products are clear emulsions of acrylic polymers, which dry to a hard shiny finish. Some products may also contain wax particles.
In products for wood flooring, liquid or paste wax is still the principal gloss-producing ingredient. Many products require buffing to increase shine. To help prevent slippery conditions, apply the product according to label directions and buff thoroughly.
|Furniture Cleaners and Polishes||Furniture cleaners and polishes are marketed as liquids, pastes or aerosols. The dispensing arrangement of aerosols contributes to uniform deposition of the cleaning product.Furniture cleaners/polishes are designed to remove dust and stains from wood surfaces, produce shine and provide protection against water spots. They are formulated to reduce wax build-up with continued use.The principal ingredients contribute to natural wood shine and provide water repellency to furniture cleaners/polishes, They include silicone fluids and a wax, often a so-called microcrystalline wax. Lemon oil (a non-drying oil) and tung oil (a drying oil) are also used for this purpose. Both are used in products without water. Tung oil may lead to an antique, matte finish which is preferred by some consumers. In addition to contributing to shine, silicone fluids also provide easy application and reduce smearing during application. Silicone helps deliver a uniform surface. A hydrocarbon solvent helps remove oily stains and some wax build up.Furniture cleaners/polishes can be formulated as water-in-oil or oil-in-water emulsions. An emulsion stabilizer is present in both to prevent the product from separating into two layers. Fragrance and colour round out the product formulation.|
|Upholstery Cleaners||Upholstery cleaners are very similar to carpet and rug cleaners. They are marketed as concentrated or ready-to-use liquids, trigger sprays, aerosols and even as powders.Surfactants and materials such as anti-soil agents are the essential components in upholstery cleaning products.|
OTHER CLEANING AIDS
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.