Chemicals Used in Cleaning

Choosing the right cleaning chemical depends on the surface that needs to be cleaned. Using an acidic cleaner on a hard surface, for example, can damage the surface, and may cause it to scratch or dull over time. A non-acid, pH neutral cleaner is usually safe to use on all surfaces and types of dirt.

There are many different chemicals used in the manufacture of cleaning products, including surfactants and solvents. Surfactants (also known as surface active agents) orient themselves at the interface between water and soil, reducing the tension between the two to allow them to mix and wash away. Most laundry detergents, all-purpose cleansers and washing-up liquids contain surfactants. For details on Cleaning Chemical Supply, go to

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Bleach is a highly acidic chemical that removes organic contaminants such as blood, vomit and sweat from clothing and surfaces. Chlorine bleach is the most common type of bleach, although there are also new, safer non-chlorine bleaches available on the market. Bleach vapours and liquid can irritate the eyes, skin and nose. Chlorine can also corrode some metals such as iron and steel.

A very strong acidic chemical, sodium hydroxide (lye), is often used to clean drains and ovens and to make soap. Sodium hydroxide is extremely caustic and can burn the skin and mucous membranes of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. It is also corrosive to metals and will dissolve most plastics. Sodium hydroxide can react with a number of metals to produce toxic gases that are harmful or even deadly.

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Mild acids such as levulinic, acetic, hydroxyacetic and citric acid are used to remove mildew from fabrics, rust stains from metal and tarnish from wood. Acid cleaners can also be used as a neutraliser to break down alkaline substances such as scale from hard water.

Corrosives are highly reactive chemicals that eat away or corrode most organic and inorganic contaminants, surfaces and living tissue by chemical reaction. Most corrosive cleaning chemicals are extreme on the pH scale, either very acidic or very alkaline. Examples of corrosive cleaning chemicals include phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid and hydrochloric acid.

Many natural cleaners and disinfectants, such as vinegar, lemon juice and borax are acidic. These chemicals can break down and dissolve gummy build-up, deodorise, disinfect and kill microbial growth. They are not recommended for all surfaces, however, as they can damage the surface of some materials such as hardwood, formica and linoleum.

Solvents, which are liquids that dissolve grease and oils, are often found in polishes and waxes for wood furniture and floors, as well as in spot removers and all-purpose cleaners. Most solvents are flammable, and should be kept away from open flames and extreme heat.

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