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5 Factors to Consider When Choosing an All-Purpose Cleaner

Category: Tips and Tricks

For homes that are cleaned regularly and consistently, all-purpose cleaning solutions will typically suffice for most cleaning needs and is generally the safest choice for use around people, pets, and on the broadest variety of home surfaces, including hard floors, sinks, countertops, tub and tile. Here are 5 key things to consider when choosing an all-purpose cleaner:

  1. Acidity/alkalinity. A cleaner is considered all-purpose if it falls in the middle of the 0–14 pH scale, ranging from slightly acidic (pH=6), to pH-neutral (7), to slightly alkaline (pH=8). Alkaline-leaning all-purpose cleaners will be somewhat better at breaking up organic grimes (such as dirts, oils, and greases), while more acid-leaning solutions will be better at cleaning inorganic types of stains such as calcium deposits, rust, or soap scum (which forms when molecules from soap bond with minerals in water). Note that most dishwashing liquids fall into the 6–8 pH range, which is why they make great stand-ins for many all-purpose cleaning tasks.
  2. Safety for people and pets. Due to their pH neutrality, all-purpose cleaners are generally the safest choices for use around children, elderly, asthmatics, allergy sufferers, and pets. Solutions that fall outside of the 6–8pH range can burn skin, eyes, and internal respiratory tissues. When it comes to other dangerous chemicals—including known and suspected carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and so forth—it’s important to know that cleaning-solution manufacturers are allowed to incorporate a broad range of chemicals into their solutions and are NOT required to break out each ingredient in labeling (so be particularly wary of umbrella-sounding terms on a cleaner’s ingredient list). All of the fine print and usage guidelines—such as instructions to ventilate well, wear gloves, avoid contact with skin, limit exposure time, rinse thoroughly, etc.—are excellent indicators of how chemically harsh a solution really is. Ultimately, the more regularly you clean your home, the more likely it is that gentler, all-purpose solutions can be used effectively.
  3. Synthetic vs. natural or plant-based. ALL cleaners that work well are essentially chemical in nature; some are composed of synthetics (chemicals created in a lab or factory setting) while others rely on chemicals produced in nature (plant-based). Cleaning solutions labelled as natural or green aren’t necessarily safer than synthetics. A good cleaner—be it synthetic or plant-based—will be formulated to pick up dirt and to be free rinsing, leaving little to no residues behind when used as instructed. A poor cleaner—be it synthetic or plant-based—can fall apart chemically when dissolved in water. Aside from failing to bond with and remove dirt particles, such cleaners have the potential to leave behind damaging and even dangerous residues that aren’t always visible.
  4. Streaking/residue. Streaking is a good indicator that an all-purpose cleaner is leaving behind unwanted residues, which can release dangerous particles into the air or become breeding grounds for bacteria and other germs. When a recently cleaned surface seems to get dirty quickly, it’s a strong sign that your all-purpose cleaner is either not free rinsing or that you’re doing something wrong in your rinsing process. Basically, the same chemicals designed to bond with and lift dirt away will continue to do their jobs—attracting and bonding with dirts and oils—when left behind in residue form.
  5. Convenience vs. costs. Convenience in all-purpose cleaning solutions is multifaceted. Sprays are generally easier to use than liquids, pre-diluted easier than concentrates, and pre-treated wipes easier than solutions that need separate cloths or sponges to apply. Gentler all-purpose cleaning solutions may also have longer dwell times—that is, more time needed to sit on a surface in order to effectively dissolve soils and/or to sanitize or disinfect. Tradeoffs for convenience are, of course, higher costs in terms of sticker price, storage space, environmental impacts from packaging, transportation costs, and potentially safety as faster-working solutions often incorporate harsher chemicals.

A golden rule of cleaning is to always use the least harsh, most effective solution for any cleaning job at hand. Cleaning regularly makes that rule much easier to follow; if you don’t have time to do it all yourself, get in touch with MaidPro to see how we can help.