There are hundreds of specialty cleaners on the market that claim to fight stains, blast mildew, and get tough on grime. But how do these chemical cleaners work to get the job done?
There is chemistry behind every cleaner underneath your kitchen sink.
In many environments, like hospitals, schools, and even homes, these chemical cleaners are essential to remove harmful bacteria, mold removal and reduce the spread of infection. Chemical cleaners can also be used for aesthetic appeal—to keep a surface clean and free from dust and dirt. Cleaning products are made with a number of potent chemicals designed to eradicate contaminants, such as bathroom and tile cleaners, stain removers, all-purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, and furniture polishes.
While every cleaning product has its purpose, they each contain different chemical ingredients. Before you use any cleaner in your home or business, it’s important to read labels carefully. Most over-the-counter cleaners are made with toxic ingredients and should be kept out of reach of children. Some chemical cleaners can irritate the eyes and skin upon contact; these products may release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that pollute indoor and outdoor environments in the form of smog.
For this reason, it is critical to read cleaning product labels carefully before purchasing and using chemical cleaners in your home.
These products contain sodium carbonate, a corrosive degreaser used to remove fatty buildup from pans, burners, and drains. Sodium carbonate can be found in powdered detergents and washing soda.
Designed to destroy harmful microbes and dissolve proteins; examples include drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and lye. Strong alkali products are corrosive and must be handled with care as they can burn and irritate the skin and lungs.
These products contain sodium bicarbonate, also called baking soda. Mild alkali products can be used for gentle cleaning as they are not corrosive; these products are safer to use around children and pets but still must be handled with care.
Used to clean sinks, bathtubs, and toilets to remove soap scum, toilet bowl rings, and hard water deposits. Strong acid products are highly corrosive and may contain phosphoric and hydrochloric acids.
Cleaners made with acetic, citric, hydroxyacetic, levulinic, and gluconic acids, used to remove hard water stains, rust, and tarnish in sinks and showers. Mild acid cleaning products are safer to use around children and pets when made with citrus or acetic acids but still must be handled with care.
Used to dissolve oil and grease with ingredients like mineral spirits, denatured alcohols, and acetones. Solvent cleaners may come in the form of stain removers, rug cleaners, and all-purpose cleaning products, all of which are highly flammable.
Used to emulsify grease and fat when found in laundry soap and dishwashing detergent. These products are safer to use around children and pets but still must be handled with care.
- Sodium salts of long chain carboxylic acids
- Sodium salts of long chain benzene sulphonic acids or alkyl sulfate
HOw to obtain
- Obtain by natural resources from plants and animals (fats, oils)
- Synthetic materials, hydrocarbon of petroleum or coal
calcium and salts in water
Affected by hard water?
- Affected. Produces scum in hard water, which affects its cleaning ability
- Not affected
Modern cleaning products may contain a number of toxic chemicals, like phthalates found in fragranced air freshener and dish soap, considered known endocrine disruptors; perchloroethylene or “perc,” a neurotoxin found in stain remover and carpet cleaner; and the powerful irritant ammonia found in glass cleaner and bathroom polish, known to affect sufferers of asthma and respiratory issues. When mixed with bleach, ammonia can create poisonous gas.
It is for this reason that many families and businesses have chosen to “go green” when cleaning. To minimize toxic chemical exposure while still effectively cleaning, environmentally safe product lines have been created to meet Green Seal, New American Dream, or Canada’s Environmental Choice Program criteria.
Cleaning with natural, non-toxic ingredients cuts down on indoor chemical exposure. As an alternative to a more corrosive drain cleaner, a solution of baking soda, water, vinegar, and lemon juice can be used. Natural air fresheners can be made from lemon zest and cinnamon sticks simmered on the stove. Baking soda, water, and vinegar can be stored in a spray bottle and used as an all-purpose cleaner to cut through grease, mildew and mold.
- Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain
- Mix 1 cup white vinegar and the juice of 1/2 a lemon
- Pour the mixture down the drain after the baking soda
- Wait five minutes, then pour a gallon of hot water down the drain. The water will wash out the mixture, leaving you with a clean drain.
Cleaning is a task most of us never give a second thought to, a mundane chore that is part of basic household upkeep. However, for every cleaning product that you use to keep a surface squeaky clean, there is a chemical reaction behind it. Cleaning products are formulated with different chemical properties to most effectively clean clothing, dishes, upholstery, flooring, or hard surfaces.
Cleaning products are classified using the pH scale.
As you may remember from grade-school science class, the pH scale measures the alkalinity or acidity of a certain substance. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 used to measure a neutral substance. A substance with a pH less than 7 is an acid; a substance with a pH greater than 7 is a base. This pH scale matters when it comes to your housekeeping. A cleaning product’s pH will determine its efficacy.
- – Toilet Cleaner
- – Mild Dish Soap
- – Chlorine Bleach
- – Oven Cleaner
- – Tile/Tub Cleaner
- – Ammonia
- – Vinegar
- – Lemon Juice
- Cleaning products that fall outside of the neutral range must be handled carefully
- – Borax
- -baking soda
An alkaline substance like chlorine bleach can be found at the top of the scale; most of us are quite familiar with the fact that bleach is corrosive and requires proper ventilation during use.
Low on the acidic spectrum, you will find toilet bowl cleaner. Some toilet cleaning products have a pH as low as zero, indicating extreme levels of acidity. Acidic toilet bowl cleaner used to break down mineral buildup should be used cautiously and with adequate ventilation.
On the neutral spectrum of the pH scale is mild dish soap. Soaps are made from water-soluble potassium or sodium fatty acid salts, produced through fat hydrolysis in the chemical reaction of saponification. Soap is a preferred cleanser because of its ability to work as an emulsifier. An emulsifier disperses one liquid into another immiscible liquid. As a result, oils and all of the dirt that they cling to are unable to mix with water; soap suspends oil and dirt so that they can be thoroughly cleansed.
Several factors affect soap’s ability to clean thoroughly, one of the most problematic being hard water. If you have ever lived in an area with hard water, you can identify with this frustration. Hardness in water indicates mineral salts in the water supply, like calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), and manganese (Mn). Calcium and magnesium are often the two most common culprits.
Mineral salts meet soap in a chemical reaction that creates soap scum or film on a surface, known as an insoluble precipitate.
This soap scum is hard to wash away. It is easily left behind in the hard water chemical reaction and can build up on surfaces, clothing, and other fabrics. Because of minerals found in hard water and some soft water that create this film, effective soap options can be limited. Surfactants found in detergents may be used instead with a specific chemical makeup designed to avoid hard water reaction and subsequent soap scum.
Stain removers fall into another category of chemical agents that can be used for even deeper cleaning. A stain remover attacks a trouble spot by dissolving the blemish in a solvent. Surfactants help water to penetrate fabric in order to dissolve a stain. Specific oxidizing agents in a stain removal product, like peroxides, borax, and chlorine bleach, may be used to eat at the stain and even digest proteins and fats with the help of additional enzymes. In the final step in the stain removal process, a detergent may use whitening chemicals to hide portions of the stain that were not removed completely.
Household cleaners containing these ingredients will come with a warning that ammonia and bleach should never be mixed because of their chemistry. A mixture of ammonia and bleach will release chloramines, toxic compounds such as monochloramine (NH2C1), dichloramine (NHC12), and nitrogen trichloride (NC13).
Fumes released in this chemical reaction will burn the mucous membranes in the nose. This potentially deadly combination can also create hydrazine—a toxic, explosive substance found in polymer foam and rocket fuel.
Bleach comes in a number of formulations, including chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, bleaching powder, and bleaching agents like sodium persulfate, sodium persilicate, calcium peroxide, zinc peroxide, and more. Bleach whitens by breaking down chromophore chemical bonds, where a molecule’s color can be found.
These chemical changes affect the molecule so that it loses or reflects color. Reducing bleach has the power to alter chromophore double bonds into single bonds to change a molecule’s optical properties so that it becomes colorless.
Chemicals in a home or business should be treated with caution and stored in a locked location to safeguard against accidental poisoning. On top of that, those who use the chemicals most often, adults cleaning in the home or a business’s cleaning staff, must be trained in the proper handling of chemicals to prevent a deadly reaction.
These two chemicals can create a poisonous and even deadly gas. But there’s more—read carefully to find out which household cleaning products you should never combine:
- This mixture can emit toxic and even deadly fumes.
- NEVER mix these cleaning chemicals as it will produce toxic and potentially deadly vapors from chloramine gas.
- Vinegar is acidic, and this combination will produce toxic chlorine vapor; chlorine bleach should not be mixed with any acid, ever.
- Sodium hypochlorite in household bleach will react to ethanol or isopropyl alcohol to create chloroform. This dangerous combination can damage the eyes, skin, lungs, liver, kidneys, and nervous system and could be fatal.
Don’t use this corrosive combination, even for the purpose of “natural cleaning.” Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide can be used to separately clean the same surface, but when mixed in the same container will create corrosive and irritating peracetic acid.
Two Different Drain CleanersTwo different highly-corrosive drain cleaners should not be mixed together; if one product contains bleach and the other hydrochloric acid, you can create dangerous chlorine gas, used as chemical warfare in early World War I.
Wear gloves and long-sleeved clothing when cleaning to avoid skin contact, as well as safety goggles when necessary. Always clean with chemicals in a well-ventilated area to prevent any reactions from fume inhalation. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends taking special precautions around chemical cleaners labeled corrosive, toxic, or flammable with warnings like poison, danger, and caution. Chemical cleaners should always be stored in a locked cabinet out of reach of pets and children.
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“8 Hidden Toxins: What’s Lurking in Your Cleaning Products?”Experience Life.
“What Are the pH Levels of Common Cleaning Supplies?”About.
“Everyday Chemistry – Household cleaners.”humantouchofchemistry.com.
“16 Common Product Combinations You Should Never Mix.”BuzzFeed.