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Understanding Cleaning Agents Commonly Used in Housekeeping: How to Clean Safely and Effectively

Cleaning products play an essential role in our daily lives at home and in the workplace and are essential to personal and public health. By safely and effectively removing soils, germs, and other contaminants, they contribute to good personal hygiene; reduce the presence of germs that cause infectious diseases; extend the life of clothes, linens, tableware, surfaces, and furnishings; and make our homes and workplaces more pleasant. 

Although there is a multitude of cleaning products on the market to choose from, ultimately, they all fall into one of four categories: detergents, degreasers, abrasives, and acids. Each of these cleaning agents has a specific job to do depending on the item or surface to be cleaned, the cleaning method, and the type of soiling found on the item or surface. You always want to make sure you are using the right cleaning agent for the task at hand. 

Between chemical reactiveness and reduced effectiveness, there are a number of good reasons to never mix certain cleaning ingredients or use them simultaneously. Bleach, for example, contains 5.25% sodium hypochlorite. If mistakenly mixed with something like vinegar, it can release enough chlorine gas to be fatal.

In this article, we are going to dive into the best practices for using each type of cleaning agent so that you can clean  smarter, not harder – and safely and more effectively.   

Detergents

Detergents are substances that contain soaps and/or surfactants (any organic substance/mixture). They are the most common type of cleaning agent are used in the home and in commercial facilities. Detergents are able to emulsify oils, hold dirt in suspension, and act as wetting agents. Almost every detergent on the market requires water to work. They are extremely versatile cleaners and come in different forms including powders, tablets, concentrated liquids, liquid capsules, gel, pastes, and cakes.

Detergents are not recommended for surfaces like hardwood floors, leather, silk, cast iron frying pans, or mirrored surfaces. Use them for washing or cleaning jobs for the household, institutional or industrial purposes, including dishwashing, handwashing, washing laundry, fabric softeners, all-purpose cleaners, and bleaching.

Degreasers

Degreasers, also known as solvent cleaners, are used to remove grease from surfaces such as oven tops, counters, and grill backsplashes. Degreasers remove organic soils, like fats, oils, and proteins – used primarily in the kitchen. Organic soils are best removed with higher pH (or alkaline) solutions. The more caked on the kitchen mess is, the higher alkaline cleaner you need. Oven cleaners, for example, are highly alkaline, since they need to clear baked-on carbonized substances that build up over time.

Mild degreasers, which are most commonly used in the kitchen can also be found in the cleansers you turn to in your laundry room. Mild degreasers are lower alkaline and designed to keep the integrity of the surface they are being used on. You should avoid mixing degreasers of any kind with other chemical cleaning agents such as bleach, acids, caustics, and ammonia.

Abrasives

Abrasives are substances or chemicals that depend on a bit of elbow grease (rubbing or scrubbing action) to clean dirt from hard surfaces. The abrasive action is provided by a physical, mineral, or chemical force. Minerals (like calcite, feldspar, calcite, silica, and others), substances (like salt, baking soda, and powdered borax), or materials (like steel wool, copper, nylon, and metal) can all qualify as abrasives.

Abrasive cleaners are designed to remove relatively heavy amounts of soil. They wear off dirt, stains, tarnish, and hard water deposits by scraping them away, facilitating the A for “agitation” in the C-H-A-T cleaning formula: chemical – heat – agitation – time. The degree of abrasiveness of products varies: fine particles are less abrasive and coarse particles are more abrasive.

Available in both powdered and liquid form, abrasives contain a kind of built-in elbow grease that helps to cut down on the hard scrubbing required to remove soil.  Powdered cleansers also contain small amounts of surfactants for removing oily soils such as the greasy film found in sinks after dishwashing. When removal of food, beverage, or mold stains is needed, a bleaching agent is usually present.

If removal of rust stains is a feature of the product, oxalic acid or sodium hydrosulfite is usually present. Abrasives should be used with care as over time, the overuse of some abrasive cleaners can remove the glaze or coating from surfaces. They can also scratch certain types of materials such as plastic or stainless steel. 

Acid cleaners

Acid cleaners are the most powerful type of cleaning agent and should be used with care. If they are not diluted correctly, acid cleaners can be corrosive and very poisonous. An acid is a cleaning solution with a pH of six or lower and can range from very mild to very strong. Substances like cola, vinegar, coffee, and lemon are all considered acidic due to their pH. When used in cleaning products, acids help break down difficult stains such as rust, soap scum, or mineral deposits.

Mild acids like vinegar and lemon juice can be used around your home to help with smaller messes or on a wider variety of surfaces. Harsher acids can be used in special situations with greater caution. Examples of acidic cleansers include hard water or mineral deposit removers, toilet bowl cleaners, rust stain removers, tub & tile cleaners, and mold removers.

You never want to use acid cleaners on surfaces longer than the directions advise as they can cause damage if used incorrectly. Regardless of the type of acid cleaner you are using, make sure to always wear protective eyewear and gloves.  

Cleaning products and safety

Cleaning products, while safe and effective, must be handled appropriately and used according to the instructions on the product label. Any chemical, even water or oxygen, can be toxic if too much is ingested or absorbed into the body. The toxicity of a specific substance depends on a variety of factors, including how much of the substance a person is exposed to, how they are exposed, and for how long. 

Since the onset of Covid-19, accidental poisonings in the U.S. have risen dramatically – up 20% in the first three months of 2020 compared with the year before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers found that 45,550 calls related to disinfectants and cleaners were recorded by poison control centers during the first three months of this year- 28,158 for cleaners and 17,392 for disinfectants.

Often problems arose when people unwittingly or inadvertently mixed different kinds of cleaning agents. Almost two-thirds of the incidents involving bleach and most of the others non-alcohol disinfectants and hand sanitizers. Inhalation-related poisonings made up the biggest segment of the increase in calls. The report’s findings were based on data from the National Poison Data System.

The CDC cited several reasons why people become poisoned by cleaning agents and disinfectants: They use products improperly (in amounts above what is recommended on the label, for example); They mix two or more products together (such as ammonia and bleach), which can cause a potentially dangerous chemical reaction; And they use the products in poorly ventilated spaces.

In summary

An effective, efficient, and safe cleaning process depends on what surface needs to be treated and using the appropriate cleaner to get the job done in a reasonable amount of time. Keeping surfaces clean and free of soil not only helps extend the life of our personal possessions but reduces the chances of spreading illness-causing germs.

Make sure to only use cleaners as directed. Read and follow the label directions for safe and effective use. Only use cleaners on objects or surfaces they are intended for. Never mix cleaning products together and only use one cleaner at a time. Bleach, ammonia, and other hard-surface cleaners can irritate your skin, eyes, and throat. Use gloves when cleaning and make sure the area you are cleaning in has adequate ventilation.  

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Cleanstart

Are you in need of professional house cleaning services? Whether you are looking for help on a regular basis or just need a really good once-over, a house cleaning service is not only practical, it can be a real game-changer, especially if you have a hectic schedule. Our cleaning pros at Cleanstart are standing by and ready to make your home sparkling clean – just the way you like it! 

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Due to the pandemic, we are taking extra measures to ensure we provide the best cleaning services possible while also maintaining high safety standards as per CDC guidelines. Our cleaning professionals will sanitize their hands, put on masks, gloves, and booties, and wear additional protective equipment as needed before entering your home. We also make sure that all of our cleaning supplies, tools, and equipment are cleaned and disinfected prior to each cleaning visit. And while cleaning your home, our cleaning team will maintain a 6-foot distance from others.

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At Cleanstart, we strive to provide the highest-quality cleaning services possible and your satisfaction is extremely important to us. We provide a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. If you are dissatisfied with any aspect of our service, please give us a call within 24 hours and we will make it right at no additional cost to you. We want you to feel completely confident in the quality of our services and in our ability to accommodate all of your house cleaning needs.

Cleanstart proudly offers:

✓ Over 25 years of experience in the cleaning and janitorial industry
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For more information about our high-quality, professional house cleaning services or to schedule a cleaning visit, please give Cleanstart a call today at (253) 921-2593 or request a free online cleaning estimate!

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Auburn, Bellevue, Bellingham, Bonney Lake, Bremerton, Factoria, Fife, Olympia, Kent, Lakewood, Olympia, Puyallup, Renton, Seattle, Tacoma, Tukwila, University Place, King County, Kitsap County, Pierce County, and Thurston County.

5013 Pacific Hwy E unit 16 Fife, WA 98424 • Phone: 253.921.2593 • Email: Caleb @ thecleanstart.com

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