Cleaning agents are substances, usually liquids, powders, sprays, or granules, that are used to remove dirt, including dust, stains, bad smells, and clutter on surfaces. Purposes of cleaning agents include health, beauty, absence of offensive odor, avoidance of shame, and avoiding the spreading of dirt and contaminants to oneself and others. Some cleaning agents can kill bacteria and clean at the same time.
Cleaning agents normally water solutions that might be acidic, alkaline, or neutral, depending on the use. Cleaning agents may also be solvent-based or solvent-containing and are then called degreasers.
Acidic washing agents are mainly used for removal of inorganic deposits like scaling. The active ingredients are normally strong mineral acids and chelants. Often, there are added surfactants and corrosion inhibitors. One common mineral acid is Hydrochloric Acid, (also called Muriatic Acid), is typically used for cleaning swimming pools and concrete. Vinegar can also be used to clean hard surfaces, and aid in the removal of calcium deposit buildup. Sulfuric acid is added into domestic acidic drain cleaners to unblock clogged pipes by dissolving greases, proteins and even carbohydrate-containing substances (like tissue paper).
Alkaline washing agents contain strong bases like sodium hydroxide and/or potassium hydroxide. The alkali also dissolves grease, oils, fats, and protein-based deposits. Often there are added dispersing agents to prevent redeposition of dissolved dirt and/or chelants to attack rust on metal parts.
Bleach (pH 12) and Ammonia (pH 11) are also common Alkaline cleaning agents. While many people believe that mixing cleaning agents together will create a compound that is more powerful, this is false. Mixing cleaning agents such as bleach and ammonia together can be dangerous or fatal .
Neutral washing agents are pH-neutral and based on non-ionic surfactants that disperse different types of dirt.
Cleaning agents specially made for removal of grease are called degreasers. These may be solvent-based or solvent-containing and may also have surfactants as active ingredients. The solvents have a dissolving action on grease and similar dirt. The solvent-containing degreaser may have an alkaline washing agent added to a solvent to promote further degreasing. Degreasing agents may also be made solvent-free based on alkaline chemicals and/or surfactants.
Common cleaning agents
- Water, the most common cleaning agent, which is a very powerful polar solvent
- Carbon tetrachloride (former)
- Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- Carbon dioxide
- Calcium hypochlorite
- Cyanuric acid (former)
- Chromic acid
- Ethanol or methanol (only in solutions)
- Various forms of alcohol
- Various chlorine compounds
- Acetic acid (vinegar)
- Trisodium phosphate
- Sodium percarbonate
- Sodium perborate