Cleaning agents or hard-surface cleaners are substances (usually liquids, powders, sprays, or granules) used to remove dirt, including dust, stains, bad smells, and clutter on surfaces. Purposes of cleaning agents include health, beauty, removing offensive odor, and avoiding the spread of dirt and contaminants to oneself and others. Some cleaning agents can kill bacteria (e.g. door handle bacteria, as well as bacteria on worktops and other metallic surfaces) and clean at the same time. Others, called degreasers, contain organic solvents to help dissolve oils and fats.
Acidic cleaning agents are mainly used for removal of inorganic deposits like scaling. The active ingredients are normally strong mineral acids and chelants. Often, surfactants and corrosion inhibitors are added to the acid.
Hydrochloric acid is a common mineral acid typically used for concrete. Vinegar can also be used to clean hard surfaces and remove calcium deposits that also helps to maintain our environment bacteria free. Sulphuric acid is used in acidic drain cleaners to unblock clogged pipes by dissolving greases, proteins, and even carbohydrate-containing substances such as toilet tissue.
Alkaline cleaning agents contain strong bases like sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. Bleach (pH 12) and ammonia (pH 11) are common alkaline cleaning agents. Often, dispersants, to prevent redeposition of dissolved dirt, and chelants, to attack rust, are added to the alkaline agent.
Neutral washing agents are pH-neutral and based on non-ionic surfactants that disperse different types.
Special bleaching powders contain compounds that release sodium hypochlorite, the classical household bleaching agent. These precursor agents include trichloroisocyanuric acid and mixtures of sodium hypochlorite (“chlorinated orthophosphate”).
Traditional oven cleaners contain sodium hydroxide (lye), solvents, and other ingredients, and work best when used in a slightly-warm (not hot) oven. If used in a self-cleaning oven, the lye will cause permanent damage to the oven.
New-style oven cleaners are based on ingredients other than lye. These products must be used in a cold oven. Most new-style oven cleaners can be used in self-cleaning ovens.
Oven cleaners are some of the most toxic household cleaning products available on the market. Correct use of an oven cleaner may be reasonably safe, but incorrect use, including breathing fumes, contact with eyes and mucous membranes and swallowing can cause poisoning.
One popular oven cleaner brand in the US is "Easy-Off", sold by Reckitt Benckiser. Popular choices in the UK include "Zep Oven Brite" and "Mr Muscle Oven Cleaner".
All-purpose cleansers contain mixtures of anionic and nonionic surfactants, polymeric phosphates or other sequestering agents, solvents, hydrotropic substances, polymeric compounds, corrosion inhibitors, skin-protective agents, and sometimes perfumes and colorants. Aversive agents, such as denatonium, are occasionally added to cleaning products to discourage animals and small children from consuming them.
Some cleaners contain water-soluble organic solvents like glycol ethers and fatty alcohols, which ease the removal of oil, fat and paint. Disinfectant additives include quaternary ammonium compounds, phenol derivatives, terpene alcohols (pine oil), aldehydes, and aldehyde-amine condensation products.
All-purpose cleaners are usually concentrated solutions of surfactants and water softeners, which enhance the behavior of surfactant in hard water. Typical surfactants are alkylbenzenesulfonates, an anionic detergent, and modified fatty alcohols. A typical water softener is sodium triphosphate.
All-purpose cleansers are effective with most common kinds of dirt. Their dilute solutions are neutral or weakly alkaline, and are safe for use on most surfaces.
Manual dishwashing detergent
Automatic dishwashing detergents (ADDs)
Toilet cleaners / hygiene / deodorant products
Toilet bowl cleaning often is aimed at removal of calcium carbonate deposits, which are attacked by acids. Powdered cleaners contain acids that come in the form of solid salts, such as sodium hydrogen sulfate. Liquid toilet bowl cleaners contain other acids, typically dilute hydrochloric, phosphoric, or formic acids. These convert the calcium carbonate into salts that are soluble in water or are easily rinsed away.
Metal cleaners are used for cleaning stainless steel sinks, faucets, metal trim, silverware, etc. These products contain abrasives (e.g., siliceous chalk, diatomaceous earth, alumina) with a particle size < 20 μm. Fatty alcohol or alkylphenol polyglycol ethers with 7-12 ethylene oxide (EO) units are used as surfactants.
For ferrous metals, the cleaners contain chelating agents, abrasives, and surfactants. These agents include citric and phosphoric acids, which are nonaggressive. Surfactants are usually modified fatty alcohols. Silver cleaning is a specialty since silver is noble but tends to tarnish via formation of black silver sulfide, which is removable via silver-specific complexants such as thiourea.
For special type of precious metals especially those used for luxury watches and high-end jewelry, special type of cleaning agents are usually used to clean and protect them from the Elements. Some examples of these cleaners include jewelry cleaner from Weiman, watch cleaning solution from HOROCD & even cleaning metal plates from Holland Hallmark.
Light duty hard surface cleaners are not intended to handle heavy dirt and grease. Because these products are expected to clean without rinsing and result in a streak-free shine, they contain no salts. Typical window cleaning items consist of alcohols, either ethanol or isopropanol, and surfactants for dissolving grease. Other components include small amounts of ammonia as well as dyes and perfumes.
These are composed of organic, water-miscible solvent such as isopropyl alcohol and an alkaline detergent. Some glass cleaners also contain a fine, mild abrasive. Most glass cleaners are available as sprays or liquid. They are sprayed directly onto windows, mirrors and other glass surfaces or applied on with a soft cloth and rubbed off using a soft, lint-free duster. A glass cloth ideal for the purpose and soft water to which some methylated spirit or vinegar is added which is an inexpensive glass cleaner.
Building facade cleaners
For acid-resistant building facades, such as brick, acids are typically used. These include mixtures of phosphoric and hydrofluoric acids as well as surfactants. For acid-sensitive facades such as concrete, strongly alkaline cleaners are used such as sodium hydroxide and thickeners. Both types of cleaners require a rinsing and often special care since the solutions are aggressive toward skin.
Common cleaning agents
- Acetic acid (vinegar)
- Acetone (can damage plastics)
- Various forms of alcohol including isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol
- Ammonia solution
- Amyl nitrite and other nitrites
- Calcium hypochlorite (powdered bleach)
- Carbon dioxide
- Chromic acid
- Citric acid
- Freon (e.g. dichlorodifluoromethane) (discontinued in 1995 due to damage to the ozone layer)
- Saltwater soap (a potassium based soap)
- Soap or detergent
- Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- Sodium hydroxide (lye)
- Sodium hypochlorite (liquid bleach)
- Sodium perborate
- Sodium percarbonate
- Tetrachloroethylene (dry cleaning)
- Trisodium phosphate
- Water, the most common cleaning agent, which is a very powerful polar solvent
- Xylene (can damage plastics)
- Christian Nitsch, Hans-Joachim Heitland, Horst Marsen, Hans-Joachim Schlüussler (2005). "Cleansing Agents". Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH. doi:10.1002/14356007.a07_137. ISBN 3527306730.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
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- https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/poison/oven-cleaner-poisoning Oven cleaner poisoning, The Mount Sinai Health System, retrieved April 18th, 2021
- Christian Nitsch; Hans-Joachim Heitland; Horst Marsen; Hans-Joachim Schlüssler (2007), "Cleansing Agents", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley
- L. Christopher, Antonia (21 May 2019). "Stainless Steel Faucets". Jeanette Wade.
- Chan, Tim (13 May 2020). "After Washing Your Hands, Here's How to Clean and Disinfect Your Watches and Jewelry". Rolling Stone.
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