Whether you live in a large house with many rooms or a smaller apartment with only a few, having an array of cleaning solutions at your disposal is necessary to keep things neat and tidy. Glass cleaner, hand soap, bleach and baking soda are just a few of the substances that you'll want to have at your disposal. Messes come in all shapes, sizes and types, and having different materials on hand will allow you to tackle grease, grime, germs, mold, hard-water buildup, bacteria and more. Unfortunately, there's no magic cleaner that works on all types of dirt and every surface. There are, however, a number of versatile all-purpose cleaners that can help with a range of tasks. Keep the following questions in mind as you stock your cleaning arsenal:
• What type of surface are you cleaning?
• What type of soil are you trying to remove?
• What solutions and substances are available?
• What different forms do cleaning solutions come in?
• Are there any special features you'd like to have?
Solution Types, Forms, Usage and Safety
Germs are perhaps the most important reason to keep your home clean. While removing dirt and grime keeps everything looking good and, in many cases, can prolong the life of various objects, the main hazard of a dirty house is the spread of infection. Though you can't control what comes into your house during flu season, you can take steps to minimize the amount of contact you and your family members have with germs in an effort to reduce everyone's chances of getting sick. A good all-purpose cleaner will go a long way toward keeping your house free from germs, dirt and grime. For more specific information on carpet, hand, floor, kitchen and window cleaners, consult our other helpful guides.
Alkalis and Bleaches: Two of the more commonly used cleaning solutions are alkalis and bleaches. Alkali solutions are used to adjust acidity and remove grease and heavy soil from a range of surfaces. Mild solutions, such as sodium bicarbonate (better known as baking soda), can be used to remove burnt food and coffee stains from dishes, freshen up a refrigerator, clean sinks and more. Stronger alkali solutions, such as ammonia and borax, can be used for similar tasks and to take care of heavy-duty messes. Ammonia is often used in glass cleaners. Bleaches are used to remove stains from both fabrics and hard surfaces, such as toilet bowls and countertops. Mild bleaches, such as sodium perborate and hydrogen peroxide, can be used to remove light stains or brighten surfaces. Stronger bleaches, such as chlorine, can be used to remove heavier stains and disinfect toilet bowls and sinks.
• Alkali solutions range from lightly basic to strongly basic
• Alkalis may damage fabrics and irritate skin, and most are toxic
• Strong alkalis, such as sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide, can be used to clean grease from pans and drains
• Bleaches are also available in varying degrees of strength
• Use wood bleaches to remove stains from wood to pave the way for new coloring
Other Cleaning Solutions: There are a number of other types of solutions available, including abrasives, acids, detergents, solvents and more. General all-purpose cleaners come in handy for a wide variety of applications ranging from cleaning the kitchen sink to wiping down the dining room table. The chart below details some commonly used cleaners, the different types available and their typical applications.
Applications and Benefits
• Rust and stain removal
|Acids||• Acetic acid
• Citric acid
• Phosphoric acid
• Sodium bicarbonate
|• Adjust alkalinity
• Remove mineral buildup
• Dissolve calcium
|Antimicrobials||• Pin oil
• Sodium hypochlorate
|• Kill germs and bacteria
• Inhibit germ growth
• Prevent spread of odors and disease
• May sanitize or disinfect
• Propylene glycol
|• Remove organic soils and grease
• Don't leave residue behind
• Water soluble
• Prevent separation in liquids
Forms: Hardwood floors, mirrors, rugs and your hands are all vastly different surfaces, which is one of the major reasons that cleaning solutions come in a variety of different forms. Powders, liquids, bars, scrubbing pads, wipes and aerosol sprays are just some of the formats available. Some types of cleansers are available in multiple formats. Glass cleaner, for example, may be a liquid spray or take the form of a handy wipe, and abrasive cleaners may come in either powdered or liquid form and are also available as scrubbing pads. Sprays may be either aerosol, often used for disinfectants or oven cleaners, or liquid, sometimes used for all-purpose cleansers.
• Cleaners may come in concentrated form and need to be diluted prior to use
• Some powdered cleansers must be dissolved in water
• Some aerosol sprays both disinfect and remove odors
• Pads, wipes and scrubs with cleanser let you clean without using sponges and rags
Usage and Safety: Some cleaners are completely safe and nontoxic while others are extremely harsh and abrasive or poisonous. Carefully read all safety instructions prior to use. Words like "caution" and "warning" usually indicate a mild safety hazard while the word "danger" is likely to alert you to a more serious health threat. Make sure you store cleaning solutions away from food and in an area that children cannot easily access. Depending on what solution you're using and what you're cleaning, you may need to use latex gloves to protect your skin, such as when you're working with bleach.
• Always make sure to properly dispose of cleaning solutions and containers by following the
• Sponges and dish cloths are havens for germs, so be sure to clean and replace them regularly
• Disinfecting kills more germs than sanitizing
• Spot-test cleansers on hidden surfaces first to make sure they won't damage the surface you intend to clean
• Don't mix cleaning products, as chemicals can react to create hazardous gases
Caddy: Cleaning isn't confined to one room, and carrying an armful of different solutions around can be rather inconvenient. Use a cleaning caddy to ferry around your various cleansers and keep them all in one place when you're not using them.
Feather Duster: Lamps, chandeliers, dressers and bookcases are not the easiest objects to clean and dust, particularly with a damp cloth. Spray a little cleanser on a feather duster and watch as it attracts and holds dust particles rather than just swirling them around and allowing them to resettle in a different spot.
All-Purpose Cleaner with Bleach: All-purpose cleaners come in handy for a wide range of tasks, and all-purpose cleaners with bleach are useful for an even larger number of applications because they provide the ability to both clean and brighten.
Leave-On Solutions: Washing the shower is always a bit of a hassle, given its size and the fact that you may have to climb inside to get at the walls. You can reduce the amount of time you spend scrubbing tiles by applying a leave-on cleanser every time you finish showering. These solutions are designed to be sprayed on and left alone while they go to work on the grime, grit and scum that are part and parcel of everyday use.
Colorants and Fragrances: Colorants can be particularly useful in some cleaning solutions, such as cakes that are inserted into your toilet's tank to provide cleansing chemicals with every flush. When the color runs out, you know it's time to replace the cake. Fragrances are sometimes mixed in with cleaning solutions to provide the added benefit of leaving a freshly washed surface smelling as clean as it looks.