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What Are the Different Types of Cleaning Chemicals?

By Nychole Price
Updated May 21, 2024
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Cleaning chemicals are used in homes, schools and places of business on an everyday basis. Depending upon the ingredients the chemicals contain, they may be toxic. Many people choose to use safer cleaning products if they have children or pets in their households, to minimize the risk of exposure. These chemicals fit into one of seven categories: strong alkali, heavy-duty alkali, mild alkali, strong acid, mild acid, solvent, and soaps and detergents.

A cleaner that fits in the strong alkali category destroys microbes and dissolves proteins. Cleaning products such as oven cleaner, lye, and drain cleaners are this type. They are highly corrosive and cause chemical burns on the skin, and in the lungs, when inhaled. Products that contain sodium hydroxide are put in this category.

Heavy-duty alkalis are those that contain sodium carbonate. This type of cleaning product is used to remove fat from drains, greasy burners, and pans. Sodium carbonate is the building block for powdered detergents and washing soda. This type of cleaner is slightly corrosive, as it will burn skin and corrode aluminum products.

Cleaning chemicals that are put in the mild alkali category are ones that contain sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda. These cleaning products are used on areas that require a mild cleaning. Mild alkalis are safe to use around children and pets, as they aren't corrosive.

Strong acid cleaners are mostly used for cleaning toilets, bathtubs, and sinks. They remove hard water deposits, toilet rings, and soap scum. Strong acids are highly corrosive, especially to concrete, fabric, and metals. Cleaners that contain phosphoric and hydrofluoric acids are considered strong acids.

Mild acids are cleaners that contain levulinic, acetic, hydroxyacetic, citric, and gluconic acids. They are mostly used to remove hard water deposits from around the sink and on shower doors, rust stains, and tarnish. Mild acid cleansers made from citrus or acetic acids are safe for use around children and pets.

Solvents are cleaning chemicals that dissolve grease and oil. The ingredients in solvents include, but aren't limited to, acetones, denatured alcohols, and mineral spirits. Cleansers that contain solvents include spot removers, rug cleaners, and all-purpose cleaners. They are often flammable and combustible, so they must be kept away from extreme heat and open flames.

Soaps and detergents are used to emulsify fat and grease, and they are found in liquid dishwashing detergent and laundry soap. Liquid dishwashing detergent is safe for use around children and pets. The safety of laundry soap is dependent upon the brand and the additional chemicals it may contain.

In exploring cleaning chemicals, the role of detergents, particularly in laundry, is significant. The best laundry detergent sheets effectively balances stain removal and fabric preservation, while also being eco-friendly and safe for use around children and pets. As consumer awareness grows, the preference shifts towards detergents that not only clean but also promote a safe and sustainable cleaning practice.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon933046 — On Feb 14, 2014

Why on earth do we need to learn about such boring things as chemical cleaners? Can't we just read the labels when we need them?

By John57 — On Apr 09, 2012

I am really sensitive to many household cleaning chemicals. I can't even walk down the aisles in the store that contain the cleaning and laundry products without sneezing.

I also have a similar reaction to the dry cleaning chemicals they use. If I am around these very long, I get a headache and feel miserable.

Because of being so sensitive I have had to find other ways to clean. Many years ago I used things like baking soda and vinegar. While they are effective at cleaning, they don't smell very good.

You can find safer cleaning products that work well and also have a natural scent to them that is appealing.

Before I purchased a self-cleaning oven, I even found a natural product that would clean the oven without feeling like I needed to wear a mask so I wouldn't breathe in the fumes.

By golf07 — On Apr 08, 2012

@LisaLou - I don't have a pool so haven't ever had to use chemicals for that. I have used natural cleaning products in my home for many years though.

These used to be a little harder to find than they are today. I always bought mine from a networking company that has a long history of making natural products.

I have heard it said that most people would be surprised at all the toxic cleaning chemicals they keep under their sink and around the house.

I like to know I am cleaning with products that are not toxic for my family and pets. Today you can find different brands of natural cleaning products in just about any store.

It is nice to have more choices and more people aware of using safer cleaning products in their home. I don't know how you can totally eliminate the chemicals, but at least you have options for some safe cleaning chemicals.

By LisaLou — On Apr 07, 2012

When you stop and think about it, there really are a lot of different cleaning chemicals we use in our home. I am trying to switch to more natural cleaning chemicals, but have had mixed results.

Some of them work OK and others don't work as well as I am used to. I usually don't mind using a little bit more elbow grease if I know I am using a safe product.

Sometimes it doesn't seem to matter how hard I scrub, the cleaner doesn't get the job done.

I haven't found any good substitutes for our pool cleaning chemicals though. It can be tricky to get the balance of these chemicals just right.

It would be great if I could find some natural chemicals that weren't as harsh to clean my pool with.

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