Powerful Tips for better cleaning: Understanding pH and Cleaning Chemicals

Understanding the pH scale is a powerful way to save time and get better cleaning results.

In this piece, we’ll cover a quick overview of the pH scale, and discover which chemicals work best on common stains. We’ll also explore how to avoid damaging surfaces when using strong cleaning chemicals, so you can be more confident when cleaning.

Watch this video to learn more about the powerful tips for better cleaning and understanding pH and cleaning chemicals:

What is the pH Scale & How Can It Help the Cleaning Process?

The pH scale shows how acidic or alkaline a chemical is. pH of 7 is neutral, anything below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline.

For each whole number you move away from pH 7, the acidity or alkalinity increases by a factor of 10. That means that a chemical with a pH of 5 is ten times more acidic than pH 6, while pH 1 is 100,000 times more acidic than pH 6.

Examples of common acids would be vinegar, lemon juice or hydrochloric acid, while common alkalines are chemicals like bleach, degreasers and common spray & wipe solutions.

You can often find the pH of a chemical printed on the bottle, if it’s not there it should be on the Product Safety Data Sheet.

While the pH of a chemical is not the only factor that will affect it’s cleaning ability, different soil types react differently to acidic or alkaline chemicals. This is because soiling, or dirt has a definite pH.

A general rule is that acidic soil build-up requires an alkaline chemical for best results. And yes, you guessed it, alkaline soil build-up will require an acidic chemical. This is why understanding pH is such an important part of cleaning, and these basic principles can save a huge amount of time and hard work.

Popular applications for Acid-Based Cleaning Solutions

Acid-based cleaners are great for tackling inorganic and mineral-based stains.

Think of calcium deposits, hard water stains, dried urine, and limescale build-ups – all the types of soiling you find in bathrooms, shower areas, or outdoors around a swimming pool.

Acid cleaners are the best way to remove these mineral-based stains, which cuts through and liquifies the build-up where it can be washed away. If you’re cleaning tiles and grout in a bathroom, use an acidic product like a phosphoric acid-based tile cleaner.

You must be careful with acids, though. Avoid spraying acidic cleaners which can land on delicate surfaces and damage them, instead use a mop, sponge or squeeze bottle to apply the solution. Also remember to wear a mask, eye protection and gloves.

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If you need to clean natural stones like granite, limestone, sandstone and marble, and metals like copper, aluminum, bronze and brass, avoid using strong acids as these surfaces tend to be etched by acid.

Tip; Whenever you are cleaning using strong chemicals, start with mild dilution and test in a small area first.

When to Use Alkaline-based Cleaning Solutions

Alkaline chemicals are incredibly effective at tackling organic and oily stains.

Think of the oily stains and general dirt build-up you’ll find in areas like kitchens, lunchrooms, classrooms, industrial and retail environments. In fact; if it is not a bathroom, you would use an alkaline cleaner.

This is because most organic stains tend to be acidic in nature, making an alkaline cleaner the best choice for fast, effective cleaning.

How strong the chemical will need to be depends on the application. For example, for daily mopping in a kitchen area, you could use a mild alkaline detergent with a pH of around 8-9.

Whereas for a once-a-year deep clean in the same area, you might want to use a stronger product such as a Heavy-Duty tile cleaner – which could have a pH of 11 or even higher.

How to Avoid Damaging Surfaces with Strong Chemicals

Now that we’ve covered some basic principles of acidic and alkaline cleaning chemicals, here’s three simple ways to avoid damaging surfaces when you’re cleaning.

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  1. Follow the dilution ratios recommended on the label; adding more chemical doesn’t necessarily mean a better clean. Excess chemical residues remain on the surface and attracts more dirt.
  2. Don’t leave strong chemicals on a surface for too long, and don’t let them dry out before you rinse them off.
  3. Follow any specific cleaning guides from the flooring manufacturer, and always pre-test on a small area to be safe.

To summarise, here's some powerful tips for better cleaning:

  • Acidic cleaners are best for inorganic, mineral-based stains in bathrooms.
  • Avoid granite, limestone, sandstone and marble, and metals with acid-based cleaners.
  • Alkaline cleaners are best for organic, oil-based stains such as in kitchens, lunchrooms, classrooms, industrial and retail environments.
  • Always follow dilution ratios to avoid using too much of a cleaning chemical.
  • Acidic build-up is best tackled by an alkaline cleaner, and vice versa.
  • Always pre-test cleaning chemicals on a small area and don’t leave strong chemicals on a surface for too long.

We hope that you found this article helpful and if you have any questions about pH and cleaning chemicals, please get in touch today.