The effectiveness and usability of cleaning products is hugely influenced by their acidity (or pH). For those in the cleaning profession, it is important to know how products of different acidities can be used to clean various areas. At the same time, it’s crucial to understand the safety precautions that are called for in dealing with products at either end of the pH scale.
That’s why we’ve brought you a guide to pH and cleaning chemicals. We understand that chemistry class might not be the fondest memory of your days in high school, so we’ve got the basics covered.
The PH scale basics
The pH scale is a measure from zero to 14. It reflects the relative amount of free hydrogen and hydroxyl ions in the water – the more hydrogen ions, the more acidic the product, the greater the amount of hydroxyl ions, the more alkaline the product.
The middle number on the scale, 7, is used to describe substances that are neutral in acidity – for example pure water. Any number on the scale below 7 is acidic, any number above 7 is considered alkaline.
Acidic substances are great for removing calcium, rust and minerals while alkaline solutions are much more effective at cutting through grease, proteins, oils, dirt and organic items.
The PH balance of many household cleaning items
To help you wrap your head around how the pH scale fits into the bigger picture when it comes to cleaning, we’ve included the pH numbers for a variety of common cleaning products.
- Chlorine bleach (pH 11 – 13) – This is about as alkaline as a product can get, which makes it fantastic at whitening and removing stains. That being said, because it is so far to one end of the PH scale it also happens to be fairly corrosive. This means it’s great for every hard surface, but you need proper ventilation when using it.
- Toilet bowl cleaner (pH 1 – 3) – Right at the other end of the scale we have toilet bowl cleaner that is extremely acidic but perfect for breaking down minerals and other non-organic nasties that might be lurking in your toilet bowl. That being said, because the pH is right at one end of the spectrum, you must use these products with extreme caution.
- Mild dish detergent (pH 7 – 8) – If you’re using dish detergent that’s labelled ‘mild’ this generally means its pH level is sitting just around the middle, which is perfect for items you’re cleaning on a daily basis. Most surfaces won’t be damaged by mild dish soap and you generally don’t need to wear protection when dealing with products of a neutral acidity.
- Ammonia (pH 11 – 12) – Another highly alkaline substance, ammonia is a formidable cleaner that can work miracles in removing dirt and grime. That being said, it’s position on the scale means it must be used with proper protective equipment in an area that provides adequate ventilation.
- Vinegar (pH 3) – Again, right at the other end of the scale we have vinegar. The acidic properties in vinegar make it perfect for removing tough mineral deposits, but it also makes it a bad choice for some surfaces (particularly stone). Vinegar also has the potential to cause real damage if you’re not being careful – face and hand protection is a definite must.
pH neutralisation in cleaning
One advantage in keeping the pH scale front of mind when you’re cleaning, is the way neutralisation products can be used to return stains to a neutral pH for easier removal. For example:
Mixing chemicals without following manufacturer instructions is not to be tolerated – ever! It’s easy to recall the concoctions that were created in science experiments during high school, and the potential danger that this can cause to people and the surrounding environment. Imagine what damage could be done to a floor surface, or the cleaner, if proper instructions are not followed.
Removing salt residue from floors
Salt as a substance is highly alkaline so a normal floor cleaner would be an ineffective method to fight through salt residue. By employing the use of an acidic neutraliser you’ll cut through the stain much more effectively and remove the salt residue in no time at all.
Rinse carpets after cleaning
Many common carpet cleaning chemicals are slightly alkaline, which can leave carpets sticky once the moisture evaporates. To avoid this, rinse your carpets with a neutraliser to even out the balance (this also minimises the chances of re-soiling the carpet).
Preparing a stripped floor for refinishing
Chemical floor strippers leave behind a lot of residue that can severely damage a new floor finish. To make sure all the chemical residue is removed, it’s a good idea to rinse the floor with a neutralising substance and water before you apply the finish.