Spring Cleaning? All You Need is A Little Elbow Grease and Good Chemistry
For many of us, cleaning and sprucing up the home is a true rite of spring. In fact, whether you are disinfecting kitchen surfaces, or scrubbing forgotten floor corners, you are probably using a cleaning product, or maybe several, to help keep your home tidy and fresh.
Cleaning products offer more benefits than keeping homes neat. By safely and effectively removing soils, germs and other contaminants, cleaning products can also help prevent the spread of infectious diseases and help control common indoor allergens, such as dust, mold and pet dander. These allergens can be especially troublesome for the littlest members of the household — dust mites are a common cause of asthma in children, for example.
How do cleaning products work? Cleaning products help keep everything from bathrooms to bedrooms clean because of their chemistry and unique formulations. Specifically, cleaning products use the chemical properties of different ingredients, which make them suitable for a variety of purposes, including sanitization, disinfection and cleaning hard surfaces, floors, upholstery, clothing, and other items.
Here are a few examples of common chemical compounds included in cleaning products and the benefits they can provide:
- Solvents are types of liquids used to dissolve, suspend or extract other materials, usually without chemically changing either the solvents used or the other materials the solvent helps clean. Common solvents used in cleaning products are glycol ethers. These solvents can be highly effective as an active component of heavy-duty glass, floor and other hard surface cleaning formulations because they mix well with water and are good for removing greases and oils.
- Chlorine bleach is a type of surface disinfectant. Chlorine bleach is made by mixing chlorine and caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). Chlorine bleach helps prevent the spread of infections in homes, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and day care facilities.
- Surfactants are compounds used in an array of cleaning products for their ability to wet both the surface to be cleaned and the contaminant to be removed, in essence making the cleaning products’ molecules more slippery, so they are less likely to stick to themselves and more likely to interact with oil and grease.
- Antibacterial or antimicrobial ingredients are substances that kill or slow the growth of harmful microbes, such as viruses or bacterium. These ingredients help clean and kill germs that can make people sick and that accumulate on kitchen counters, office desks, bathroom sinks, and other high-traffic areas in homes and offices.
What do we know about the safety of cleaning products? Cleaning products are essential for clean homes as well as alleviating allergies that can come from dust, mold and pet dander. Some cleaning products can also help reduce the spread of the cold and flu. Here’s what you need to know:
- Labels and instructions on the bottles or packaging of cleaning products are very important for understanding safe use. Labels and instructions often include information on the product’s intended use and directions on how to use the product safely for example, whether to use indoors or outdoors, or inside a well-ventilated room.
- Even though manufacturers formulate cleaning products to be safe or have very low risk, health effects can still result from unintended exposure. Exposure describes both the amount of, and the frequency with which, a chemical substance comes into contact with a person. All chemicals, including water (H2O), can be toxic under certain conditions of exposure.
- If there is a specific hazard in a household cleaning product, household cleaning products carry cautionary labeling. This is one of the most important features of the label.
- To prevent accidental poisonings, always keep cleaning products away from children’s reach. For example, if you are in the process of cleaning and you get a phone call or someone knocks on the door, don’t leave the cleaning products unattended.
Whether you are cleaning your home for spring, or any other time of year, remember to read the instructions before you clean. For more information about cleaning products, visit ChemicalSafetyFacts.org’s page on Cleaning Products.