How Cleaning Chemicals Work

Choosing the Right pH Cleaner

To understand how to best clean something, you must understand that cleaning products are either acidic, alkaline (base) or neutral. These terms are assigned based on the cleaners’ position on a 1-14 pH scale that represents the acidity of the agent. pH stands for ‘potential hydrogen’ and indicates how likely a substance will add hydrogen ions when added to water. For example, laundry detergents are alkaline so they will attract hydrogen when in water.

Here is a quick look at some common substances and where they fall on the pH scale with neutral items being in the center.

pH Scale Acidic to Alkaline

When it comes to cleaners, a higher pH does not indicate a greater cleaning strength, but rather, the number tells you the concentration of hydrogen or hydroxide ions present. This information is useful for choosing the right cleaner to break down materials. If the substance you want to remove is acidic (on the left side of the scale), you want to choose a cleaner that is alkaline (on the right side) to break down the acid and return it to a neutral pH where it can be more effectively cleaned. The same works for the other side as well, where acidic cleaners are good for removing alkaline debris.

Types of Cleaning Agents

Acidic Agents

Acidic cleaners usually have mineral acids (like hydrochloric acid) or chelates as the active ingredient. They are used to brighten metals or remove mineral deposits and clean oxidized materials. Many bathroom fixture cleaners are acidic, and their purpose is to remove calcium buildup (water stains/lime deposits) or scaly or corrosive deposits.

Alkaline Agents

Alkaline cleaners, like degreasers and ammonia, are used to dissolve fats, oils and proteins. Most soils will contain these elements and alkaline cleaning agents will break down these materials and make them easier to remove.

Neutral Agents

Neutral cleaning agents are called such due to their pH-neutral base. They are useful for dispersing dirt, dust and other debris though a completely neutral base. They will have less cleaning effect than a cleaning agent that falls more to one side of the scale, and are ideal for light soil loads.


Degreasers are any of the above cleaners whose primary purpose is to remove grease and oils, either animal fats or petroleum soils.

Determine What Cleaner to Use

To determine what cleaner to use you should first answer these two questions:

  • What type of surface are you cleaning?
  • What kinds of substances are you trying to remove?

Examples of Common Uses for Cleaners

pH Cleaning Chart

Fighting against stains, calcification, soil and debris in your place of business means having the right cleaners for the job. You can find a wide variety of pH scale cleaners as well the safety accessories you need at Ferguson Facilities Supply. Search our inventory of cleaning chemicals today and contact us with questions about the best solutions for your needs.


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