Germs are everywhere. We know that’s a cliche line, but it is still a very valid. Disease-causing microorganisms are all around us, in the air we breathe, the water we use, and most especially on surfaces around homes, office spaces, and pretty much everywhere we go. These tiny organisms that make you sick can get on your hands after using the toilet, door handles, or touching any other exposed surface or object.

In the wake of the recent Coronavirus outbreak, the Center for Disease Control and other relevant agencies have been continually raising awareness about the various ways to prevent the spread of the disease. In addition to washing your hands regularly, cleaning surfaces around your home and office regularly is one of the top-recommended measures by the CDC to combat the spread of the virus.

To clean surfaces effectively, you need to use cleaning chemicals/cleaning agents. These are chemical compounds (or a combination of chemical compounds) potent enough to dissolve and wash dirt, grime, grease, and stains off surfaces. More importantly, many of these cleaning chemicals help to get rid of germs. Needless to say, it is impossible to clean surfaces effectively and get rid of germs without using them.

In this article, we will highlight some of the chemicals you can use for cleaning and what makes them good enough for the job. Since most of these chemicals tend to be corrosive and poisonous when handled the wrong way, we will go over some important guidelines for the safe use of these chemicals.

  1. Chlorine Bleach / Sodium Hypochlorite Solution

Arguably the most popular cleaning chemical, bleach is a household name everyone is familiar with. This well-known and widely available cleaning chemical is the component of many all-purpose household cleaning products and is commonly used to disinfect and whiten surfaces. The process of forming chlorine beach is quite simple. It involves mixing water with a chlorine-based compound known as Sodium Hypochlorite.

Benefits and uses

Chlorine bleach has several applications from laundry to cleaning surfaces and as a disinfectant that destroys germs. Chlorine-based disinfectants have been in use for over a century. It first found application in water treatment due to its ability to destroy waterborne germs and by effect make drinking water safer. Today, chlorine bleach is still very much in use and is commonly applied to disinfect in swimming pools.

Bleach is a well-known household disinfectant as well. It is commonly used to clean various surfaces in the kitchen, bathroom, and other parts of the home. You can also use diluted sodium hypochlorite solution to disinfect exposed and commonly touched surfaces in the home. The use of bleach can kill off germs that cause flu, colds, coronavirus, and other infectious diseases.

Safety Information: According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the CDC, Chlorine Bleach or cleaning products that contain chlorine bleach are safe for use for daily household applications and as disinfectant. However, it is important that users follow the instructions on the product label. Sodium Hypochlorite should always be diluted instead of being used as full-strength. Users should always take caution when using this chemical as it can be corrosive and direct contact with the eyes and skins can cause burns and irritation.

  • Solvents

This is a broad term used to refer to a class of compounds characterized by their ability to dissolve or extract other materials from another material without affecting or chemically changing either material. Solvents are usually in liquid form and are commonly added to cleaning products to dissolve dirt. Solvents improve the cleaning ability of other cleaning chemicals due to their ability to help extract tough stains or grease.

Asides their use in household cleaning products, solvents are quite versatile and they have a wide range of applications in everyday life. You will find some of them in pharmaceutical products, pesticides paints, and so on. This is a broad class of products that can be further classified based on their chemical structure. There are hydrocarbon solvents (with a hydrocarbon structure), oxygenated solvents (produced through the oxidation of olefins), and halogenated solvents (containing halogens like chlorine, bromine or iodine). Each of these classes is further classified into smaller groups.

As mentioned, solvents are quite versatile. But one of their many applications is as cleaning products. Glycol Ether and Ethanol are two of the most commonly used solvents in household cleaning products. Glycol ether is a highly effective solvent that is commonly found in heavy-duty cleaning products used to clean hard surfaces like glass and floors.

Solvents mix very well with water and are highly effective for dissolving grease and oil which is one of their major benefits and a major reason for their inclusion in most cleaning products. They are also biodegradable which makes them quite safe for their environment. Solvents have very low odor and are generally safe for use. These characteristics further help their reputation as excellent cleaning products.

Safety Information

The production, use, storage, and disposal of solvents are subject to several federal and state regulations. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency all have safety guidelines regarding the use of various chemical solvents. They are generally considered safe for use for people and are recommended for use for cleaning fabric, soft and hard surfaces.

  • Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol)

Also known as alcohol, or grain alcohol, Ethanol is one of the most popular solvents that is used as a cleaning chemical and disinfectant. Alcohol is a colorless volatile liquid made by the same process (in principle) like alcoholic beverages like wine and beer. It is a by-product of the fermentation of grain plants but can also be produced chemically by hydrating ethylene. Ethanol is readily soluble in water and dissolves easily in other organic compounds.

Benefits and uses

Ethanol as a disinfectant

Ethanol is effective in killing various micro-organisms including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. This is disinfectant property is why it is a common ingredient in hand and surface sanitizers. More recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers (in the absence of soap and running water) as one of the preventive measures to help combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Although the use of alcohol sanitizers in sterilizing medical/surgical materials is not recommended, it can be used to disinfect, oral and rectal thermometers, scissors, stethoscopes and to wipe out hospital surfaces.

As Household Cleaning Products

Because of how easily ethanol mixes with water and other organic solvents, it is easily incorporated into household cleaning products to wipe out exposed and frequently touched surfaces around the home. Ethyl alcohol effectively deactivates germs without posing any direct dangers to users.

Safety Information

Although ethanol is considered safe and maybe even be used on some food products (the use of alcohol even as hand sanitizers is regulated by the FDA), ingesting it is not recommended. The FDA warns that ingesting a large quantity of alcohol-based cleaning products can lead to serious intoxication, low blood sugar level, and even death. In order to discourage drinking alcohol-based cleaning and personal care products, manufacturers commonly add a denaturant to give it a bitter flavor. Ethanol is highly flammable as well. This means you should not use it beside open flames or use on surfaces that will be exposed to open flames to prevent fire hazards.

  • Ammonia

Ammonia is a naturally occurring gas that exists in various parts of the natural environment including the human body. Ammonium hydroxide is a popular ingredient used in many cleaning products. Ammonia hydroxide is commonly referred to as household ammonia for this very reason. As a household cleaning agent, it can be used to wipe and clean the surfaces of sinks, tubs, countertop, tile floors, and other surfaces around the home.

Benefits and Uses

Ammonia is a very effective cleaning chemical. It can break down tough stains and grime from animal fats, cooking grease, vegetable oil, and even wine stains. It evaporates quickly. Due to its volatility, ammonia is usually added to glass cleaning products to prevent streaking.

Safety Information

Although ammonia is a relatively safe cleaning product to use on surfaces, it is recommended that you check the product label and follow all the instructions on the label. Ammonia gas which is given off when you use an ammonia-based product can be dangerous when inhaled in excess or for too long. Keep the doors and windows open and be sure to wear protective clothing and eye protection since Ammonia exposure can cause skin and eye irritation.

Under no circumstances should you mix ammonia and chlorine bleach (unless you are some crazy scientist with a death wish). This mixture produces Cholaramines which is a toxic gas that can irritate the throat, eyes, chest pain, nausea, pneumonia, and other serious side effects. Swallowing Ammonia Hydroxide or any cleaning product containing Ammonia can cause serious burns and abdominal pain.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide

This is another well-known cleaning chemical that can be found in several cleaning products and other everyday household personal care items like dyes, toothpaste, mouthwash, and as a laundry stain remover. Hydrogen peroxide is also contained in some first aid antiseptic. The bleaching property of this chemical makes it an ideal cleaning agent. It also has anti-microbial properties

Benefits and uses

Hydrogen peroxide has antimicrobial properties which is why it is commonly used for  cleaning wounds and in some personal care products. It also a bleaching agent that gives it some whitening or lightening effects and makes it suitable for cleaning some surfaces.

Hydrogen peroxide is also used as a disinfectant in the health-care industry. Recently, the FDA approved the use of a tehnique based on this chemical in the sterilization of sensitive hospital equipment like respirator masks and some other PPE worn by professionals that treat Covid-19 patients.

Safety Information

Most cleaning agents that contain hydrogen hydroxide typically have about 3% of the chemical or less. While this is generally considered safe for use for various applications, it is still recommended that you follow the instruction of the manufacturer for safe use. The use of Hydrogen peroxide for various applications including tooth whitening products is considered safe by the FDA. This chemical is also considered as safe as an antiseptic.

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (or SLS), belongs to a group of cleaning chemicals known as surfactant. SLS is an effective cleaning product derived from natural sources like palm kernel oil. It can also be manufactured chemically in the lab.

Surfactants are a group of chemicals that are added to cleaning products to improve their solubility in water. They help cleaning agents such as detergents dishwasher and laundry products to mix effectively with water and this improves their ability to remove dirt and stains from the surfaces they are used to clean. Without these chemicals, soaps, detergents, and other cleaning agents will simply roll of water instead of mixing with it. This will, of course, make it difficult to clean anything with them.

Benefits and uses

SLS is one of the most popular surfactants used in household cleaning products. Particularly, it helps to improve the ability of these detergents to remove oily stains, grease, and residues on various surfaces. SLS has a unique ability to break down oil and grease. It is a commonly occurring ingredient in heavy-duty cleaning products for industrial use.

Safety information

The use of SLS and other surfactants in cleaning products has been reviewed by various scientific bodies. From these tests, surfactants have been certified as safe for human use and eco-friendly. However, if not properly made, surfactants have the potential to cause skin irritation. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

  • Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda)

Baking soda is a type of salt made from mixing molecules of sodium, carbon, oxygen, and oxygen. The compound formed is known as Sodium Bicarbonate and it is a well-known cleaning agent among other applications. Baking Soda is almost always named as a cleaning chemical for DIY cleaning either on its own or in combination with Vinegar which is another chemical commonly used in home-made cleaning solutions.

Benefits and Uses

Sodium bicarbonate is an effective solvent and cleaning chemical. This is why it is commonly added as an ingredient in degreasing products and detergents. It’s most common application is as a cleaning agent for cleaning clogs in sinks and to get rid of tough-to-clean grime on ovens. It is typically mixed with vinegar and this combination creates a solution that is strong enough to dissolve clogs formed by grease and other residues. Baking soda may also be used as a laundry agent as it has the ability to increase the PH of water. When added to water, it repels dirt fro fibers making it easier to wash laundry. These and other factors make Sodium Bicarbonate an efficient cleaning agent

Safety Information

Baking Soda has been in use for several centuries. The use of this chemical as a cleaning agent and teeth whitening chemical has been well documented throughout history. According to the United States, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), baking soda is among the chemicals that are Generally Recognized as Safe). This chemical is generally safe to use on surfaces and for humans. However, it is important to note that Baking Soda can be poisonous especially if it is swallowed in large amounts. This is why it is recommended that you keep it out of reach of children.

Conclusion

These are some of the most popular chemicals that are used as a cleaning agent. Most of these chemicals can be used singly or added as an ingredient in various types of cleaning products. You will probably find some of these products listed as ingredients on the label of some of the popular cleaning agents you use around the home. Be sure to follow the safety instructions recommended there and the ones on the product labels that contain these chemicals to avoid injury and possible fatality. When used responsibly, these cleaning chemicals will your cleaning chores a lot easier and protect you effectively from harmful germs. It is important that you get familiar with all of these chemicals and their benefits to increase the number of options available to you for your cleaning chores. You should also pay attention to the risks and safety guidelines to properly handle them.