You’ve probably heard about acids and bases when it comes to cleaning products, but do you know what the words mean? What is the difference between acidic and basic cleaning products? What kinds of cleaning products are acidic, and which ones are basic? And which type of product is better?
Any cleaning product with a pH lower than 7.0 is considered an acid, while a product with a pH above 7.0 is considered a base. Each type of product has a purpose. Acidic products include rust removers and mineral deposit removers; basic products include tile cleaners and chlorine bleach.
Want to find out more? Keep reading for a more detailed explanation of different acidic and basic cleaning products, as well as safety tips for using these types of products.
Popular Acidic Cleaning Products
Acidic cleaners tend to have an abrasive and dissolving effect, targeting minerals, fungi, and mildew and breaking them up. Let’s take a closer look at some individual acidic cleaning products.
There are different types of rust removers for home and industrial use, and they generally range from pH 2.5 to near 7.0. They work by binding to the rust particles and dissolving them. It’s important to use the right kind of rust remover for the area being cleaned; otherwise, the acidic substance may eat away at the unrusted materials as well.
Mineral Deposit Removers
Mineral deposit removers are also called hard water stain removers. More aggressive products have a very low pH of between 1.0 and 2.0, while gentler cleaners for home use may have near-neutral acidity.
Mineral deposit removers are commonly used to clean water stains on shower doors, but they may also be used for cleaning aquariums, water pipes, and anything else that may become clogged or dirty with mineral deposits.
Toilet Bowl Cleaners
Most toilet bowl cleaners are highly acidic, with a pH between 1.0 and 3.0. They contain chemicals that can kill mold and mildew, break up any mineral deposits, and kill bacteria.
Vinegar is a great general-use product that has gained popularity as a household cleaner. With an average acidity of 3.0, it can be used for all sorts of cleaning needs, including mold and mildew stains, mineral deposits, antiseptic uses, and even grease buildup.
Popular Basic Cleaning Products
Basic cleaners often have similar effects as acidic cleaners, but are made of different substances and clean different surfaces. Basic cleaners are known for having exceptional grease-fighting power because they attack oily substances and fatty acids. Some common basic cleaning products are discussed below.
Most tub and tile cleaners have a pH ranging between 11.0 and 13.0. Because they are so highly alkaline, they can have a corrosive effect on some surfaces, so be sure to only use them on ceramic tiles and bathtubs. They are effective at breaking up grime and removing mildew and soap scum.
Chlorine bleach generally has a pH around 12.5, but it may be slightly higher or lower depending on the brand and strength. It’s great at dissolving and removing stains of all kinds, but its corrosive nature makes it unfit for use on a lot of surfaces.
Oven cleaners usually range from pH 11.0 to 13.0, making them potent basic cleaning products. They are made of chemicals with exceptional grease-fighting power to cut through grime and baked-on stains.
Another popular household cleaner, borax has a pH of 10.0. It is not as corrosive as some of the higher-pH cleaning products on this list, but it’s still an effective grease fighter and stain remover.
Acids and Bases: What’s the Difference?
As mentioned previously, a product is considered acidic or basic depending on its alkalinity. In water-based solutions, the pH ranges from 0.0 to 14.0, with 7.0 being right in the middle and considered neutral.
Substances between 0.0 and 7.0 are acidic, and substances between 7.0 and 14.0 are basic. The further a substance is from 7.0, in either direction, the more aggressive and corrosive it generally is.
- Both acids and bases can kill certain types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi
- They are both useful for removing different kinds of stains.
- Acids are useful for breaking up hard substances like mineral deposits and rust, but they may also dissolve stone surfaces.
- Bases are useful for dissolving oils and fatty acids, but they may also eat away at other organic substances, including wooden surfaces.
Think of it this way: acids are for dealing with the hard, mineral-based substances, while bases are more appropriate for grease, protein, and other organic build-up.
Which Type of Cleaning Product is Better?
Acids and bases both have their place in cleaning–it isn’t so much a question of which is better than the other, but which is better for a specific cleaning job. That’s why there are so many different kinds of cleaners available–each one has a different acidity and is made for a different kind of task.
Many newer cleaning products are marketed as “pH-balanced,” meaning they are no more acidic or basic than they need to be to get the job done. Many pH balanced products are neutral or nearly neutral. For example, most all-purpose cleaners have a pH ranging from 6.0 to 8.0, so they can be used on a wide variety of surfaces without causing damage.
pH-balanced cleaners offer the best of both worlds for the majority of household cleaning needs, as they are generally less harsh and have fewer associated risks with using them.
Tips for Using Cleaning Products Safely
Regardless of whether you’re using acidic, basic, or pH-balanced products, it’s important to understand the product’s function and what you should do to protect yourself. Let’s take a look at some general safety tips for using these types of cleaning products.
Never Mix Cleaning Products
Mixing cleaning products is almost always a bad idea. If nothing else, mixing acids and bases will simply cause them to “cancel out,” and often, the results can be lethal. The same is true of mixing acids with acids or bases with bases–the results could kill you. Always stick to one cleaning product per area at a time.
Avoid Exposure with Skin and Eyes
Most cleaning products have warnings about coming in contact with the product. Don’t ignore these warnings. Wear gloves and, if necessary, protective goggles. If any kind of exposure does occur, flush the affected area with water and call the Poison Control Center.
Avoid Breathing Fumes
If possible, open windows while using cleaning products. Have a fan going, and make sure to get plenty of fresh air while cleaning. Keep the area as well-ventilated as possible. If the fumes begin to affect you in any way, get to fresh air immediately.
Protect Children and Pets
If you have kids, keep cleaning products out of their reach. Don’t use the products when children or pets are in the area, as they may be more sensitive to the fumes.
Use the Right Cleaner for the Right Surface
Never use acidic cleaners on stone, and only use any cleaner on approved surfaces. Read the labels. If a label says not to use a product on certain surfaces, then don’t use it on those surfaces.
Your Guide to Acids and Bases in Cleaning Products
Now that you understand the difference between acidic and basic cleaners, you can make better choices about the types of products you use. Choosing the right products and using them safely is the key to using any product effectively.