Cleaning Product Chemistry

Understanding the how and why of cleaning product chemistry will help eliminate the guesswork when choosing the best solution for your cleaning needs. Although seemingly a simple matter, cleaning involves many variables. Some can be controlled, others not. For the best result, we need to utilize as many variables as possible. To better understand the chemistry of cleaning products we first need to look at the problem of soil and its removal.

What is soil?

Soil can be anything foreign to the basic construction of an item, be it carpet or hard flooring. Examples of soil include: sand, dirt, hair, food spills, oil, urine and a never ending list of possibilities.

Most soil is tracked or brought in on people’s shoes, clothes, boxes, or in their hands. Others are generated as a by-product of some activity taking place on or near the soiled floor type.

Some of these activities include but are not limited to:

  • Spills or cooking grease from the kitchen
  • soot or dust from a heating or cooling system
  • pet accidents and hair
  • food, cleaning products or health and beauty products

Soil found in both residential and commercial settings can be classified as either “dry particulate matter” or as “all other”.

Most soil is considered dry particulate matter. It's categorized as being “solid” and is:

  • gritty or abrasive
  • dust, hair or fibers
  • considered insoluble – they cannot be dissolved in either water or solvent
  • This type of soil is most easily removed by vacuuming

The “all other” type of soil is categorized as being “fluid” and is:

  • fats, oils, grease and tars
  • resins or gums
  • urine and body residues
  • industrial or automotive fumes, soot
  • dyes or pigments
  • considered sticky or to have moisture content
  • this soil type generally needs moisture, chemicals and agitation to be completely removed

This type of soil is mostly acidic by nature. For this reason most cleaning product chemistry is on the alkaline side of the pH scale Alkaline cleaners neutralize this acid condition to increase soil removal.

How do the principles of cleaning soil relate to cleaning product chemistry

The principles of cleaning soil consist of 4 major steps.

Step 1: Dry Soil Removal

  • a preliminary step
  • best accomplished through the use of a good vacuum cleaner
  • is an integral part of an overall maintenance program

Step 2: Soil Suspension

  • is the key principle of cleaning product chemistry
  • involves separating the soil from the fibers or hard surface for removal
  • is where the major effort of the technician, chemicals and equipment is applied

The four fundamentals which determine how efficiently soil suspension occurs are:

  1. Temperature
  2. Agitation
  3. Chemical Action
  4. Time

We can use the acronym T.A.C.T. as a way to remember these 4 fundamentals. The T.A.C.T fundamentals of cleaning product chemistry are represented as a pie with 4 equal slices.

Each cleaning situation determines the size of each pie slice. Anytime you decrease one of the pie slices (fundamentals) you must increase another pie slice to keep the overall pie (cleaning efficiency) as large as possible.

Step 3: Soil Removal

  • the suspended soil and the cleaning solution are removed from the cleaned surface
  • is accomplished by rinsing prior to drying as with a wet extraction method
  • is accomplished by vacuuming after drying as with a shampoo or dry powder process
  • proper soil removal leaves the surface clean, fresh and residue–free
Many detergent based cleaning products leave behind residue. This residue can cause rapid re-soiling and lessen the appearance of the cleaned surface not to mention the effect on the user or building occupants.

Step 4: Drying

  • is the process of removing all moisture from the cleaned surface
  • allows the carpet or hard floor surface to return to normal appearance and texture
  • quick drying time reduces problems related to mildew, re-soiling and odor
  • accomplished by air movement and ventilation

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