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pH levels in cleaning products

You might have come through acidic, basic or pH neutral while buying cleaning solution. If your chemistry (a part of science) is weak, then you may not understand pH and its different categorization. Cleaning products are acidic, basic (alkaline) or neutral. Depending upon the type of cleaning surface we apply particular cleaning products.

First of all, let us understand what pH is?

What is pH?

In scientific terms, pH is an inverse logarithmic representation of hydrogen proton (H+) concentration. The pH scale is used in order to determine whether the water based solution is acidic or alkaline in nature. If a substance when added to water increases the concentration of hydrogen ions, it’s called an acid. If a substance reduces the concentration of hydrogen ions, it’s called alkaline or basic.

The scale goes from 0 to 14. The scale from 0 to 7 is considered acidic in nature whereas just above 7 to 14 is marked alkaline (or basic) in nature. The scale 7 is regarded as neutral. Pure Water is the most common neutral solution. Dish soap comes closest to neutral cleaner.  Vinegar and lemon juice are acidic substances whereas laundry detergents and ammonia are basic.

From a practical standpoint, products are considered to be more acid or alkaline the further away from 7 the pH gets.  Additionally, for each point or number the pH moves in either direction away from 7, it increases by 10 times the previous number. For instance, a product with a pH of 12 is 10 times more alkaline than a product with a pH 11; conversely, a solution with a pH of 4 is 10 times more acidic than one with a pH of 5.

Why does this matter?

It is must for the overall performance and safety of the cleaning surface where the solution is applied. The pH plays crucial role while cleaning. Negligence in considering pH while cleaning can damage the surface where chemical is applied. Moreover, acidic or alkaline product can help to determine how reactive it is to soil, surfaces, skin and eyes.  Alkaline cleaner is best for cutting through grease, dirt, proteins, oils and other organic items. Acids are better for removing calcium, rust, and other minerals.

Cleaning products formulated at more neutral pH levels are considered safer for surfaces, people and the environment in comparison to those that are extremely acidic or extremely alkaline. Neutral pH cleaners are typically used in light duty cleaners or for sensitive fibers such as wool and silk.

Most soils are acidic in nature; therefore it is desirable to formulate cleaning agents on the alkaline side of the pH scale. Alkaline detergents neutralize acid soil, allowing the solution to produce more effective result. This means it is best treatment for every hard surface, but you need proper ventilation while using it.

Some alkaline cleaning products and their pH are:

  • Washing up liquid – pH 8
  • Baking soda – pH 8
  • Hand wash – pH 9
  • Laundry detergent – ph 10
  • Bleach – ph 13
  • Borax solution – 9.2
  • Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) – 14.0


Some acidic cleaning products and their pH are

  • Rust stain removers – pH 3
  • Vinegar – pH 3

Chlorine bleach (pH 11 to 13)

This alkaline product is best at whitening and removing stains. Also being at the far end of the scale, this also happens to be fairly corrosive. This means it is great for every hard surface but you need proper ventilation while using it.

Toilet bowl cleaner (pH 1 – 3)

Being at other end of the scale it is highly acidic but perfect for breaking down minerals and other non-organic substances lurking at your toilet bowl. You must use these products with extreme caution due to its extremity in the scale.

Mild dish detergent (pH 7 – 8)

If you are using dish detergent that is labeled ‘mild’ means its pH level is sitting just around the middle, which is perfect for items you are cleaning on a daily basis. Most surfaces will not be damaged by mild dish soap and you generally do not need to wear protection while dealing with products of with neutral pH.

Baking soda solution (pH 8.4)

It has enough alkalinity to clean grease and dirt but not enough to be labeled as corrosive.

Vinegar (pH 2.9)

Somewhere at the lower end of the scale, acidic properties of vinegar make it perfect for removing tougher mineral deposits but also a bad choice for surfaces particularly stone. Vinegar also has the potential to cause real damage if you are not careful – face and hand protection is a must.

Ammonia (pH 11.9)

It is another highly alkaline cleaning solution. Ammonia is formidable cleaner that is good at removing dirt and grime. This also requires proper protective equipment in an area that provides adequate ventilation.

In conclusion, understanding the importance of pH is critical in the proper selection of cleaning products for a particular job. It will also help to compare the strength and purpose of cleaning products and identify which product could be hazardous to skin, eyes etc. and guiding you to take proper precautions before using these chemicals.

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