The chemistry of cleaning is all about the pH scale and soil load.
We often recommend using a “neutral cleaner” for floors and general cleaning. What we’re talking about is the cleaner’s pH.
The pH scale is based on water and describes a chemical’s acidity or alkalinity. The term pH is mathematical shorthand for “potential hydrogen”. The pH scale basically shows the number of hydrogen atoms a chemical will release when mixed with water.
The pH scale runs from 1 to 14. Water is neutral and is 7 on the scale. Everything less than 7 is acidic and everything over 7 is alkaline. The numbers across the scale are logarithmic, which means that each whole value on the scale represents 10 times more or less than the pH value of the next number. 8 on the pH scale is 10 times more alkaline than 7 and 100 times more alkaline than 6, and so on.
Does that seem complicated? Acidity, alkalinity, hydrogen, chemistry… The pH scale is used as a fast way to communicate important information about a substance’s chemical properties. We learn this as children at school: lower pH = acid; higher pH = base; 7 = neutral.
Acids remove inorganic soil. Degreasers are alkaline.
When it comes to cleaning, pH is relevant because different types of soil need an acid or an alkali to remove them. Organic soils such as oil or grease, proteins, and living organisms like bacteria and spores require an alkaline cleaner. Inorganic soils like rust, limescale, sand, and other minerals are removed with an acid. The higher or lower the pH, the stronger the cleaner.
To understand soil load, think of washing dishes. It takes less detergent to wash a glass or plate than it does to clean the grease from a pan used to fry chicken.
Strong chemicals can damage rather than clean.
Stronger cleaners can be hazardous to handle and can damage the surface being cleaned. Chemicals also have to be washed down a drain, and they are harsh on the environment. It’s always best to use the weakest solution capable of cleaning the specific soil load. This is why we recommend a neutral detergent, with a pH of 7, for general cleaning and disinfecting. Only when the soil load proves too much for a neutral cleaner is it time to look at a stronger chemical.
Do you have questions about cleaning at your workplace? Contact the experts at RBG Janitorial!
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