What Cleaners Need to Know About the pH Scale

In the world of cleaning, understanding the pH scale is actually rather important in order to achieve optimum cleaning results. But we’re sure many cleaners, even professional, would admit that the pH scale isn’t exactly their idea of bedtime reading – so we’re here to help! [via Bunzl CHS]

In this article we’ll explain why getting to grips with the pH scale matters to cleaners, and why it can not only make your cleaning more effective, but also much safer too. Here’s what you need to know about the pH scale, and how to make sure you always choose the right products for the job.

What is the pH scale?

The ‘pH’ part of the pH scale is an abbreviation of ‘potential of hydrogen’, and the numbers on the scale represent the concentration of hydrogen ions in a water-based solution. As you may expect, a high pH scale is a higher concentration, and a low pH scale is a lower concentration, or even an absence of hydrogen altogether.

Cleaner pH scale

Running from 0-14, the pH scale can help you to determine whether a substance is acidic or alkaline. A substance with a pH of 7 is neutral; anything lower than 7 is increasingly acidic, with 0 being the most acidic, and anything higher than 7 is increasingly alkaline, with 14 being the most alkaline (or ‘basic’). Isn’t that simple?

What is also simple about the pH scale is how it can help you to clean effectively, and with the most appropriate products. Many people mistakenly believe that the pH of a cleaning product is related to its strength or performance. This isn’t true; it simply tells us the concentration of hydrogen. What really matters is how you use it!

Choosing the right cleaning products using the pH scale

What is important to remember about cleaning is that at its most elementary level, it is an attempt to neutralise the impact of acidic or alkaline ions in a stain or soiling. So if you wish to clean a soil that is acidic, you should use an alkaline cleaning product, and vice-versa.

Most common stains and soils are acidic, and thus the majority of cleaning products are formulated to be alkaline. As we all know, pure water is ‘neutral’ with a pH of 7, and cleaning products with a pH close to 7, such as washing-up liquid, baking soda and hand wash, are not usually regarded as being harmful to the skin.

Alkaline cleaning products

Fats and oils (e.g. food and some bodily residues) are acidic, and so alkaline cleaning products are required in order to break them down and make them easier to remove from a surface or fabric.

Some alkaline cleaning products and their typical pH are:

  • Washing-up liquid (pH 8)
  • Baking soda (pH 8)
  • Hand wash (pH 9)
  • Laundry detergent (pH 10)
  • All-purpose cleaners (pH 11)
  • Oven cleaners (pH 13)
  • Bleach (pH 13)

Acidic cleaning products

Cleaning products with an acidic pH are necessary for the treatment of stains like rust and mineral deposits, as these are alkaline. As with using alkaline cleaning products on acidic stains, acidic cleaning products break down the deposits so the offending stain can be more easily removed.

Some acidic cleaning products and their typical pH are:

  • Rust stain removers (pH 3)
  • Vinegar (pH 3)
  • Toilet cleaners (pH 1)

Finding out the pH of a cleaning product or substance

If you’re unsure about the pH level of a substance or cleaning product, and feel that it’s important to know, you can determine it by using pH strips or pH testing paper. To test the pH level of a dry substance you must first moisten it with purified water.

Image Credit(s): Bunzl CHS

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