Cleaning Product Dos and Don'ts

Learn the active ingredients in your cleaning products so you know on which surfaces they are safe and on which they cause damage.

Posted by Harriette Halepis | Jan 27, 2010
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Can you use an abrasive cleaner on a kitchen countertop? What ingredients cause glass cleaner to work so well? This guide will take you through the ins and outs of all your favorite cleaners so that you know what you can and cannot clean with everyday cleaning products.

All-Important Active Ingredients

Ingredients called "active ingredients" are the main components of any product. Here are some common household cleaning products along with their active ingredients. 


  • Ammonia: While you may think that the main ingredient in ammonia is, well, ammonia, this isn't 

       exactly true. In fact, ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen.

  • Bleach: There are essentially two kinds of bleach. The bleach that you may use to clean certain parts of your home contains sodium hypochlorite. Bleach that is used to brighten your whites often contains calcium hypochlorite.
  • Abrasives: This is a broad category encompassing many different products. In most instances, the main ingredients in abrasive cleaners include sodium dichloros-triazinetrione dehydrate, triclosan and silica.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar is composed of fermented ethanol, which produces acetic acid. Thus, the active ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid.
  • Glass cleaner: Most glass-cleaning products contain ammonia, though these products contain other ingredients as well. Some glass cleaners contain 2-butoxyethanol and other chemicals, though manufacturers tend to keep those ingredients a secret.

What You Should (and Shouldn't) Be Doing with Your Cleaning Products

Now that you know what the active ingredients are in your favorite cleaning products, there are just a few more things to be aware of. Some of these products should only be used on certain surfaces, while others are relatively versatile.

Ammonia is one ingredient that can be used in a number of different ways. The one place that ammonia shouldn't be used is on upholstery or carpeting. Even though some people believe that ammonia will lift upholstery and carpet stains, this product may also remove their color.

Bleach is another versatile product that can be used to clean a number of different surfaces. Be careful when using bleach to clean wood, though, as some woods can be damaged by bleach.

Abrasives were created to slough away tough stains, which is why these products are great for bathrooms and kitchen sinks. However, using an abrasive on a countertop is never a good idea, since these products can damage the surface.

Vinegar is a relatively mild cleaner that can be used on every surface, from floors to walls. Again, do not use vinegar on upholstery without testing the product on small area first. Lastly, window cleaner can be used to clean television screens, windows and any stainless steel surface.

The important thing to remember when using any cleaning solution is not to mix products. While you may think that combining two products will create the ultimate cleaning solution, this can also cause a dangerous chemical reaction. Instead, stick with one product for one surface in order to avoid a chemical disaster.

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