All-Purpose Cleaners

Monday, 27 October 2008

With so many options on the market, cleaning up is sometimes a guessing game. All-purpose cleaners are just that, all-purpose. They should be able to combat the grime and grit you find all over your house. We tested a few to see which deliver on their promise.


The Basics

  • There are many different types of cleaners to choose from:

    • Abrasive:for tougher jobs, these contain small particles. Use with care, especially onspecial glazes or coatings.

    • Non-abrasive:contain chemicals (surfactants) that change the properties of water,helping to loosen unwanted dirt.

    • Anti-bacterial:for killing germs, especially in areas of food preparation. Many require being left on the area for up to 10minutes to kill bacteria. But remember, some experts say that anti-bacterialcleaners could backfire and create an ultra-resistant "superbug". 

    • Cleaners "with bleach" can be harsh on your skin, lungs, and your surfaces, not to mention the environment. Use with caution if you must, only for heavy-duty cleaning jobs. A safer option is to use hydrogen peroxide-based bleaches.
    • Vinegar worksjust as well as anti-bacterial and non-abrasive cleansers, and is often more environmentally-friendly.

  • Just as there are many types of cleaners, there are alsomany ways they can be applied:

    • Concentratedliquids can be used at full strength for tough jobs, or diluted with waterfor cleaning larger surfaces like floors.

    • Trigger-spraysare convenient to use, good for small to medium surface areas like counter tops and appliances. 

    • Wipesare pre-moistened and ready to use for added convenience. They can be moreexpensive, and also create more waste.

    • Powders: mostcommonly for abrasive type cleanerscontain small particles to help break down grime. Be sure to read the instructions when it comes to which surfaces it's ok to use powder on. It can scratch softer surfaces.

  • You may also see cleaners designed specifically for different areas. While a "kitchen" cleanser may have a little extra grease-fighting ingredient than a bathroom cleanser, the cost of buying two separate products can often outweigh the benefits. 

Be Aware

  • Don't mixcleaners. Combining different cleaners won't make things more powerful, butit could end up producing harmful fumes that cause headaches, dizziness and breathingdifficulty.

  • Always use gloves. Not only can your skin be sensitive to chemicals in most cleaners, leading to rash, the chemicals also can be absorbed into your body through your skin and thus affect your organs and cells. 

  • Scents are chemicals. Keep in mind that whatever you are smelling is a chemical that could be toxic. Be sure to clean with good ventilation (open windows and doors), and avoid breathing in any spray or fumes. If you or your family are sensitive, look for fragrance-free options. 

  • Read thelabel. Most cleaners don't list ingredients, but be sure to followinstructions and heed to safety warnings. Always keep out of reach of children.


We found the dirtiest apartment we’d ever seen and put these cleaning products to the test on the counter top, stove, and in the bathroom:

  • Mr. Clean anti-bacterial liquid: 2.5¢ per 5 ml
  • Fantastik Orange Liquid: 3.3¢ per 5 ml
  • VIM Oxygel liquid: 4.0¢ per 5 ml
  • Comet powder: 7.7¢ per 5 g
  • Clorox Wipes: 28¢ per 2 wipes

Because there was a lot of dirt build-up in our test setting, there was a big difference in how each of our cleaners performed.

Effectiveness Test

  • The wipes were too small to effectively clean any of the tough jobs, and we had to use too many to make it worth the price.

  • The sprays required a lot of elbow grease because of the amount of dirt in our test environment, but for normal everyday use, they would work well.

  • The powder cleaned up best in our extreme dirt conditions, but we had to make sure the bathtub wasn't acrylic, which can become scratched by abrasive powders.


For everyday use, sprays are convenient and easy to use. For extreme dirt build-up, the hard-working abrasive powder worked best, used with caution.

Remember: to avoid spending a lot of money on all-purpose cleaners, many experts agree that household vinegar, baking soda and liquid soap with water do just as good a job. Add lemon juice for a little extra soap-scum fighting power.


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