The Four Categories of Cleaning Agents and What They Do

There is a wide variety of cleaning products on the market, but all formulas ultimately fall into one of four distinct categories, according to their cleaning mechanism and chemical properties. Understanding their appropriate use will ensure you get the most out of your cleaning endeavors. The four main categories of cleaning agents are:

  • Abrasives
  • Acids
  • Degreasers
  • Detergents

Each of these categories has a specific job to do. For efficiency, efficacy, and safety, you want to make sure you’re using the correct agent for the task at hand. In this article, we’re going to discuss which category common household products fall into as well as when, where, and how you should (and shouldn’t) be using them.



Abrasives are substances or chemicals that depend on rubbing or scrubbing action to clean dirt from hard surfaces. You need to use abrasives with care as they may scratch certain types of materials such as plastic or stainless steel. Abrasive cleaners come in both powdered and liquid varieties, or as a scouring pad. Minerals like feldspar, calcite, and silica and substances like salt, baking soda, and powdered borax, or materials like steel wool, copper, nylon, and metal can all be considered abrasives.  The degree of abrasiveness of these products varies. 

Generally, the larger the particles in the product, the harsher the cleaner. Some abrasives also contain disinfectants that help to kill bacteria. Those abrasives containing disinfectant always have a label to indicate so. Some common disinfectants used with abrasives are sodium hypochlorite, quaternary ammonium compounds, and pine oil. Always be sure to read the instructions on the packaging before using any abrasive cleaner. Use them sparingly and rub gently. Never leave abrasives to dry out on the surface to avoid leaving stains.



An acid is a cleaning solution with a pH of six or lower and ranges from very mild to very strong.  Acid cleaners are highly concentrated solutions that can be corrosive and dangerous. They work by dissolving stains and dirt, thus breaking them down for easier cleaning. Acids are used for the most challenging cleaning tasks to dissolve ingrained grime and dissolve mineral deposits. Different acid cleaners have other uses based on their strength. Lemon juice and vinegar are mild acids used for household tasks such as removing hard-water deposits from glassware.

Sulfuric and hydrochloric acids are strong acids used as toilet bowl cleaners and rust removers. Harsher acids should be used with care. If they are not diluted correctly, acid cleaners can be very poisonous and corrosive. Wear gloves regardless of the type of acid you’re using and never leave acids on surfaces longer than the directions recommend as they can cause damage if used incorrectly. Don’t mix acid cleaners with other cleaning agents and use only in well-ventilated rooms.



Degreasers, also known as solvent cleaners, remove organic soils, like fats, oils, and proteins, and are used mostly in the kitchen.  Degreasers are alkaline in nature, making them break down grease quickly. There are different categories of degreasers, and each has a different pH. Heavy-duty degreasers are more alkaline (higher pH) while light cleaners have neutral pH. Organic soils are best removed with higher pH (or alkaline) solutions. Oven cleaners, for example, are highly alkaline and are able to get rid of baked-on carbonized messes that build up over time.

Avoid mixing degreasers of any kind with other chemical cleaning agents, like bleach, acids, caustics, and ammonia. Degreasers are highly-alkaline and can be corrosive; Wear safety gloves when handling degreasers and use them only on recommended surfaces and in well-ventilated areas.



Detergents are substances containing surfactants and soaps and are the most popular cleaning agents in any home or establishment. Detergents are extremely versatile cleaners and come in many different forms from gel and powder to liquid, but almost every detergent on the market requires water to work. They are able to emulsify oils, hold dirt in suspension, and act as wetting agents. Detergents are not recommended on surfaces like hardwood floors, leather, silk, cast iron frying pans, and mirrored surfaces  Never mix detergent with ammonia or other household cleaners as the chemical reaction can release dangerous fumes. Be sure to store detergents in their original containers with labels on them to avoid accidents.


Don’t Mix Cleaning Products

Before you attempt to combine any cleaning products, it’s important to understand which chemicals or products can be safely and effectively used together – and more importantly, the ones that should never be mixed!  All cleaning products are optimized from a safety and efficacy standpoint to be used as formulated. If you are unsure about mixing two ingredients together, it’s best not to combine home ingredients of any kind without researching how they might interact as well as the proper rate of dilution. Otherwise, you may damage surfaces or create a health hazard. Certain formulas like bleach, for example, contain 5.25% sodium hypochlorite. If mistakenly mixed with a substance like vinegar or ammonia, it can release enough chlorine gas to be fatal!. 


Final Word

Always take precautions and read instructions carefully before using any cleaning agent. Wear safety gear to protect your skin from irritation and make sure the room you’re cleaning in is well-ventilated. Nowadays, we have cleaning agents that are eco-friendly and safer to use. Go for the least toxic product you can find and be sure to read the ingredients to ensure products don’t contain allergens or harmful substances. When storing cleaning agents, make sure they’re in their appropriate containers and are clearly labeled to avoid accidents. 

Professional House Cleaning

Call the cleaning specialists at Clean Nation Company for quality house cleaning services you can depend on! (509) 217-4729

Have a busy schedule with little time leftover for house cleaning tasks? You may want to consider hiring a professional cleaning service. Clean Nation Company provides professional house cleaning services that get the job done right. Whether you are looking for weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, or seasonal cleaning services, our experienced cleaners are ready to help. We provide all the cleaning products and tools needed to clean your home unless you would like us to use your preferred cleaning supplies.

Our 100% Customer Satisfaction Guarantee

Our commitment to the highest standard of clean and first-rate customer care is why our loyal customers stay with us for years! Our 100% Customer Satisfaction Guarantee: If you are ever unhappy with an area in your home we’ve already cleaned, just give us a call within 24 hours and we’ll gladly re-clean it for you. Our cleaners are friendly, polite, professionally trained, bonded, insured, and background checked for your peace of mind.  

 We proudly offer:

  • Over 50 years of combined experience in the cleaning industry
  • 24/7 cleaning options & support
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Clean Nation Company – Professional House Cleaning Services  

Give the cleaning specialists at Clean Nation Company a call today at (509) 217-4929 to learn more about our professional house cleaning services or to schedule a cleaning.  We offer a variety of professional cleaning services in Liberty Lake, Post Falls, Spokane, Spokane Valley, and the surrounding area. Request a free, no-obligation cleaning estimate now!