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Product Review 1: Cleaning Chemicals

THE CHEMISTRY OF CLEANING; or Why that Spot won’t Budge out of the Carpet – Aug. 2003

WESTFIELD, NJ: “The chemistry of cleaning,” states Keith Petersen of The Eardly T. Petersen Company in Westfield, “can not only be quite interesting (snore); but, a little practical cleaning knowledge can translate into a big difference in time and effort when oneself cleans carpet spots and spills. Actually, any cleaning chore is made simpler by understanding a few “cleaning basics”.

In the world of cleaning and cleaning products (see – you thought it was only necessary to know in which closet was kept the 409 or Fantastik) there is a vital relationship between PH and soil. This is to say that soils have a PH factor that directly affects how they must be cleaned to successfully remove those soils.

PH, one remembers from Science or Chemistry classes – certainly attended not too long ago ….. involves the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The scale runs from 0 to 14 with 7 as the neutral point. From 0 – 7 is acidic, from 7 – 14 is alkaline. From 0 – 3 is strongly acidic and from 11 – 14 is strongly alkaline. The gastric juices in the human
stomach have a PH of about 3 which is why your throat burns when you, ah, bring up something that better belonged uneaten.

Strongly acid or strongly alkaline substances are strong oxidizers. This means that they will, unprotected, do damage to human tissue, etc. We have restaurant kitchen cleaning products that, if used without gloves, will not only very nicely remove the grease from cooking surfaces, fryers and floors; but, will also nicely remove the fat under the skin of your hand. This process is called “de-fatting” and the result is that your hand begins to vaguely look a bit less human.

The cardinal rule of thumb in cleaning is to always use a cleaning product which is at the opposite end of the PH spectrum from that which you are attempting to clean. This rule is largely infallible, and it simply means that if you try to clean with vinegar you’re going to spend a lot of time rubbing away at a lot of spots or dirt that are not going to readily respond.

I’m delighted to have just outraged the purists who insist that vinegar (after all, Grandma used it!) is a great cleaning product. The truth is that vinegar is a great cleaning product for certain soils, and not so great for most soils. The reason for this is that most soils are acidic in nature and thus can only be properly cleaned with a cleaning agent that is alkaline in nature. This is why most cleaning products are formulated on the alkaline side (unbeknownst to you, probably). But, you say, vinegar cleaned a mess on the kitchen counter, etc. However, even water by itself is classified as a detergent – the vinegar just acted as a simple detergent. But, the soil was probably best removed with an alkaline product.

So, there are specific formulations throughout the chemical industry for specific needs. We will actually have, at times, three or four different cleaners that are very similar in many respects; however, the chemist has targeted each one for a more focused cleaning chore and formulated it accordingly.

When it comes to carpet cleaning, there are, many times, several cleaning products that must be used sequentially to adequately remove a spot (a stain is strictly classified as a spot that ain’t coming out – i.e., it was left untreated too long, or, it was improperly treated, etc. – whatever the case, it has now “set” and has become a stain –
unremovable). For example, in dealing with animal urine the spots must be removed by first treating them with a Pre-Oil Break (Pre-Oil is what is referred to as a “skidding” agent – it prepares the spot so that subsequent agents can effectively remove it. Pre-Oil Break is a great product). Then, the spots are treated with a Tannin (acid-based) spot remover to reverse the dyeing effects of the urine. Finally, the spots are cleaned with a General Protein Enzyme product and the areas are rinsed.

Some cleaning agents are referred to as “broad spectrum” which means that they will successfully deal with a considerable variety of soils. However, just as a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none doesn’t have the ability of a specialist, such chemicals can fall a bit short of full effectiveness on certain jobs.

Having said all the above, let me now trumpet (and, we have a janitorial division in our business in which we stock, amongst other things, full lines of chemical products for home and commercial use) that we strongly feel that you should reduce or eliminate your chemical use in favor of cleaning with a good quality Dry Steam Vapor Cleaner. I won’t
get into that now; but, suffice it to say that a good quality (not the prevalent poor quality ones) Vapor Cleaner provides a wonderful way to clean and it largely eliminates chemical use (almost all chemicals are bad for ya – we’re gradually killing ourselves with them).

For any questions on cleaning, chemicals or Dry Steam Vapor Cleaners, please visit The Eardly T. Petersen Company at 224 Elmer Street in Westfield; or, call them at 908-232-5723 or contact them via e-mail at