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Cleaning Chemistry : 8 Different Ways To Clean


This is my summary of all the cleaning methods I am aware of. This article is important because the first 10 results on google often recommended mixing vinegar and baking soda, aka making water and a salt. Here I will go through the options I use for cleaning the hardest things.

Note: I thought I was going to invent my own piranha solution that wasn’t so dangerous. As a note piranha solutions are not recommended in a lab environment, let alone your kitchen.

Warning

For high appearance items, its best to do a test run on a low appearance area. For instance, before you put bleach on the front of your wood cabinet, try it on the inside back corner made of the same material that rarely sees the light of day. If after a few hours it looks fine, you are probably safe.

Its also best to start with diluted or weaker substances before pulling out the strong stuff.

If you are about to try something new, I’d google it. For instance, wood dye is soluble in a non-polar substance- meaning dyed wood will be ruined with acetone. The following are to give you ideas for impossible to remove substances.

Summary

  • Heat
  • Physical Scrubbing
  • Acid
  • Base
  • Non Polar Solvents
  • Soaps
  • Detergents
  • Oxidizers
  • Reducers

I should include water on the list, but its a bit obvious to go into detail. Boiling water is a favorite, but I’ll often use hot water from the tap.

It typically helps to clean as soon as a surface gets dirty. Things get deeper into crevasses, they might chemically react, and they will dry.

Heat

Hot stuff makes things softer and more liquid. I continue to be surprised at how easy hot water ~140F can clean something vs cold water 50F. The difference is as simple as changing the temperature of your faucet.

There are some other options, the hottest easily available is using an oven. My gas oven can get to 500F, although I hear some ovens have an oven cleaning setting that gets to 800F. Before you turn on your oven cleaning setting you should take note of what you are trying to clean, if it can handle those temperatures, and that maybe a lower setting might do the job.

If you need heat to clean something that cannot be put into an oven, boiling water can help. If the surface cannot touch water, a blow dryer or heat gun can make a hot surface.

Physical Scrubbing

This is typically a double edged sword. Yes you can use steel wool, but it might damage the surface you are trying to clean. Even a soft sponge may take off tiny bits of Teflon on a pan.

My rule is to typically use water, soap, and the softest cotton rag before I put a sponge on anything that is delicate.

There is a rule of thumb I don’t recommend, to only use weaker substances to scrub than the material you are scrubbing on. For instance, use a sponge on metal, use a rag on wood. I don’t totally buy this. A sharp plastic edge and some elbow grease/strong muscles can damage a metal surface. If I use a sponge, I make sure everything is water hot, soaked, and then lightly scrub before I start putting additional force into it.

Warning 2

We are getting into the ‘last resort’ territory. The following may react with surfaces in an undesirable fashion. Do a test surface.

Soaps

The idea behind soaps is that you can have an fat/oil/non polar substance attach to a soap and have soap attach to water. Then you can rinse the surface with water and that will wash everything bonded to the soap away.

Detergents

Typically these contain a soap, but what makes them different is that have a surfactant. Surfactants make water ‘wetter’, and reduce the surface tension of a liquid. This both forces molecules around, but it also lets substances get into tinier crevasses.

Non Polar Solvants

If water can dissolve polar substances like table salt, a non polar substance may help dissolve/mix with a nonpolar substance. You may see these casually described as Solvents. (Water is also a solvent, but its polar, these are not the same.) Isopropyl alcohol, mineral spirits, and if you have none of the above handy, glycerin.

Using soap/detergent after is a great 1-2 punch as soap will bind as described above.

Warning 3

You are about to chemically react things here. Before it was about physical removal and dissolving, but now there is going to be a chemical reaction.

Acid

The idea here is that by bombarding an substance with Hydrogen ions, its going to react into something that isn’t as sticky or will dissolve in water.

Cooking vinegar is an easy first stop. Oxalic acid is the stronger, ‘bar keepers friend’. And you can get all the way to sulfuric acid at the hardware store.

The concentration is a critical aspect here. Diluting an acid wont make it as strong.

Mixing an acid with a base(vinegar and baking soda) creates regular boring water and a salt. Its totally stupid, don’t do it.

Base

If you hear people talking about alkaline, they are talking about hydroxide ions. If Acids have lots of extra Hydrogen ions(+1 charge), bases have lots of hydroxide ions(-1 charge). Doing an acid cleaning, then washing away the acid with water, and a base cleaning, is a 1-2 punch that effects many substances.

On the less harsh end is Baking soda and water. On the strong end, NaOH ‘Lye’. All available at the hardware store.

Reducers

This bombards your surface with electrons.

Some common types are Ascorbic Acid and Oxalic Acid (as mentioned in the Acid section, this is the main ingredient in barkeepers friend).

As with the Acid and Base sections, make sure your surface has no other chemical on it, because it might interfere with a reducing reaction.

Oxidizers

“HI ITS MICHAEL KIRK HERE WITH OXYCL” Yeah that one. This is typically seen as household bleach. Bleach isn’t a single chemical, but rather the generic term for something that oxides. This is the opposite of a reducer, oxidizers suck electrons from whatever surface you apply it to.

Chlorine based bleach(typically used for whitening), peroxide based bleach(Commonly called color safe bleach), and hydrogen peroxide are common.

Conclusion

Test less critical locations of whatever you are cleaning. Start with gentle suggestions before harsh. If you see progress using a method, you can continue by repeating, or trying a different substance in that same category. Google might help too, or maybe you will find a ‘mix vinegar and baking soda’ SEO blogger that will waste your time. On a similar note, its a shame this website isn’t the first link when you search ‘save money on food’- the top results suck.