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Inspired @ Home

What Type of Cleaner Do I Need for This Job?

By: Staff Published: June 22, 2023

As their name suggests, all-purpose cleaners work their magic on a myriad of surfaces and are often the only cleaning agent needed for many household cleaning tasks. But does all-purpose really mean you can use it on everything? While all-purpose cleaners are both effective and efficient in many scenarios, there are some situations where you shouldn’t use them.

Find out what you can use on everything, and which jobs and surfaces are better suited to specialty cleaners. Pair cleaning solutions to the tools you own and the tools you need to keep your home clean and sanitized.

When to use all-purpose cleaners

All-purpose cleaners are formulated to remove surface soil and grime from most hard surfaces in a household. However, every product is slightly different and their formulations vary, as do their active ingredients. Because there is no “standard” set of ingredients for these types of cleaners, they usually act as either a disinfectant, detergent, degreaser or solvent or a combination of some or all of those.

Different brands of cleaners will usually have a different balance of ingredients, thus making them better or more effective on some surfaces than others. Be sure to read labels carefully and adhere to any instructions.

All-purpose cleaners come in either powder or liquid form and can be used at full strength or diluted with water. They work well on areas with light spills that need a disinfectant — like appliances, bathroom vanities, tile, and laminate or linoleum floors. For appliances and vanities, simply spray the solution on and then wipe off with a dry cloth.

Make sure to rub thoroughly after cleaning to prevent any leftover solution from creating smear marks. For floors, dilute the fluid in a large bucket of warm water and mop away to take out or clean any dirt on your floors. An added bonus is that your whole house or apartment will be left smelling clean and fresh.

When not to use all-purpose cleaners – and reach for the specialists

While all-purpose cleaners can tackle many of the tasks on your cleaning checklist, there are some purposes they do not serve well. Read on for seven scenarios in which it’s best to trade in the all-purpose for a specialty solution.

  • Glass
    When you’re cleaning windows, glass or mirrors, opt for a glass-specific product or DIY glass cleaner solution. Soap will leave streaks on your glass, but vinegar- or ammonia-based glass cleaners are designed to cut grease and leave no residue behind. Instead of a cloth or paper towels, wipe away the solution with newspaper for a streak-free finish.
  • cleaning window with spray bottle

    A vinegar-based cleaning solution helps glass stay clear and transparent.

  • Mold or mildew
    If you’re doing general cleaning, all-purpose cleaner is a good call. But a specialty job, like cleaning mold or mildew, will require a specialty product. Vinegar is a great natural choice as its acidity breaks down the structure of mold and kills it.
  • Oven
    Using an all-purpose cleaner to clean the baked-on grime caked on your oven might not be harmful, but it wouldn’t be very efficient or effective either. For oven-related jobs, it’s best to use a proper oven cleaner, whether that’s a commercial product or a DIY option.
  • Stains
    All-purpose cleaners aren’t designed to remove stains, so it’s always best to use stain-specific products if you have a spill or mess. For pet or human fluids, an enzyme-based cleaner is best, while inks, dyes and chemical-based stains can usually be lifted with rubbing alcohol.
  • Unfinished surfaces
    All-purpose cleaner isn’t a good match for unfinished surfaces like raw wood, concrete or unsealed stone, as the cleaner can seep into the material and potentially leave discoloration. Unfinished surfaces are best cleaned with a microfiber cloth and water.
  • Upholstery and fabric
    Upholstery and fabric are highly prone to discoloration and therefore the use of an all-purpose cleaner is not appropriate. When cleaning fabrics and upholstered furniture, it is best to go with a fabric-specific solution with ingredients that won’t harm or discolor fabric and textiles. Spot test the cleaner before tackling large areas.
  • Luxe surfaces
    If you have specialty surfaces like marble or copper at home that you’d prefer to keep looking luxe, take a pause before spraying with an all-purpose cleaner — or any cleaner, really. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. And before you spray with abandon, spot-test in an inconspicuous area. Copper can be cleaned with a simple vinegar and salt solution, followed with a microfiber wipe down to give it a good shine. Marble can be harmed by cleaners that are too acidic, so using diluted dish soap or castile soap and a soft cloth can be the best option.

And that’s it! All-purpose cleaners do have their limits (and you will usually see them on the label), but their versatility makes them a staple cleaner in all households. To get the most out of your cleaner of choice, make sure you’re using them with the right tools.

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