By Amy Milshtein

Cleaning Myths Busted: “Instant Acting” Cleaning Solutions Aren’t So Instant

You’ve seen the ads for products that promise it all. The lotion that turns back time, the vitamin that transforms us into hard-bodied Olympians, the system that makes everybody rich, happy and fulfilled in just three easy payments. Who hasn’t fallen for these pretty, little lies at least once? Don’t feel bad. Everyone wants a quick fix to hard problems, even cleaning professionals looking to cut production times. It might be tempting to buy a time saving product like an instant acting cleaning solution, but beware. If claims sound too good to be true, they probably are.


What Cleaning Solutions Actually Do

The science behind effective cleaning is complicated, starting with the chemistry of soils you’re trying to remove. Organic soils like foods, molds, bacteria, oils and grease are, for the most part, slightly acidic so slightly alkaline cleaning solutions work better. Inorganic stains like rusts, scale and minerals require a more acidic product.


Cleaning solutions are usually a mix of surfactants, chelating agents, builders, solvents and water. The surfactant removes dirt while chelating agents and builders soften the water so it works better. Solvents boost overall performance.


No matter the solution, removing pollutants requires mechanical action like scrubbing with a brush. According to Dr. Michael Berry, research professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “agitation makes the molecules of the cleaning solvent interact faster with the molecules of the substance being dissolved,” as reported by CleanLink.   


Give It a Rest

Time, according to Dr. Berry, is a critical element for any cleaning solution to work. “In trying to increase productivity, workers may wipe off chemicals before they can take effect, leaving behind the microorganisms they’re supposed to remove,” he writes. “This not only is less productive, but can lead to workers having to clean that area more often, due to a building up of microorganisms on that surface, which can lead to health risks.”


Dwell time is even more essential when disinfecting.


Rinsing is a vital final step. Chemical residue left on carpets and upholstery will eat away at the fabric after cleaning is completed. Residue left on toilet seats can chemically burn sensitive skin.


Water Works

Instant acting cleaning solutions are expensive, which is ironic considering they are between 50 to 95% water. Also known as The Universal Solvent, water is very effective at penetration and suspending soils, keeping them from redepositing on surfaces. A study conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle found that a no-touch machine filled with plain water cleaned a restroom more effectively than a microfiber mop and a properly diluted disinfectant.


Click here for more cleaning solutions that really work. 

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines. 

Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.

She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.

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