natural cleaning ingredients

why it's useful to know the pH of your natural cleaning ingredients

Natural cleaning is a great way to reduce waste and be a little greener in your home. I’ve published lots of recipes on my Blog but I thought it would be useful to understand which ingredients work best for each cleaning task and why.

So, to understand why they work we need to think back to those science classes in school. The pH scale is used to determine how acidic or alkaline different solutions are, that is when a chemical is dissolved in water.

The scale goes from 0 to 14. Right in the middle is 7, neutral. Anything below 7 is acidic and anything above 7 is considered alkaline.

The reason this is useful to know is because Acids are better for removing things like calcium (limescale), rust, and other minerals. Alkaline (base) solutions are better at cutting through dirt, grease and oils.

Natural Cleaning Ingredients

It's all about the PH

Acids pH 1 to 6

Citric Acid (C₆H ₈O₇) pH 2

Citric acid occurs naturally in some fruits, but in particularly high quantities in lemons and limes. Citric acid makes a great cleaner and is very effective at removing limescale.  This makes it excellent for descaling and cleaning the shower plus a lot more uses around your home.

Vinegar (Acetic Acid CH₃COOH) pH 3

Vinegar is acidic which makes it great for removing mineral deposits and it makes a brilliant general purpose cleaner. However, it’s acidity also makes it possible for it to damage some surfaces, including stone and granite so remember never to use it on those surfaces.

Hydrogen Peroxide (H₂O₂) pH 4

Hydrogen peroxide is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. A concentration of 3% works well as a disinfectant. It also is one of the most effective blood stain removers.

Neutral pH 7

Rubbing Alcohol / Surgical Spirit (Isopropyl Alcohol 70%  C3H8O) pH 6 -8

Rubbing alcohol can be slightly acid, alkaline or neutral as it’s pH can range from 6 to 8.

Alcohol is a solvent, which means it’s good for dissolving dirt and oil. It also dries almost instantly which makes it great for cleaning glass.  It’s also a good disinfectant so useful around the home but don’t use on wood or varnished surfaces.

As with all chemicals, natural or manmade you do need to be careful. Its fumes are quite powerful, so always use it in a well-ventilated area. Remember the alcohol and its fumes are flammable, so keep it far from heat sources; don’t use it on this like your gas hob or oven.

Alkalines or Base 8 to 14

Salt (Sodium Chloride NaCl)  pH 8

Salt is an abrasive which makes it excellent for scrubbing things clean like wooden chopping boards. You can also use salt to help get rid of rust and mildew.

Bicarbonate of Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate NaHCO₃) pH 8 to 9

Bicarbonate of soda is an alkaline or base substance and is very good at powering through grease and dirt, but not enough to make it corrosive.  This makes it a great cleaning ingredient for all around your house.

Castile Soap  pH 9 – 11

Castile soap is a vegetable oil-based soap, that can be used to clean almost anything in your home.

Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate Na₂CO₃) pH 11

Washing soda or soda ash is a caustic alkaline / base.  The high alkalinity of washing soda allows it to act as a solvent in removing a wide range of stains so is great for washing laundry and degreasing pots and pans.   

Gloves should always be worn when cleaning with washing soda as it can cause skin irritation .Also as it can be dangerous in large quantities, make sure to keep washing soda out of the reach of children and pets. It can be harmful to the eyes, cause irritation to the lungs if inhaled, and may cause abdominal pain or vomiting if large doses are swallowed.

Which Natural Cleaning Ingredients Should You Never Mix Together

Just because these are Natural ingredients that doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful when using them.

These are some you shouldn’t mix together:

Hydrogen Peroxide and Vinegar + Peracetic Acid

Never mix Hydrogen Peroxide and Vinegar as it will form Peracetic Acid. Peracetic Acid can irritate your skin, eyes and cause damage to your respiratory system.

Bicarbonate of Soda and Citric Acid or Vinegar

When mixed together this isn’t harmful but it does make it virtually ineffective because when you mix an alkaline and a base they neutralise each other. When you add water to a mix of Bicarb and Citric Acid it will form bubbles which is the result of the chemical reaction producing carbon dioxide.

This is why I say that my toilet fizzers made from Bicarb and Citric Acid are to freshen the loo rather than to clean it.

Zero Waste Laundry

Now that you know a little bit more about which natural cleaning ingredients work on different situations around the home why not check out some of my natural cleaning recipes.

Written by 

Hi, I’m Frankie. This is my blog (Thoroughly Modern Grandma) about blending old fashioned values with modern technology, whilst trying to reduce our waste and be a little kinder to our Planet.

4 thoughts on “Understanding Natural Cleaning Ingredients”

  1. Thank you for publishing this! I found this article when searching for a better cleaning recipe, with the science behind the ingredients, after I unsuccessfully tried a popular recipe of baking soda and vinegar. After thought, I knew they were canceling one another out. Hopefully, more people will see this article before they try doing the same.

  2. thank you so much for explaining this! Is a vinegar/rubbing alcohol solution safe on hardwood floors? I read in one of your articles it is, but this one says that rubbing alcohol may not be good for wood or varnished surfaces.

    1. Hi, I should have said in the post don’t use neat rubbing alcohol on varnished wood surfaces. My favourite floor cleaning recipe dilutes it in water and is mainly for tiled surfaces but I do use it on my wooden floors, although mine aren’t varnished. The main thing to remember with hard wood floors is that you don’t want to over wet them so use a small amount of cleaner and always test small area first. And, you can always leave the rubbing alcohol out of the recipe.

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