Everything You Need To Know About pH And Cleaning Chemicals

The pH level of the cleaning chemicals you use and what they mean can be a little bit confusing at times. In this article, we're going to help you understand them better and explain how pH impacts the power and usability of cleaning chemicals.
15 September, 2019 by
Everything You Need To Know About pH And Cleaning Chemicals

Read time: 4.5 minutes

The pH level of the cleaning chemicals you use and what they mean can be a little bit confusing at times. In this article, we're going to help you understand them better and explain how pH impacts the power and usability of cleaning chemicals.

What is pH?

The pH scale runs from 0 to 14 with neutral 7 in the middle. pH7 to pH14 is alkali (basic) and pH7 to pH0 is acidic (sour). Below, the pH scale is broken down with cleaners you may be familiar with to see how they stack up. To measure pH you would use a pH meter which works similarly to a human tongue and how it can distinguish the difference between acidic (lemon) and alkaline (toothpaste) liquid.

1. Oven & Grill Cleaners - pH 13-14

Oven & grill cleaners are at the high end of the pH scale because they have Potassium Hydroxide or Sodium Hydroxide as their main ingredient. This type of alkaline product is great for removing organic soils but comes at a cost. With such a high pH this product is highly corrosive and the correct PPE must be worn. The last thing you want is some XO2® Gorilla getting onto your skin.

2. Chlorine Bleach - pH 11-13

Chlorine-based products or bleach on its own are used for whitening surfaces and sanitising, again this product is high on the pH scale so corrosive is going to be a factor in this. Handy tip: Chlorine needs ventilation to stop the container from swelling up.

3. Dishwashing Detergents & Multi Purpose Cleaners - pH 7-8

Here we have the 'neutral' pH. This pH is the same as pure water and blood. In saying that you don't want to go drinking the chemical. Sink dishwashing liquid detergents are all pH neutral which is perfect for surfaces and items you may clean on a daily or frequent basis. Most surfaces won't be damaged by pH neutral products and you technically don't need to wear safety PPE however we recommend you do in case of allergies or reactions.

4. Air Fresheners, Hand Soaps & Body Wash - pH 5-6

Now you may be wondering why hand soap isn't pH neutral (7-8). Hand soaps need to be super safe right? But washing your hands with an acid doesn't sound like fun. Well, the answer is because the human skin sits at a pH of approximately 6, so when we formulate hand wash products we formulate this so it matches the pH of your skin and creates balance.

Funny fact:
If you took a pH meter and measured your sweat it would sit at around pH 6.

5. Vinegar - pH 3

Getting down into the lower end of the scale we have vinegar. Vinegar is actually edible (sour) and is used on hot chips and other foods, besides this it is actually a great cleaning product. The acidic nature of vinegar makes it really good for removing stubborn minerals but don't use this on stone, ceramic, marble or granite surfaces as it can etch some surfaces.

6. Toilet Bowl Cleaners - pH 1-3

Toilet bowl cleaners are sitting right at the bottom of the pH scale, this is due to the main ingredient being acid based whether it be phosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid or glycolic acid. These cleaners are great for removing minerals and other non-living soils. PPE is a must when using these types of chemicals. Skin irritation is the main problem when using these chemicals without gloves.

2 important things to understand about the pH scale and chemicals

1. pH is logarithmic

The pH scale is logarithmic which means that every digit you move away from 7, up or down, has a value ten times greater than the previous.

So pH 9 is ten times stronger than pH 8.

If we were to allocate a length to each pH digit to represent its strength starting with pH7 at 1mm, then pH 8 would be 10mm (1cm), pH9 would be 100mm (10cm), pH10 would be 1000mmm (1 metre), pH11 would be 10 metres up to pH14 which would be 10km.

As can be seen, there is very little difference up to pH 9. From pH 10 it starts shooting up very steeply.

Exactly the same principle applies when you work from pH 7 back to pH 0 on the acid scale.

2. Buffing ability

The pH value only provides us with the solutions ranking on the pH scale or ladder. Although this is a very important value the solution's buffering ability is often more important.

The buffering ability is the quantity of reserve alkalinity or acidity that the substance has. The buffering ability of an alkali can be established by measuring how much acid is required to neutralise it.

So a solution with a high pH of 13.5 may in fact be very weakly buffered and only require a small amount of acid to neutralize it. You could liken it to an “acidic” army going into battle with one tank which is a formidable weapon and could be likened to a very low pH of 1. However the “alkali” enemy has only got foot soldiers to which we could allocate a weak pH of 9, but there are thousands of them.

On the face of it, it would seem that the “powerful” pH1 will easily win against the weak pH9 however it is easy to see that the alkali army has significantly more reserve which wins the battle.

The pH Chart

We know chemistry may not be your thing so we have created a pH chart that you can use and refer to. This will help you safely use and understand what products you're using and when PPE is necessary. 

Knowing that many soils we encounter have a definite pH, we can use alkalis and acids more effectively to neutralise and release these soils from the surface being cleaned.

I hope this information has helped you.

Get in touch if you require any help or advice on cleaning chemicals, pH and all things cleaning :)

If you’re interested in learning more about XO2’s range of professional and eco-friendly cleaning product concentrates, click here.

Have a great day!

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