Heres the latest version. Any more input welcome.
Cleaners and Detergents FAQ v5
Detergents and soaps
spray and wipe cleaners
Less likely candidates
Safety data sheets
Need a section title for
Detergents and soaps
Cheapo washing up liquid: probably the fastest detergent, but the least
powerful. Removes most things, very quickly. 15p/litre. It is simply
liquid soap. Dries skin.
Will wash clothes in 2 minutes in cold water, but can not remove
everything, so not recommended for continued use. Do not use it in
washing machines, it creates a greasy film that makes them pong.
Its speed makes it useful for hand washing carpets, where it saves much
A good lubricant for sash window runners. May be wiped onto just dried
paint to prevent sticking and allow prompt reassembly.
Liquid soaps: Almost all products sold as liquid soaps are really a
detergent called sodium lauryl ethyl sulphate, aka sodium laureth
sulphate, plus various additives. This is a nearly universal low cost
human-cleaning detergent, and a known mild irritant. Nearly all brands
contain it. Such products are not well suited to general cleaning since
they contain oils and fats, and are a relatively high price per litre.
Quality washing up liquids: much better to skin than the cheapie ones,
remove more types of dirt. But not as fast acting as the low cost soap
Ecover washing up liquid: much better on skin than other washing
liquids. Can strip some household paints. Non toxic.
Can also be used as body wash and shampoo: mix a very little vegetable
oil in for drier skin and hair. Palm oil and castor oil are favoured
for hair. (Engine oil is superb on hair, as many mechanics have found,
but not advisable due to possible toxicity. Engine oils were once
castor oil, so there is some similarity between the 2.)
Washing powder: more powerful than washing liquids, effective
degreasing with hot water. Alkaline. More drying and irritant to skin
than any washing up liquid. Biological powders also contain enzymes to
improve their cleaning action at 40C, but the enzymes stop working at
higher temps. Washing powders various additives such as stain removers,
optical brighteners etc, and powdered cardboard filler. An overnight
soak with bio powder can remove a wide range of stains and organic
materials, so is a good first line of treatment for unknown stains.
Washing powder tablets: take time to dissolve, thus give less cleaning
time than powders. Also some brands fail to dissolve in time, giving
poor washes, and clothes with a residue of irritant washing powder.
Dishwasher detergent, powders and tablets: most powerful detergent,
alkaline, requires hot water to work well. The most irritant detergent
to skin, skin contact best avoided. The detergent gradually attacks
some types of glass, making it go cloudy in time.
Dishwasher detergent, liquid: I know nowt about em.
Wonder / miracle /
magic cleaners / stain removers: ordinary detergents
sold at steep prices. Note that stain removers designed for a limited
range of stains are a different thing to these general purpose wonder
bars. Use washing powder instead.
Soap bars: Soap intended for skin cleaning is normally superfatted,
meaning it contains free fat. This makes it poorly suited to general
household cleaning, and so outside the scope of this FAQ.
In poorer countries a wider variety of soaps are found, with bars for
household cleaning, shampooing, laundry etc, but these are not so often
seen in Britain. If you want to find them, look for them at Indian
supermarkets. They are often sold in big bars a foot or so long, and
you slice off a new soap bar when you need one. The colours indicate
which type of soap it is. They make very economical cleaners, but are
not widely available, not widely used, and better cleaning products are
Soaps may be used for cleaning gold and silver jewellery.
Sugar soap: A soap, has nothing to do with sugar, and is definitely not
edible. Used primarily to clean paintwork, as traces of this soap don't
affect household paints. Other soaps may be used instead so long as
they're rinsed off properly.
Washing painted walls is sometimes an effective way to rejuvenate them
and avoid the need to repaint. Little paint chips can be filled in with
fresh paint of the same or very slightly duller tint. It is important
not to use a brighter shade, nor to let new paint overlap the edges of
the chipped area at all. Less is more in this case. This method can
often make a tatty wall look respectable again in 60-90 minutes with no
materials cost. Whatever your painting regime, this method can make
walls look better between repaints.
Many solvents are volatile, flammable, explosive, toxic, melt plastics,
and/or act as drugs. Ensure good ventilation.
White spirit: Petroleum distillates. Slow to evaporate. Dissolves
un-set oil based (gloss) paints, good for paintbrush cleaning. Not the
ideal solvent for thinning oil paints, but usable. Turps sbustitute is
better for that.
Dissolves uncured epoxy resin.
Lifts many dried on self adhesive labels: wet the label with it and
wait a few minutes, then peel off and wipe the residue away with a rag
wetted with white spirit.
Safe on most plastics, but not on latex rubber gloves.
Vapour explosive and toxic, ventilate thoroughly.
Turps substitute. Very similar to white spirit, but cheaper and not
ideal for thinning paint.
1,1,1 trichloroethylene: aka spot dry cleaner, tippex thinner. No
longer sold, but still in many cupboards. Adequate ventilation
essential. Never place dry cleaned goods in a closed car.
Alcohol: degreaser. Aka surgical spirit, rubbing alcohol, methylated
spirits, ethanol, ethyl alcohol. Meths leaves purple dye residue behind
after it evaporates. Removes fresh ballpoint ink.
Isopropyl alcohol: aka isopropanol. Almost identical properties to
ethyl alcohol. Screen wash, head cleaner.
Paraffin: very slow to evaporate, repels insects, dissolves oils. One
of the safer solvents. Good for degreasing vehicle underneaths and
engine compartments. Apply with a brush, brush off. Where its
flammabilitiy is a problem, clean up afterwards with soap and hot
water, or a pressure washer. Lamp oil is a lower odour form of
paraffin, often with a little colouring.
Diesel: Vehicle and parts degreaser similar to paraffin. One of the
least flammable petrochemical cleaners, a naked flame will usually not
Acetone, an ingredient in nail varnish remover: dissolves polyurethane
(squirt can) foam. Dissolves perspex and can be used to solvent weld
it. Nail varnish remover may contain other ingredients such as lanolin,
Cellulose thinners: a powerful mix of solvents, often used when other
solvents have failed. Removes tar.
Nitromethane: aka cyanoacrylate debonder, dissolves superglue
Nitromors: Methylene chloride, paint and varnish stripper. Produces
Turpentine and turps substitute: gloss/eggshell/oil paint solvents.
Turpentine is a plant oil. Turps substitute is similar to white spirit,
but not the same.
Petrol: flammable, explosive, fumes can produce a range of serious
health problems. Not recommended for indoor use. Contains benzene, a
carcinogen, not recommended for hand cleaning. Use something less toxic
Lighter fluid: petroleum distillates again. Much more volatile than
paraffin, diesel or white spirit. Removes many glues. In common with
most petrochemicals, the vapour can form an explosive mixture with air,
so it should only be used in very small quantities, with good
ventilation, and cotton buds etc with it on should be disposed of
outside not indoors.
Orange oil: aka limonene, Sticky stuff remover. A solvent oil derived
from oranges. Lemon oil is similar.
Carbon tetrachloride: general purpose solvent, narcotic, now banned
from domestic use due to toxicity.
Pipe weld solvent: intended for dissolving and welding pvc pipes. Dont
use on plastic!
Penetrating oil: oil and solvent mix, helps to free rusted parts,
dissolves oils and greases, leaves an oil film behind which attracts
Click to see the full signature.