If you own or work for an industrial cleaning service provider, it’s essential to understand the relevance of the pH scale to various cleaning applications. PH affects which cleaning products should be used for which tasks, and using a cleaner with the wrong pH for the job may damage surfaces.
The pH Scale provides a means of quickly and easily assessing the degree of acidity or alkalinity in liquid solutions (i.e. cleaning solutions) by assigning it a numeric value. As you may remember from taking science classes in school, the pH scale has a range of 0-14; 0 is the most acidic value and 14 is the most alkaline, with the middle value of 7 acting as a neutral point (as is found in pure distilled water).
In general, acidic products (those with a pH lower than 7) have descaling properties, whereas alkaline products (those with a pH higher than 7) have degreasing properties.
Understanding Acidic Cleaning Products
Usually, acid-based cleaning solutions will have a pH value of between 0.5 and 5 on the scale. Cleaning solutions will seldom ever approach the acidity value of a “true” acid (as true acids are, of course, highly destructive) but moderate acidity is excellent for removing limescale deposits from hard surfaces. Moderately acidic solutions can effectively dissolve the salts found in such scale, unlike water.
This is why simple white vinegar (a moderately acidic liquid) makes a superb green cleaner, handling even relatively tough descaling jobs when applied undiluted.
Understanding Alkaline Cleaning Products
Alkaline cleaning solutions are those with a pH value higher than 7; generally, they will have a pH value of between 11 and 12.5. These solutions are most commonly applied when industrial cleaning service providers are called upon to de-grease appliances and surfaces or remove fatty deposits that have built up on hard surfaces, such as when doing a deep-cleaning of an industrial kitchen.
Very strong alkaline products (those with a value of around 13) are generally reserved for use as emulsion floor polish strippers. Caustic soda, an extremely corrosive cleaning agent sometimes used by industrial cleaning service providers, has the highest pH value of all, 14.
When to Choose Neutral Cleaning Products
Not all cleaning products are either acidic or alkaline; some applications, including general cleaning procedures and carpet cleaning, require the use of fairly neutral cleaners (those which have a pH value of between 6 and 9). Neutral cleaners are excellent for handling jobs which involve more porous surfaces that may be easily damaged.
Assessing pH Value
If you’re unsure of the pH value of any of your cleaning products, you should test said product or products before use. To do so, purchase some Universal Indicator Paper (more commonly referred to as “litmus paper”) and dip the paper into the cleaning solution. Wait for the paper to turn a different colour, then compare the colour against the value chart provided (usually, the more blue the shade, the more alkaline your solution is, and the more red the paper becomes, the more acidic it is).