Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Home Keeper's Dictionary (Glossary) Part I

Cleaning Terms:

Abrasion- Can refer to purposefully cleaning something by the application of friction (elbow grease :)) or to the unwanted wearing away of a finish or other item or substance by friction.

Abrasive Cleaner -- a cleaner that works by a texture that creates friction. For example, you might use an abrasive pad to clean an iron pot or you might use a powder or other type of cleaner that has an abrasive texture to it. Be careful to use abrasive cleaners only on surfaces that can handle abrasion without being damaged.

Acid -- Some cleansers are acid-based. Acids are compounds that ionize in water to produce hydrogen items. You often find acidic based cleansers in in toilet cleaners, rust removers and hard water stain removers. Vinegar is a mild acid that has a number of household cleaning applications. Do your homework before using an acidic cleanser -- even vinegar. An acid cleanser has a PH significantly below 7 -- generally around 5. Acids react with soil molecules to form a water-soluble molecule that can be wiped or rinsed away.

Alkaline cleanser -- Alkaline cleansers have a PH significantly above 7. Alkalies dissolve in water to contain more hydroxide ions than hydrogen ions. Alkaline substances feel soapy -- at least the ones that are in formulas mild enough to touch. Like acids, alkalies can be extremely strong. Baking soda is a very mild alkaline that has many household cleaning applications. Again, do your homework before applying alkaline cleansers to a particular surface.

Alcohol -- Alcohol is an organic compound that is frequently used in cleaning solutions. Usually, alcohols used in cleaners are methyl, propyl, and butyl. These are not the form of alcohol that is drinkable, and they are dangerous if consumed by mouth. Alcohols have disinfectant properties. You can use ordinary rubbing alcohol for many household cleaning purposes.

Aqueous -- This just means that a cleanser is water based.

Cleaner -- This simply means a single chemical or a chemical formula used to clean something. A cleaner may be a solvent, an acid, an alkali, a detergent, and a water based blend. Be careful with mixing cleaners or any other household chemicals as some combinations produce noxious gases. One famous example of a noxious gas inadvertently produced by using cleaners in the same area at the same time or when mixed is the accidental combination of bleach and ammonia. Before the dangers of combining bleach and ammonia or using them near each other at the same time were widely publicized, home keepers who fainted from the mixed fumes accounted for many emergency room visits

Detergent -- A cleaner that acts similarly to soap, but is made from chemical compounds instead of fats and lye. Detergents are less affected by chemicals in water than soaps are. Laundry detergent and laundry soap powder both clean clothing, but they are not exactly the same thing, for example. Detergents enhance the cleaning power of water. A detergent has an emulsifier in it. An emulsifier penetrates the oil film that binds dirt particles and breaks them up. A detergent also has a wetting agent in it, which helps the dissolved particles to wash away. Detergents use alkaline properties of cleaning. You'll often see sodium carbonate on the labels of modern detergents. In the case of laundry detergents, scents and bleaches may be added. In popular lingo, soap and detergent ares sometimes used interchangably. However, it's good to know the difference in order to correctly interpret labels on cleaning products.

Solvent -- A solvent is a liquid which dissolves another substance. Water can be a solvent. Some solvents are anhydrous, meaning without water. Solvents often contain carbon, making them organic (in the chemistry sense, not the "green" sense). Dry cleaning fluid is an example of an anhyrdrous solvent.

Soap -- A soap is a cleanser that is the salt of a fatty acid. For example, you can make soap by adding potash (an alkali) to a fat. Similarly, Castillo soap is made of soda added to olive oil. Soaps are used with water to produce suds or, in other words, a lather. The lather has a cleansing action. Soaps are a wonderful way to clean many things. One drawback is that when used in hard water, the soap can react with minerals to form a soap scum. This can dull clothing or shower surfaces.

Soap flakes -- Soap Flakes were the first mass produced laundry soap. They were originally manufactured by Lever Brothers, who continued to produce them until 2001. They are made of a 100% vegetable base and have no bleaches phosphates, enzymes or perfume. Soap flakes are biodegradable. You can find more information, including a recipe to make your own Ivory soap flakes, on the Internet.

Saponification -- the process of making soap.

Soils -- a wide number of substances that attach themselves to surfaces forming a pollutant.


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