What To Look For in a Good All-Purpose Cleaner?

This question can have many different answers but the two most important things to me are; is it basic and is it safe to use on most surfaces? The market has recently gone bananas with different offerings and it is becoming quite confusing to sift through the mess of products that lie under the moniker, all-purpose cleaner.

You need it to have just enough muscle to lift the daily grime after your long daily grind, but you don’t want to use anything expensive or corrosive. Technically speaking, it should be safe to use on multiple surfaces and powerful enough to lift away all that grease and grime. I like to take the approach of starting with the simplest, most basic product and working my way up the chain as needed.

I do most of my daily cleaning with dish soap and water. Here, you get to choose your own adventure: you can choose your scent profile, how eco-conscious you want to be, whether you want a concentrate, an old-school bottle with a spray nozzle, a refillable bottle with replacement pods, and how strong you want it to be. See what I mean? It can get confusing! So let’s break it down and give you a better idea of which option you might like.

What Truly Makes an All-Purpose Cleaner?

Consider what an average home needs to clean up in any given week. Think about your kitchen, your bathroom, maybe a dog’s paw prints on the floor or your kids’ potty training accident, a few fingerprints here and there on surfaces…etc. We’re not talking about months of build-up here or a major restoration project.

This is for daily or weekly clean-ups that will take a short time to fix but will make a big difference to how fresh your home feels and smells. An all-purpose cleaner should be safe to use on most surfaces and should be good at lifting grime with ease. It should be a multi-purpose addition to your regular cleaning arsenal!

What are the Ingredients to Look for in an All-Purpose Cleaner?

Again, we get a choose your own adventure! All-purpose cleaners will always be made with some sort of surfactant. This fancy word means an ingredient that will lift dirt and grease off of a surface. Often times they use an acid or alcohol to dissolve the grime and grease, and often double as an antibacterial agent. These products also include different scent options so that you can tailor them to your favorite scents.

If you want to be more eco-conscious and save money, don’t go with the store-ready products and make it yourself! Look for tabs or liquid concentrates that you can dissolve and dilute at home. This will allow you to make the perfect solution for the task at hand and will save you a lot on your monthly cleaning budget.

You will also find many products that contain bleach, but I would be cautious with these. I find bleach to be risky to use around the house and I’ve seen a lot of stains and accidents caused by bleach over the years.

As soon as I see an all-purpose cleaner get very specific with what it cleans, I know it’s not the one for me. If it’s only meant for degreasing ovens or it’s targeted specifically for bathroom cleaning, then it’s totally lost it’s most important asset. I call those ‘specialty products’ because they have special jobs. They are great to have in your bag of cleaning tricks, but not needed for all the cleaning jobs, only some.

An all-purpose cleaner should be useful for… drum roll please… AS MANY PURPOSES AND SURFACES AS POSSIBLE. It should be a great all-purpose cleaner that takes away grime and grease without damaging your household surfaces.

What Different Types of Products Already Exist on the Market?

Disinfecting all-purpose cleaners will do a great job at killing bacteria, but you have to make sure you use it properly to get the full effect. You have to let the product sit and soak on the area for the right amount of time, before wiping away the grime. Degreasing all-purpose cleaners are effective for greasy areas in the kitchen and will usually feature something citrus-based to help dissolve the grime. Bathroom all-purpose cleaners usually feature an acid that can help break down the scum and hard water build-up.

Again, to me, these are all specialty products and shouldn’t really be included in the all-purpose product line, but alas I do not work for marketing departments. Your best off with a simple all-purpose cleaner, or better yet, just make your own!

What Surfaces Are Good for All-Purpose Cleaners?

Always check the package first, as many of these specialty all-purpose products will not be safe for all of the surfaces in your home. Is the product acid-based? If so, then you certainly cannot use it on any natural stone surfaces or on anything that is porous. It’s also good to remember that if these are used on any food prep surface, then you need to rinse the surface very very well, ensuring that no product is left on it.

If you need to add some new cleaning tools to your arsenal, then look no further then Maker’s Clean Products. They offer affordable cloths and cleaning products to get you on the right track to a cleaner and fresher home.

What Makes an All-Purpose Cleaner Pet Safe?

Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients. Most companies will proudly tell you that their product is safe around pets, but if you are unsure about this fact, it is always good to check the product’s ingredient list and website. As a cat mom myself, I try to keep heavily scented products away from my cat, so I’ll pop her in another room when I’m cleaning, Generally, I like to purchase unscented or lightly scented products for my home. If you do happen to have a concern however, make sure to rinse the surface you’ve cleaned with water, after cleaning, to make sure that your pet will be safe.

What makes an All-Purpose Cleaner Eco-Friendly?

Again, it comes down to ingredients, ingredients, and more ingredients. Manufacturers will aim to use plant and mineral-based ingredients. They will proudly show off any certifications they have (B Corp, EcoCert, EcoLogo, EWG…etc) and will try to entice you with their products’ supposed eco-friendly qualities.

These are ok if you want store-bought, but you can also just make an eco-friendly choice by making your own product at home. DIY products are great and they also give you the opportunity to re-use some of those old spray bottles and containers. The less plastic you buy the better, for you, for the environment, and for everyone in your home!

What Ready-Made Products Should I Buy?

Dyptique, Saie, and Guests on Earth, are all valid options to choose from when looking for an all-purpose cleaner. Special note about Guests on Earth, they are the most eco-focused of the lot and have taken the most care in creating ingredients that are eco-friendly and safe to use in all situations.

These all offer a delightful scent that will make you think you are walking through a luxe perfume shop. These products also come in smart-packaging options. These bottles are made from glass or aluminum, which are more durable and eco-conscius than their plastic counterparts.

Personally, I don’t like cleaning with a glass bottle because I find them heavy and uncomfortable to use. If you have a ton of cleaning experience and have a lot of cleaning needs then you might find that function over form may be more important.

DIY All-Purpose Cleaners

I make my own all-purpose cleaners for my home cleaning needs and usually grab a specialty product or two for specifics like bathroom cleaning and areas around the kitchen. It’s easy, cheap, and simple to make your own cleaner! All you need is a spray bottle and some good dish soap.

Mix 2 cups of water and a 1/2 tsp. of dish soap in your spray bottle. Shake the mixture well and use it on just about any surface that’s safe to use water on. I use this for cleaning all my general surfaces throughout the house, including my bathroom, kitchen, and kid’s play areas. I like to use Dawn Dish Soap and a plastic spray bottle, but any dish soap will do. It’s also great for giving everything a wipe-down after I finish dusting. It’s safe, easy, and effective! Plus, it’s a no-rinse formula that cuts my cleaning time in half. It’s the perfect base for an all-purpose cleaner and it eliminates the need to buy any of the ready-made products that exist on shelves today.

Hopefully, you’ve picked up a couple of tips and tricks on how to best choose or make an all-purpose cleaner. This will instantly become a vital tool in your cleaning arsenal and will help keep your surfaces clean on a regular daily basis.

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


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