Cleaning products have different cleaning capabilities that will depend on their purpose. Regardless of their specific capabilities, they are all affected by pH.
pH is a scale that measures the acidity or alkalinity of a substance when it is dissolved in water. This scale ranges from 0 to 14. Pure water has a pH of 7 and is often referred to as being neutral. Acidic solutions have a pH less than 7 whereas alkaline solutions have a pH above 7. This is relevant when it comes to cleaning as the different pH values will clean specific types of soils.
Neutral Cleaners — The pH ranges from 6–8 and are generally used for daily cleaning of surfaces with light soil or small particles.
Acidic Cleaners — The pH is below 7 and it is used for cleaning soils that have resulted from mineral deposits. For example hard water exposure. These cleaners can be used for cleaning toilet bowls, removing soap scum, lime, and grease from surfaces.
Alkaline Cleaners — The pH is above 7 and it is used for cleaning soils that are oily or greasy. Heavy duty degreasers will often have a pH of 13–14. General purpose cleaners have a pH between 9 and 11 to remove oils, particulates, fats, and other proteins.
It is important to be aware of how the pH level may affect particular materials. The higher the pH level is, the more corrosive the cleaning agent is. This can lead to damage of materials that may not be reversible.
So just how much should cleaners know about pH?
The cleaning and restoration industry should know about pH meters and how to read charts. Electronic pH meters are able to tell us what kind of product was last used to clean the carpet. When speaking with a customer, they may not be honest or may even be unaware of the history of the carpets. This means that cleaners can avoid taking on the liabilities that are hidden within the carpets.
Being aware of the pH of a spot or stain can give the cleaner the upper hand in diagnosing the source and removal procedures.
A pH meter also gives us the ability to determine if colour loss has been caused by chemicals or the atmosphere. Chemical residue will leave a different pH compared to a non affected area. There will be no contrast in pH if the colourloss has been caused by natural occurrences.
Understanding pH and using a pH meter can eliminate the risk of legal action due to previous cleaning agents that have been used.