Appropriate chemistry is the basis for pre-sprays, rinses, spot and stain removers, deodorizers, protectors, etc. Different formulations will be more suitable for use on some fibers or some types of soil than others. Some are less aggressive for the surface being cleaned, safer for the technician, their clients, or the environment. It is helpful to understand how and why one cleaning agent works differently than another. The vast array of cleaning formulas in the market today will incorporate alkalinity, surfactancy, and solvency to some degree. There are other ingredients that are used in clearly defined cleaning categories and are vital for a small group of focused products.
Acidic builders are used in extraction rinses designed for neutralizing alkalinity found in most pre-sprays. Citric and glycolic acid are the foundation block of this type of rinse. The use of acidic rinses are more important for natural fibers like wool and cotton as it leaves the fibers after drying in the neutral pH range. You will find acids like urea hydrochloride and phosphoric in formulas used to descale hard water deposits from hard surfaces and to etch microlayers on the surface of cementitious material like grout. Special acids like ammonium bi-fluoride will also chemically alter rust to become invisible in soft surfaces.
Living bacteria cultures and non-living enzyme catalysts form the foundation of deodorization or oil degradation formulas. Bacteria and enzymes are used to breakdown organic matter into water-soluble compounds. Enzymes are added as a catalyst to speed up the process. At this point, thorough extraction will readily remove contaminants separated from fibers by the enzymes and select surfactants. Bacteria cultures work slower as they multiply in the presence of a food source producing enzymes to continue the break down organic matter into smaller particles. Eventually, they will be digested through the cell wall of living spores as a food source. Enzymes are also used in pre-sprays to break down protein-based oils and greases like you would find in a restaurant so that they can be extracted. Specialty bio-enzyme formulas will also breakdown excessive oils in food traps, sinks, etc.
Encapsulates are a twenty-first-century innovation added to cleaning formulations. The encapsulating polymers are being added to modern formulations by serving as an alkaline builder, but also help any detergent residue dry down to a form that does not contribute to re-soiling. Most modern maintenance low moisture carpet cleaning formulas are built primarily with polymers and surfactants. Agitation helps break soils off of fibers which are surrounded by polymer and dry down brittle for vacuum extraction. Other polymer surrounds the fibers and promotes soil resistance until the next cleaning.
New protector formulations include encapsulated polymers that provide stain and soil resistance but no oil or water surface repellency. Fluorinated polymers are the primary ingredient for carpet protectors and impregnated sealers for porous hard surfaces. These fluorinated polymers can be formulated in both solvent and water-based solutions and they reduce the surface energy of fibers, fabrics, and porous hard surfaces so that water and oil will be repelled at the surface. The presence of fluorinated polymers in water-based solutions also promotes soil resistance like encapsulating polymers. Acid dye resistors are a different specialized polymer designed to fill up dye sites in nylon and wool carpet to limit staining. Silicones are limited in their market presence since they can only be used for water repellency for soft and hard surfaces.
Fragrance is an integral part of most cleaning products at all levels of pH and often are identified more readily than the brand itself. Fragrance does nothing for the actual cleaning but serves as an important role as it covers up the sometimes unpleasant odor from the raw materials that make up the chemical. In addition, it provides a pleasing fragrance while cleaning that often lingers for a time, after you are done.
Odor encapsulates are used in combination with fragrances when professional deodorization is necessary. Zinc salt is a natural odor neutralizer that traps and absorbs malodor molecules. Zinc salt is finite and can be overwhelmed by a greater amount of malodors necessitating the use of more of the solution. The zinc salt does not remove the source of the odor and its application would thereby be temporary in nature unless the source is removed. The odor encapsulate formula can be added to a wide variety of products to provide some odor removal to the other performance features.
Oxidizers are available in both liquid and powdered form and are the cleaning industry’s version of an oxygen bleach or color-safe bleach. They are used to brighten white fabrics and enhance colors without using fluorescent dyes. Hydrogen peroxide is the liquid form and needs to be carefully formulated so that it has a shelf life of at least a year. Hydrogen peroxide is the preferred form when used as a spotter as its addition to an organic stain modifies the molecule to make the stain invisible. Sodium percarbonate is in powder form and needs to be coated if used in any formula with even a small amount of water. The sodium percarbonate is primarily used in urine decontamination formulas and added as a booster to cleaning formulas.
Reducers are found in both liquid and powder form. Sodium thiosulfate is a mild liquid reducer used in spotting formulas. Sodium metabisulfite is the powdered form and is dissolved in liquid spotting formulas. If the pH is below 7 then it can have a distinct sulfur odor. If the pH is above 7 then the odor is neutralized. The reducer is used as a spotter for an inorganic stain as it modifies the molecule to make the stain invisible.
The aforementioned specialized cleaning agents typically use surfactants in the formulas, solvents to a lesser degree, and alkalinity sparingly as most are used in neutral formulas. However, they stand as cleaning agents which are absolutely necessary to provide a full range of service to the diversity of soft and hard surfaces. Their functions, however, narrow and will always be considered niche products but vital to the longevity of all surfaces used.