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Acids and Bases - What is pH?

If you watch TV, you’ve probably seen commercials for products claiming to be “pH balanced.”  But what is pH, anyway?  And how does pH affect cleaning? 

The basics of pH

pH is a measure of how acidic or basic a solution is.  Water based solutions range from a pH of zero to a pH of 14.  The mid point of the pH scale, 7.0, is considered neutral.  Pure water is neutral. 

Low pH = Acidic

If a solution has a pH that is lower than 7, that solution is considered acidic.  Acids are usually sour or bitter – coffee, cola, and lemon juice all have an acidic pH.  When used in cleaning products, acids help to break down difficult stains like rust or mineral deposits.

Some common cleaning products that have an acidic pH are:

  • Hard water/mineral deposit removers
  • Toilet bowl cleaners
  • Rust stain removers
  • Tub and tile cleaners
  • Mold removers

Acidic cleaners attack and dissolve these types of stains, breaking them down and making them easier to remove.

High pH = Basic (alkaline)

A solution with a pH that is higher than 7 is basic (sometimes referred to as alkaline).  Products with basic pH values are useful for removing fatty and oily soils from surfaces – including your hands!  Your average bottle of hand soap has a pH of 9 or 10.  Bleach, which is useful for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your home, has a pH of 12.5.

Some common cleaning products that have a basic pH include:

  • Oven cleaner
  • All purpose cleaners
  • Laundry detergents

Alkalinity attacks fatty and oily soils breaking them into component parts that are easier to remove from the surface or fabric.

Striking a balance

Most products are pH balanced – this simply means that the pH of a solution has been raised or lowered in order to get the job done.  For example, a product designed to remove rust stains would have a pH that’s low enough to dissolve tough rust stains, but high enough to leave your bathtub’s enamel surfaces unharmed.

From all-purpose cleaners and glass cleaners to tub and tile sprays, cleaning products are formulated to have the most effective pH for the job.