While cleaners come in a broad range of types, the majority of cleaners use the same chemical processes to clean off impurities. Many of the differences between one type of cleaning agent and another are related to various specializations that cleaners have; some cleaners are designed to clean ovens and other cleaners are designed more to remove hard minerals.

Homeowners have a broad range of cleaners to choose from.

All-Purpose Cleaners

All-purpose cleaners are designed to clean most objects without negatively effecting them. However, these all-purpose cleaners do not always excel at removing some kinds of dirt and grease. Some of these cleaners abrade surfaces, breaking up dirt and grease. Abrasive cleaners scratch the grease and dirt off surfaces, but chemicals with too much abrasiveness can also scratch surfaces. Others have antibacterial properties for sanitation purposes.


Most cleaners enhance the cleaning power of water by allowing the water to flow more easily with the use of surfactants. The surfactants reduce the surface tension so that the water flows more easily. Otherwise, the water tends to bead up, which slows down cleaning. Surfactants also increase alkalinity and kill microorganisms. These surfactants have components that want to bind to water and components that don't want to bind to water. The components that don't want to bind to water try to bind to anything else. This binding process allows the cleaning product to remain on the surface and work to remove any impurities.


All-purpose cleaning materials usually contain "builders" that bind impurities. Water has hard minerals in it that inhibit the water's cleaning action. Builders cause the minerals to clump together, causing the water to be partially more pure, allowing it to do its part of the cleaning job more effectively.

Specialty Cleaners

Specialty cleaners focus on tackling specific household problems. Bleaches remove stains. Glass cleaners remove streaks and grime from windows. Polishing and buffing agents etch and polish metal to remove impurities and to restore the metal shine. Polishing materials might also have silicates that protect against corrosion. Caustic cleaners remove food that's burned onto a oven. Carpet cleaner foams contain polymers that keep foam brittle and dry; the foam binds to dirt, allowing you to clean your carpets.

Bathroom Cleaners

When water evaporates, it leaves hard water minerals behind. These minerals can bind to surfaces in the bathroom, and they'll require heavy acids to break down. Cleaners with heavy acids work because hard mineral deposits tend to have high alkalinity. Such alkaline buildup can be prevented using regular shower cleaners. Toilet bowl cleaners remove stains caused by hard water and iron. Toilet bowl cleaners also disinfect.

Living Room Cleaners

For heavier carpet stains, homeowners usually use steam cleaners. Dust comes off easily but wants to move around or stick to other objects. Therefore, dust-cleaning products draw dust in to stick to a duster. Also, the anionic surfactants in a dusting product want to bind to the dust material. Silicone fluids and wax work well on wood surfaces, allowing homeowners to restore the shine of hardwood floors, doors and furniture.

Dirt Removers

Some cleaning agents like ammonia and baking soda effectively remove soil because soil tends to have an alkaline nature. These cleaning agents bind to the acidic soil, allowing water to more effectively lift these materials up.