Ammonia makes an effective cleaning agent, but several pros and cons apply to its use. Ammonia is sold in its pure form and used as an ingredient in a wide variety of cleaning products. Users of any chemical should always read the label and follow the manufacturer's instructions to avoid damaging surfaces or harming themselves or others during use. Store ammonia away from food products and out of the reach of children and pets.
Plain ammonia is far less expensive than most commercial household cleaners. Pure ammonia can be mixed with several simple ingredients, such as water, laundry detergent, vinegar or baking soda, to produce a wide variety of cleaning solutions for use around the house.
Ammonia has numerous uses, from a prewash stain treatment and a fabric softener in the laundry to a cleaning agent for household surfaces, tile, walls and windows. In a study funded by the Minnesota Extension Service, ammonia was found to be the most effective product tested at removing kitchen soil and intermediately effective at reducing microbial contamination from laminate countertop material. The Utah State University Cooperative Extension suggests that a rag soaked in ammonia can be used to help remove burned-on food. Simply place the rag directly onto the burned area, and seal the rag and pan in an airtight plastic bag for several hours.
Ammonia, when combined with bleach, produces toxic fumes. If you use multiple chemicals, premixed chemical formulas or clean many parts of the house at one time with separate chemicals, you can accidentally bring the two into contact. For safety, when you know you will be using bleach in the same area, stick to a non-ammonia product.
Ammonia can cause irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract and skin. Ingestion of ammonia can affect the central nervous system and cause shock and convulsions, according to the Material Safety Data Sheet for household ammonia. Users should avoid breathing the fumes and wear gloves to protect their skin.
Information on the efficacy of ammonia use to clean a variety of types of surfaces, removing dirt and destroying bacteria, may not be readily available to consumers. The Minnesota Extension Service notes that "cleaners that are appropriate for one surface may not be appropriate for another. An advantage of commercial cleaners is that their labels contain information on the types of surfaces that they can be used to clean."