A surfactant is a chemical that helps make water “wetter” by reducing the water’s surface tension. If you pour a little water on a flat surface, it has the tendency to “bead” up. That is because the surface tension in the water tends to make the molecules bunch up together. A surfactant will break this surface tension causing the water to coat the surface better.  This allows your cleaner to work faster and better. You may see the words anionic (positive charge), cationic (negative charge), of non-ionic (neither positive or negative) coupled with detergent. This simply refers to the type of charge on the molecules and can enable soils to be attracted or repelled based on the charge.

A builder is an additive that increases the pH of a cleaner. A chelating agent is a water-softening agent and is very desirable in areas with hard water. All additives are designed to increase the cleaning power and/or efficiency of the chemical formulation. pH plays a significant role in floor cleaning. The pH scale goes from 0 (very strong acid) to 14 (very strong alkaline) with 7 being neutral. The scale is logarithmic, meaning that a chemical with a pH of 8 is 10 times the alkalinity of one of 7. A pH of 9 would indicate an alkalinity that is 100 times more alkaline than a pH of 7, and so on.  Use a search engine to get some good examples of pH scales. Look for ones that show the pH of common spots and stains such as coffee, mud, blood, etc.  Also try to determine the pH difference of coffee or tea with and without cream and sugar.

Note that dealing with a soil with a pH of 4 (acidic) requires using an alkaline (7.5 or higher) to remove it. Always try to neutralize the spot and the cleaner applied and allow sufficient dry time. The length of this article does not allow for detailed guidance so please consult with your vendor/distributor or research this subject carefully before attempting to treat spots and stains. Avoid using either strong acids or alkalines for cleaning unless guided by a competent person who can help you avoid damaging a floor or causing an unnecessary health risk.

There is more to cleaning than randomly using products without understanding their potential effects on the surface and on your health.  

Your comments and questions are always welcome.  I hope to hear from you soon.  Until then, keep it clean…


Mickey Crowe has been involved in the industry for over 35 years. He is a trainer, speaker and consultant. You can reach Mickey at 678.314.2171 or CTCG50@comcast.net.