Which Types of Cleaning Agents are Used in Housekeeping?


Published on February 21, 2019

The different types of cleaning agents used in housekeeping and how housekeepers should use them in houses and hotels. Click To Tweet There are 4 different types of cleaning agents commonly used by housekeepers in private houses and hotels. Each of the cleaning agents has a specific purpose and should only be used as intended, otherwise dangerous and costly mishaps can occur.

The four types of cleaning agents used in housekeeping are:

  1. Detergents
  2. Degreasers
  3. Abrasives
  4. Acids

Training for correctly using these chemical cleaning agents is part of Polo & Tweed’s Housekeeping Course to ensure housekeepers are knowledgeable in safety procedures and best practices for using each type of cleaning agent.

In this article we’ll cover the following aspects of our housekeeping job training and using cleaning agents:

  • Safety aspects of handling cleaning agents
  • Labeling of chemical cleaning agents
  • Chemicals used in different types of cleaning agents
  • Appropriate use of the different types of cleaning agents
  • Tips for using chemical cleaning agents

Safely Storing and Handling Cleaning Agents

Many of the chemicals used in cleaning agents can be harmful to human health and the environment. The chemicals are classified as irritants and/or allergenic fragrances so there are strict regulations governing the concentration of these toxic chemicals in the cleaning agents.

However, if you are using and storing cleaning agents in an institution or a house, you’re obligated to follow the manufacturers’ instructions to ensure your own safety and use safe systems at work, including:

  • Reading product labels carefully before using them
  • Avoid direct skin contact to prevent dermatitis and other skin irritations.

Awareness of Labeling Definitions

Symbols or pictograms on the labels of cleaning agents indicate whether chemical ingredients are oxidising, highly or extremely flammable, toxic, harmful, irritant, corrosive, or dangerous for the environment.

In the past, certain symbols were used for a variety of definitions but the European Union recently phased in new labeling requirements for clarification which were phased in by 2017. The old pictograms had orange backgrounds. The new pictograms have white backgrounds.

These two new symbols were added:


Indicates health hazards such as skin irritation or sensitisation, serious eye irritation, or that a product could be harmful if swallowed.


Contains chemicals that pose serious health hazards including carcinogens, respiratory sensitizers, reproductive toxicity, target organ toxicity, germ cell mutagens.

Safe Use Icons

The following icons and phrases can also be found on the packaging of cleaning agents. Depending on the space available on the label, only the icon may be displayed, so housekeepers should know what the icons mean and follow the recommendations.

keep_away_from_children  Keep away from children

keep_away_from_eyes  Keep away from eyes. If product gets into eyes rinse thoroughly with water.

Sensitive_damaged1  Sensitive or damaged skin.

Ventilate  Ventilate the room after use

Do_not_change  Do not change container to store contents

Do_not-_ingest  Do not ingest. If product is ingested then seek medical advice.

Do_not_mix  Do not mix with other products.


Detergents are substances containing soaps and/or surfactants (any organic substance/mixture) that are used for washing or cleaning jobs for the household, institutional or industrial purposes, including:

  • Dishwashing
  • Handwashing
  • Laundry washing
  • Fabric softeners
  • All-purpose cleaners
  • Bleaching

There are many cleaning products containing detergents and they come in various forms, including powders, tablets, concentrated liquids, liquid capsules, pastes or cakes.

Phosphorus in Detergents

Phosphorus is an ingredient commonly used in detergents. However, it is a toxic chemical, so there are strict limits on the amount of phosphorus allowed in detergents.

Phosphorus limit in laundry detergents

According to EU Detergent regulations, consumer laundry detergents (for use by non- professionals, including in public laundrettes) must not contain more than 0.5 grams of phosphorus in the recommended quantity of the detergent used in a standard washing machine load. This applies to the recommended quality of detergent.

Phosphorus limit in dishwasher detergents

The total content of phosphorus allowed in a standard dosage expressed in grams or ml or number of tablets for the main washing cycle for normally soiled tableware in a fully loaded dishwasher (12 place settings) must not exceed 0.3 grams. However, there are provisions for water hardness.

Restrictions on Chemical Fragrances in Detergents

There are 26 chemical fragrances commonly used in detergents which are most often linked to causing allergic reactions. For this reason, the concentration of the fragrances listed below must not exceed 0.01% by weight in detergents.

  • Amyl Cinnamal
  • Benzyl Alcohol
  • Cinnamyl Alcohol
  • Citral
  • Eugenol
  • Hydroxycitronellal
  • Isoeugenol
  • Amylcinnamyl Alcohol
  • Benzyl Salicylate
  • Cinnamal
  • Coumarin
  • Geraniol
  • Hydroxyisohexyl
  • 3-cyclohexene
  • Carboxaldehyde
  • Anise Alcohol
  • Benzyl Cinnamate
  • Farnesol
  • Butylphenyl Methylpropional
  • Linalool
  • Benzyl Benzoate
  • Citronellol
  • Hexyl Cinnamal
  • Limonene
  • Methyl 2-octynoate
  • Alpha-isomethyl Ionone
  • Evernia Prunastri Extract
  • Evernia Furfuracea Extract

The Danger to Children of Liquid Laundry Detergent Capsules (Liquitabs)

Housekeepers working in private houses or establishments where children are present must avoid the risk of children getting hold of liquid laundry detergent capsules and putting them in their mouths.

Liquid laundry detergent capsules or liquitabs intended for single use contain highly concentrated liquid detergent in soluble packages which are usually brightly coloured, making them attractive to children, who could mistake them for sweets.

Incidents of Poisoning

Poison Centres in several EU countries have reported a significant number of severe incidents of ingestion and eye damage involving infants and young children regarding liquid laundry detergent capsules – a higher accident rate compared to laundry detergents in other types of packaging.

The main symptoms and consequences of exposure to concentrated laundry detergent can be:

  • If ingested: severe vomiting, coughing, respiratory disorders, nausea, drowsiness and rash.
  • In case of contact with the eyes: conjunctivitis, eye pain, eye irritation.
  • In case of contact with the skin: skin rash, skin irritation, chemical burn.


Degreasers are used for heavy-duty cleaning to remove grease, grime, dirt and oil from hard surfaces. They are used in commercial kitchens to remove grease from grills, ovens and other metal surfaces as well as from heavily soiled floors.

How Degreasers Work

Grease, oils and fats are organic dirt which is broken down by alkaline solutions and solvents. Heavy duty degreasers such as oven cleaners have a high pH (more alkaline). All purpose cleaners for light dirt and dust have neutral pH.

Cleaning and degreasing agents on the pH scale

Cleaning and degreasing agents on the pH scale

  • All-purpose cleaners         pH 6-8 (neutral)
  • Cleaner-degreasers           pH 9-10 (alkaline)
  • Heavy-duty degreasers    pH 11-13 (high alkaline)
  • Oven cleaners                    pH 14 (extremely alkaline)
Common Ingredients in Degreasers
  • Sodium Carbonate (soap ash)
  • Sodium Meta Silicate
  • Ethylenediaminetetraacetate (EDTA)
  • Sodium Tripolyphosphate
  • Kerosene
  • Methylated spirits / white spirit
  • Xylene

Safety Awareness When Using Degreasers

As degreasers are high-alkaline cleaning agents they can be corrosive, so housekeepers must closely follow the Instructions on the product labels to ensure they are only used for their intended purpose and to avoid damage to surfaces.

Health Risks

High-alkaline cleaners and degreasers can cause chemical burns to the skin. Degreasers should be used in well-ventilated areas along with skin and eye protection.

Some degreasing products contain ammonia or lye, which should never be mixed with bleach, which results in a chemical reaction, producing poisonous chlorine gas.

Safer Alternatives

A variety of naturally alkaline ingredients can be used in degreasers in place of strong chemicals to reduce health risks. Environmentally-friendly, non-toxic and non-fuming degreasers are becoming more popular in commercial kitchens to prevent chemical contamination.


Abrasives are either powders or liquids used to wear off dirt from hard surfaces such as sinks, floors, kitchen and bathroom surfaces.

How Abrasives Work

The main ingredients in abrasives are usually small particles or minerals. The effectiveness of an abrasive agent depends on the coarseness of those particles. Their abrasiveness depends on the coarseness of the particles in the product.

For example, a fine grade of chalk (gilder’s whiting) is used in silver polish, so that it doesn’t scratch the silverware. Here are some of the other substances used in abrasive cleaners:

  • Aluminum oxide
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Calcite
  • Feldspar
  • Quartz
  • Silica
  • Whiting (powdered chalk)
Caution when using abrasives

Housekeepers should always read the labels on abrasive cleaning agents to make sure they use the appropriate product for the cleaning task at hand.

Coarse abrasives can damage surfaces such as plastic, fiberglass, glass, non-stick cookware, painted woodwork, plated metal, and highly polished metal.

Housekeepers should also exercise caution when repeatedly using abrasive cleaners on hard surfaces such as sinks, bathtubs, and kitchen appliances, because the abrasive agent gradually scratches the finish of these items.

The scratches become deeper over time and dirt becomes more deeply embedded, requiring even stronger abrasives to clean out embedded dirtier and stains over time.

Abrasives and Disinfectants

Some abrasive cleaners also contain chemical or organic disinfectants to kill bacteria at the same time. These disinfecting (antimicrobial) agents can include: pine oil, quaternary ammonium compounds or sodium hypochlorite (household bleach).

As chemical antimicrobial agents are regulated, the product will be labelled “disinfectant”, so housekeepers should closely follow the directions on the label.

Housekeeping Tips for Using Coarse Abrasives
  • Always test abrasive cleaners on a small, inconspicuous area of the surface to be cleaned before using the cleaner on the entire surface.
  • Use sparingly and rub gently. Do
  • Do not use abrasives on marble or other natural stone surfaces.
  • Only use on surfaces not harmed by mild abrasives or acids
  • Don’t allow abrasives to dry out on the surface being cleaned

Acid Cleaning Agents

Acid cleaning agents are often highly concentrated solutions that are used for the toughest cleaning jobs to dissolve mineral deposits (descaling) and ingrained grime.

As such, acid cleaners can be dangerous and highly corrosive so they should be handled with extreme care and diluted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Uses for Acid Cleaning Agents

  • Descaling mineral deposits
  • Rust removal
  • Tough stain removal
  • Dissolving
  • Cleaning masonry
  • Mould removal
  • Bathroom tile cleaner
  • Restoring tarnished or discoloured metal
Acid Strengths

Different cleaning jobs with acid cleaners require different strengths or dilutions of acid solutions. Acid cleaners are often used by housekeeping staff for cleaning bathrooms and for dishwashers.

Very Mild Acid Cleaners

Vinegar and lemon juice are mildly acidic (about 5%) and have the benefit of being organic. They can be used to remove hard-water deposits from glassware.

Very Strong Acidic Cleaners

Oxalic acid, Hydrochloric and sulfuric acid are strong acids used as rust removers and toilet bowl cleaners and are very poisonous.

Safety Precautions When Using Acid Cleaners

Acid cleaning agents are highly toxic so housekeepers must follow label instructions exactly.

  • Do not mix acid cleaning agents with other cleaners.
  • Avoid contact with skin or your eyes
  • Avoid splashing or spilling Acid cleaners on other materials
  • Ventilate rooms when using acid cleaners

Tips for Using Different Types of Cleaning Agents

Apart from the daily routine of dusting and cleaning, housekeepers are often faced with a cleaning job which requires special treatment.

Unblocking a drain in the bathroom clogged with hair, soap, and toothpaste requires one type of treatment while a kitchen drain may have become clogged up with fat and grease, requiring a different kind of cleaning agent.

Or perhaps you need to get the grime off a collection of glassware that’s been left on a kitchen shelf collecting grease and grime since last year’s annual ball. Here are some guidelines on specialty cleaners for those special jobs:


Cleaning Job Specialty Cleaning Agent
Fabric stained with fungi, mould and mildew Diluted liquid household bleach (sodium hypochlorite)
Kitchen drain clogged with fat and grease Sodium hydroxide
Bathroom drain clogged with hair and soap Sodium hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide
Glass stained with body oils Solvents and alkaline cleaning agents
Glass stained with mineral salts Acetic acid (vinegar)
Showerhead clogged with mineral deposits from hard water (limescale and rust) Citric, oxalic, sulfamic or hydroxyacetic acid to dissolve the minerals
Tarnished metal Kaopolite (clay) or fine hydrous silica

Polo & Tweed Housekeeping Training Courses

Polo & Tweed’s housekeeping courses instill an eye for detail and a passion for ‘keeping house’. Housekeeping trainees perfect all the skills for professional housekeeping in institutions, private houses and luxury hotels.

Our housekeeping courses include group courses and bespoke, tailor-made courses for individuals that literally open up a world of opportunities with improved confidence, organizational and housekeeping management skills.

Housekeeping trainees benefit from personal guidance by highly experienced housekeeping professionals and practical hands-on experience to gain in-depth knowledge of housekeeping secrets for success.

Click here for more information about our housekeeping courses or call us with any questions at 0203 858 0233.