One of the lessons learned over the last two years is just how many germs can be lurking in innocuous places (remember wiping down your groceries?). And although you might now be skilled at a quick swipe with a dust cloth or the pre-company vacuuming spree, your home still cries out for a deeper clean. Deeper doesn’t necessarily need to mean more time-consuming, however, especially with the right all-purpose cleaner.
And all-purpose shouldn’t conjure images of toxic chemicals or noxious fumes. With all-natural cleaners never more important, so we sought expert advice to help navigate finding the best all-purpose cleaner for your needs.
Navigating the Different Types of Cleaners
Vera Peterson, president of pro-cleaning company Molly Maid, advises that you should familiarize yourself with the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing. “Whether it’s for your kitchen, bathroom, laundry or otherwise, not all cleaners are designed to kill bacteria, germs and viruses,” says Peterson. “They may only be designed to clean grease, soap scum or certain kinds of stains.” Peterson suggests you thoroughly read labels and directions to ensure the product is meant to do what you need it to. And keep these tips in mind:
Cleaning physically removes germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects using soap (or detergent) and water. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers the risk of spreading infection.
Disinfecting kills germs with chemicals. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.
How All-Purpose Cleaners Work
Karen Lee, household cleaning expert and founder of Smart Robotic Home, defines an “all-purpose cleaner” as something that can be used to clean multiple surfaces throughout your house, but is still gentle enough to be around your family and pets. But these cleaners should not be used as disinfectants. “An all-purpose cleaner is only meant to be used to get rid of messes that are on the surface of things,” Lee says. “It does not get rid of bacteria as well as a disinfectant.” While Lee says you can find all-purpose cleaners that disinfect, she warns that these varieties can be harsher and have more chemicals.
If your focus is on cleaning grease, stains and dirt, you’ll need to factor in the acidity or alkalinity of your cleaner. The more acidic, the better it is on soap scum and tougher messes, says Lee. “You should also be aware that all-natural cleaners tend to not be as potent when used instantly,” she adds. “Always check the directions on the bottle, as you might need to leave the cleaner on a surface for a bit of time before wiping it away.”
What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Multi-Purpose Cleaner
To ensure you are making the right decision for you and your household, it’s important to consider the following:
Product Type: While most multi-purpose cleaners come as liquid sprays, they can also be foaming sprays, wipes, powder and even paste. If you buy a spray of some kind, you’ll obviously need a paper towel or rag to wipe. All-purpose cleaners that come as wipes are incredibly convenient. Pastes are meant to lift away particles, while powder typically need to be used with a pad scrubber or brush.
Use Cases: Consider what you’ll be using your all-purpose cleaner on. Whether it’s the type of surface or the location in the home, read the label to ensure that the product will perform and be safe at the same time. For instance, Dean Davies of Fantastic Cleaners points out that some cleaners won’t be suitable for porous surfaces like marble or limestone. “Check the product’s instructions in order to avoid any damage,” he cautions.
Safety: If you have kids or pets, you’ll want to be careful with your cleaning products. Davies recommends a non-toxic all-purpose cleaner. Many will have a “pet-safe” label. “If you want a more natural cleaning solution, check the label for any toxic or carcinogenic chemicals,” says Davies. “Most plant-based products will have a list of the safe ingredients on their label.”
What Ingredients to Avoid in an All-Purpose Cleaner
While it’s obvious to look for non-toxic all-purpose cleaner, green cleaning expert Amy Cadora of Norwex (as well as other experts we spoke to) say to avoid products with harsh chemicals like chlorine, a common ingredient in some cleaning products. And while that pungent smell signals to your nose that your home is “clean,” Cadora says, it could make you develop eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as skin sensitivity.
Cadora says to avoid the following ingredients:
- Chlorine bleach
- Synthetic dyes
- Synthetic fragrances
Instead, you should go for products that:
- Don’t have animal-derived ingredients
- Are not tested on animals
- Have baking soda and microfine mineral powder (which deep clean gently but effectively)
- Have a ready-to-use formula (not the kind that you have to spray and wait to wipe off)
- Are USDA-certified 78% biobased content from plants and other renewable sources
1. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Multi-Purpose Everyday Cleaner
Reviews don’t lie. This beloved multi-purpose cleaner has a 5-star rating on Amazon and over 23,000 reviews. With a Climate Pledge, Mrs. Meyer’s has sustainability certifications that show its commitment to nature preservation, and its formula is thoughtfully crafted and plant-derived. We love this brand’s garden-inspired scents (basil, lavender, lemon verbena, geranium and honeysuckle) and the fact that they don’t test on animals.
Simply wipe it away after you spray. Use on non-porous surfaces, such as wood, tile, countertops, bathroom fixtures, granite and more.
2. Babyganics Multi Surface Cleaner
BEST FOR PARENTS
Made without ammonia, bleach, phosphates, phthalates, sulfates, fragrances or dyes, this plant-derived multi-purpose cleaner will be your best bet for spraying and wiping down high chairs, strollers and other surfaces around the home — especially those that kids frequent. Use it on any hard surface, like glass, floors, stainless steel, tile or plastic. Just spray and wipe away dry.
3. ATTITUDE All-Purpose Cleaner
BEST FOR PET OWNERS
Natural and effective, the ATTITUDE All-Purpose Cleaner contains plant- and mineral-based ingredients like saponin, a natural cleansing agent. This product also features the powerful ECOLOGO certification, which means it’s sustainable and biodegradable while also capable of removing scum, mold and dust. This item is also PETA Certified vegan, so you know your pets are in good hands. Reviewers of the product also love that it doesn’t have a scent. You can use this on hard surfaces like stainless steel appliances and marble countertops.
4. Norwex’s All Purpose Cream Cleaner
BEST ATYPICAL ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER
We love the unconventional style of the Norwex All-Purpose Cleaner, which is not a spray at all! Boasting a handy formula that leaves surfaces sparkling, this cleanser uses baking soda and microfine mineral powder to gently deep clean.
Because of its packaging and the fact that it is less likely to leak than a spray bottle, it can travel well. Consider leaving it in the car or taking it on trips for on-the-go cleaning.
5. Cleancult’s All-Purpose Cleaner
BEST ECO-FRIENDLY MULTI-PURPOSE CLEANER
We love the Cleancult’s All-Purpose Cleaner because it allows you to get into every nook and cranny of your home in a sustainable way. This all-purpose cleaner uses citric acid and ingredients derived from coconuts to break through germs, dirt and mess. This clean cleaner uses no dyes, phosphates, phthalates or other strong chemicals, so it’ll be gentle on the skin. Scents come in Bamboo Lily, Orange Zest and Blue Sage. We’re also in love with its recyclable carton packaging.
6. Water & White Vinegar
BEST ALL-NATURAL ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER
The only truly all-natural all-purpose cleaner is one that you’d make yourself. Ana Andres, co-founder of TidyChoice, says you’ll need vinegar and liquid soap to DIY your own solution. “Start by mixing two cups of water with two tablespoons of white vinegar,” says Andres. Then, add 20-ml of liquid soap in a spray bottle to complete. “Give it a good shake and you are ready to go,” she says. If you want to lessen the vinegar-y smell, Andres recommends adding 10 drops of essential oil.
And the best part is, it’s totally free if you use products you already have at home!
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