Spring-clean your cleaners: many surface cleaning products don't actually work

Choice finds many household surface cleaners work no better than water – and some are worse

It’s a habitual thing. When you want to clean a surface, you spritz on a cleaning product, grab your scrub and get to work. But a recent test by the consumer advocacy group Choice has found that many surface cleaning products work no better than water. And some, in fact, are worse.

Choice’s Ashley Iredale told Guardian Australia: “About 50% of the ones on our test weren’t noticeably different from plain water. It’s pretty scary. You’re essentially just tipping money down the drain.”

There were some clear wins in the test as well, Iredale says: “Good cleaning products will certainly save you a lot of time.”

Choice tested the products using a mechanical scrubbing machine that “ensures you get absolute consistency from sample to sample”. It’d cover a ceramic tile in a specialised “greasy, grimy” soil formula, let it dry, spray on the cleaning product, then set its machine to 40 scrubs. “We measure light reflectants on that tile before and after that test, which is an incredibly accurate way of measuring how much soil has been removed.”

Floor cleaners proved particularly useless. “None of them performed noticeably better than water,” Iredale says. “It’s just the mechanical scrubbing action” – or at home, your hard work “rather than the floor cleaner itself”.

In all tests, price had little to do with peak performance: “The best performing multipurpose cleaner on our test … comes in at $4 a bottle. The worst performing ... came in at just a fraction under $12 a bottle.”

Choice also found limited variation between categories of products. “You can do away with the 57 different bottles in your cupboard and just use one for everything,” Iredale says. There are however, some exceptions.

The cleaning products you do need

Multipurpose cleaner
Rather than buying separate kitchen, multipurpose and floor cleaners, Iredale suggests that a single bottle of multipurpose cleaner will do the trick in most instances. In Choice’s tests, Nifty’s multipurpose cleaner proved the most effective. The one exception is if you have a kitchen bench made of porous stone or untreated marble. Some multipurpose cleaners can damage stone surfaces, so in that instance Iredale recommends consulting your benchtop’s manufacturer to find out which cleaner to use.

Toilet cleaner
“There’s an argument with toilet cleaners that you can just get away with scrubbing for longer, but personally I’d just rather get it done quickly,” Iredale says. “Toilet cleaners will have stronger bleaches in them. You’re probably going to want more of an antibacterial treatment for a toilet cleaner.”

This is a purchase you’re going to want to get right, because a bad toilet cleaner is worse than none at all. “What actually happens is the poor performing ones – instead of removing stains – they’ll actually lubricate the stain so your sponge or scrubbing brush will glide over the top of it rather than biting in and cleaning.” Though toilet cleaners were not part of Choice’s latest test, you can find a list of the cleaners it recommends here.

Window cleaner
Because glass windows have a tendency to streak, you’ll need a specialised cleaner. “In our recent test we measured not just cleaning performance but how well they deal with streaking. We have a panel assessment ranking from 0 to 4 which is a range of no streaking whatsoever to very heavy streaking. So a score of 50% is 50% streak resistance.” In these tests, Windex products came out on top by a significant margin.

However, if you have tinted windows watch out. Iredale warns that “a lot of them contain ammonia which can damage your window tint”.

Bathroom cleaner
Unlike your kitchen surfaces, your bathtub and sink are likely to build up with soap scum, which other cleaning types, including multipurpose cleaners, aren’t equipped to handle, Iredale says. Choice tested bathroom cleaning products just under a month ago, and recommended nine.

Won’t somebody think of the waterways?

If you’ve noticed most of the recommended cleaning products aren’t exactly eco-friendly, you’d be right. “We tested a number of environmentally branded products,” Iredale said. “Some of them worked, but generally what we find with eco products [is] they tend to be quite expensive and they tend not to work as well as the ones full of heavy chemicals ... They will clean but you’ll get a much better and faster job if you’re using a chemical cleaner.

“Some do, but it pays to do your research because quite often you’re spending a lot of money for something that doesn’t actually do anything. If you’re concerned about the environment then best to just use plain water and scrub for a bit longer.” It may not save you time, but it will certainly save you money.


Alyx Gorman

The GuardianTramp

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