If you're tired of having dozens of cleaning products on hand, can multi-purpose cleaners replace them? It turns out that different ones are good at different tasks. Here's the lowdown on multi-purpose, all-purpose and multi-surface cleaners, and tips on how to use them to do more than one job.
A closet shelf can collect a lot of cleaning products. Maybe you have a spray bottle to clean glass, a powder to scrub the toilet, concentrate for the floor, and two or three items in the very back with the labels partially torn off. Heaven only knows why you bought those and what use you had in mind for them.
Some people say this is the age of specialization, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. It really is possible for one cleaning product to be good at more than one job. Manufacturers have rushed in to prove this is true with a dizzying variety of products, saying that their one bottle can replace your entire cleaning product stash or at least a good part of it.
Multi-purpose, all-purpose, multi-surface. What does it all mean? Are they different from one another? Well, there aren’t any vocabulary police telling companies what they can and can’t call their offerings, so I’d be hard-pressed to differentiate between them based on their names.
There aren’t any agency setting standards for what goes into a multi-purpose or all-purpose cleaner. If I were to say, “Okay, guys, you can’t call it all-purpose unless it does everything,” no one would listen to me.
One fact: there’s no such thing as a true all-purpose cleaner. The products have different ingredients and all of them do some things well and other things not as well. As to what those ingredients are, most manufacturers consider their formulas to be proprietary and won’t tell you. The “green” companies – and there are quite a few environmentally friendly options out there – are more forward in disclosing what they’re made up of.
In general, multi-purpose household products will clean, polish, degrease, disinfect or protect, or do some combination of those. However, it’s especially difficult for one substance to do a good job of both cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning is a matter of lifting dirt, grease, and grime off of a surface, and disinfecting is about killing bacteria.
A cleaner might wipe up whatever germs happen to be resting on a surface, but it won’t do the deep and persistent kill. A disinfectant has to sit on that surface wet for about 10 minutes to effectively take care of germs. The best disinfectants aren’t very good cleaners, and if you have an especially dirty surface you might need to clean it first.
Here’s rule number one when you use a multi-purpose cleaner: read the label. And here’s rule number two: read the label. Rule number three is similar: read the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions for the wood, the countertop, the glass, or whatever it is you have in mind to clean.
Some people will tell you you can’t use a multi-purpose cleaner on toilets because it’s not powerful enough. Or you can’t do serious scrubbing of showers for the same reason. Or that these cleaners will damage furniture or wood. Or that they’ll leave a film on windows. Or that you shouldn’t clean ovens because the heat will release toxins. Or that they’re too dangerous for toys, food surfaces, and pet bowls. Or keep them away from the fabric. Or from tile flooring.
It’s great to be cautious, and using the wrong product for the wrong job can lead to unfortunate results, but these cleaners are so varied and so different from one another that some of them can do these things. Again, refer to rules one through three. Read the label, read the label, and read the surface manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re still not sure, do a spot test first.
Pay attention to any cautions that come with the product. If it calls for rubber gloves or a mask in a poorly ventilated area, wear them. Use the tools they recommend. Microfiber cloths are great for some applications and an old t-shirt is just fine for others. In case I haven’t mentioned it already, read the label.
So whether you’re scrubbing out built-up scum or doing a routine light once-over, whether you’re cleaning, disinfecting or polishing, whether you working on glass, stainless steel, chrome, aluminum, appliances, knobs, handles, showers, toilets, floors, countertops, walls or even outdoors on your grill, patio furniture, and car, pick one or more of these products and have at it. You can’t reduce that closet shelf to just one bottle, but you can throw out some of those mysterious half-full containers that you seldom use.
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HAUS Naturals All-Purpose Cleaner (Biodegradable)
Let’s kick off our all-purpose cleaner options with our favorite brand HAUS Naturals which includes a beautiful-smelling all-purpose cleaner for all kinds of surfaces in your home. Moreover, we prefer all-natural, eco-friendly, biodegradable cleaners over chemical counterparts. Sure, sometimes chemicals are needed but generally for home use, we prefer keeping the toxic chemicals out and cleaning with eco-friendly cleaners.
Mr. Clean Multi-Purpose Cleaner
The guy with the shaved head and the earring has been around since way before those things were fashionable, and he’s still one of the strongest dudes out there for the big messes. For tough grime use it right out of the bottle. For outdoor furniture, floors and trash cans dilute it with water. Use it with a mop or a sponge. If you don’t want to be scrubbing all day long, this old standby is up to the job.
Spic & Span Cinch Glass Multi-Surface Cleaner
Sure, it has “glass” in the name, but it tackles all kinds of surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. The label will tell you what to use it on, how to use, and how to spot test.
Fabuloso All Purpose Cleaner
A pretty purple liquid in a pretty purple bottle with a lavender scent. It’s pH neutral, easy to pour, and easy to use. No need to rinse and doesn’t leave film. The scent is long-lasting, which some people like and others don’t.
Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner
This stuff is about a close to all-purpose as you’re going to get, at least as far as cleaning is concerned. Check it out on tile, chrome, grills, stone, as well as fabric and stains on carpet and cotton. I’ve used it to clean my bicycle. It does a number of grease and oil. Sometimes you can see the gunk drip right off. Yet there’s no problem if you get it on your skin. One thing to watch for: in its undiluted form it’s a bit sticky. And it won’t disinfect.
Better Life Natural All-Purpose Cleaner
Better Life proves that you don’t need volatile chemicals to get after grease, grime, and stains on a variety of surfaces. If you watch Shark Tank, you may have seen the company’s founder squirt this into his mouth to demonstrate its safety. I wouldn’t do that, but I’d have no problem using it around children and pets. Great for stainless steel and cooking prep areas, and there’s not much scent.
Puracy Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner
Another natural cleaner safe for children and animals. Non-allergenic and non-toxic and carries an unobtrusive odor of lime and green tea. Great for daily wipe-downs but less so for heavy-duty cleaning, and, like many products that specialize in cleaning, not a strong disinfectant.
Bar Keepers Friend
You don’t have to be tending bar to make use of this cleaner. It’s a powder that cleans and polishes, and it’s good for stains on metals, porcelain, and tile. It contains oxalic acid which breaks up rust and lime, yet it’s gentle enough not to abrade surfaces. Use it for heavy-duty kitchen work or outside for grills and even siding.
Biokleen All-Purpose Cleaner
This concentrated liquid deploys the natural cleaning power of grapefruit seed and citrus. Use it anywhere in the house or in the garage and don’t worry about the kids and the puppies. The company seeks to reduce its environmental footprint in its manufacturing process. They make it in cold water and ship it as concentrate to save packaging and product weight.
Biomex All-Purpose Multi-Surface Biodegradable Cleaner
This comes as a paste and is good for stainless steel, aluminum, and all kinds of cooking metals. It works on countertops and food preparation surfaces, too. It’s eco-friendly and easy to use. Just dampen the included sponge, swipe it across the paste, and squeeze to create the cleansing foam.
Simple Pleasures Multi-Surface Cleaner
This hard-working cleaner doesn’t shy away from grease and marks, yet it’s made entirely from plant-based ingredients. You’ll find them all on the label. Okay for wood, ceramic, tile, and laminates, and there’s a choice of herbal scents including lavender, lemon verbena, and spring leaves.
Seventh Generation All Purpose Cleaner
This product is also plant-based and has no dyes or fragrances beyond a mild thyme scent. That’s because its active ingredient is Thymol, which is in fact derived from thyme. Safe for food surfaces and children’s toys. No rinsing, just spray and wipe clean.
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner
Known for its natural scents such as lemon verbena and basil. Plant-based and biodegradable. A milder solution recommended for any non-porous surface such as walls, countertops, and wood furniture.
Method All-Purpose Cleaner
Method offers a scintillating variety of scents, including, ginger yuzu, French lavender, pink grapefruit, and honeycrisp. It’s non-toxic and biodegradable and uses “green chemistry” to derive ingredients from plants such as corn and coconut. Like Mrs. Meyer’s, best on non-porous surfaces, but not the top choice for really stubborn gunk.
VEO Active Probiotics Surface Cleaner
What, you may ask, is a probiotic cleaner? VEO describes the product as a new way to clean, a deep hygienic cleaner at the microscopic level. It gets into cracks and crevices and continues to work on dirt for up to three days. It’s biodegradable and available in either a citrus blossom or an apple jasmine scent. You do need to rinse it off if you use it on food surfaces.
Scentiva Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner
A bleach-free Clorox product that cleans and freshens as well as deodorizes and comes in a variety of scents, including lavender, jasmine, grapefruit, and one they call Hawaiian sunshine. It also disinfects, but, as is the case with any effective disinfectant, you have to leave it wet on the surface for 10 minutes.
Pine Sol Original
An oldie but a goodie. Known more like a disinfectant than a cleaner, it’s great for grease and food stains with its disinfecting power against bacteria. Don’t use it on brass, marble, or unfinished wood, though. And of course, it has that famous scent.
Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner
Another classic where everybody knows its name. Most effective as a disinfectant for grimy areas like toilets, showers, and garbage cans, but also a winner on doorknobs, cabinets, cabinet pulls, and anything people can’t keep their fingerprints off of.
Purell Multi-Surface Disinfectant
The nation’s best-known hand sanitizer also makes a multi-surface spray. It’s a disinfectant and not a cleaner, so dirty or grimy surfaces need to be washed with another product first. Use this anywhere bacteria and viruses like to linger. It’s based on alcohol rather than harsh chemicals so you can use it on food preparation areas as well as kids’ toys. But don’t use it on wood or unsealed granite.
Mr. Clean Multi-Surfaces Anti-Bacterial Spray
Mr. Clean’s disinfectant offering. Claims to fight stains and kill 99.9 percent of bacteria. And who’s going to argue with a big man like Mr. Clean? Carries a summer citrus smell.
Microban 24 Hour Multi-Purpose Cleaner
With most disinfectants, the nasty bugs can come back soon after the cleanser fades. Microban continues to kill bacteria for up to 24 hours, even after the surface gets touched. Use it anywhere people can’t keep their hands off, such as faucets, countertops and appliance and cabinet handles. It also puts the kibosh on mold and mildew for up to a week and provides anti-fungal protection of hard surfaces and fabric.
Pledge Multisurface Cleaner
Another one that’s been around forever to clean, disinfect and polish. It keeps surfaces dust-free for a good while after you use it, and of course, it has the famous lemon scent. Back in the day GI’s used it to top off the polish on their boots. Maybe they still do.
Shadazzle Multi-Purpose Cleaner & Polish
This is a cleaner and polisher for any washable surface, and it’s made from natural ingredients including clay, soap, vegetable oil, and eucalyptus fragrance. It comes with a sponge; just wet it and lather up some Shadazzle foam. It’s particularly suited for metal such as bathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances, and you can also take it outdoors for grills, metal furniture, and even a car’s metal rims.
Legacy of Clean Multi-Purpose Cleaner
The name is Legacy of Clean, but you can just call it LOC. It’s made for washable surfaces. Their motto is, “If water can’t hurt it, LOC can clean it.” It’s concentrated yet vouchsafed by dermatologists to be okay on skin. No fumes or residues, either.
LA’s Totally Awesome
Okay, the name sounds like it’s out of the nineteen-eighties, but this concentrate can clean, degrease and remove spots for just about anything washable, such as floors, furniture, and household surfaces. Spray it on and wipe it off. It purports to remove anything from wine to gum to glue.
Windex Vinegar Multi-Purpose Cleaner
Vinegar is near the top of the list of household products that can clean all kinds of messes. You can mix some vinegar in water and pour it into a spray bottle, but it’s nice to have a ready-made product that can do so much. This is gentler than the ammonia-based Windex glass cleaner, and it’s safe for a whole lot more surfaces, including plastic and vinyl. You can use it on everything from carpet stains to garbage disposal odor. It’s streakier on glass than regular Windex.
Purple Multi-Purpose Cleaner and Degreaser
An unimposing white bottle that reads “Purple” in modest letters. It’s an alkaline product that’s similar in pH to soapy water. It’s packaged with its own wipes and can be used for anything from cleaning stainless steel to removing grime from carpets to pre-treating laundry. Not for leather, aluminum, brass, or copper. You do need to rinse food surfaces after use.
Kahan Multi-Purpose Cleaner
A can of natural cleaner paste with a sponge included. Non-toxic with no bleach, phosphates, enzymes, or preservatives. A one-step process to clean, polish, and protect. Useful for stainless steel, silverware, shower glass, tiles, fiberglass, and more. It has a lemon scent.
Mistolin Lavender All-Purpose Cleaner
Cleans, disinfects, deodorizes, and perfumes. Good for floors, walls, kitchen surfaces, and even Venetian blinds. Toss some in toward the end of the laundry cycle to infuse your clothes with a lavender aroma.
Meguiar’s Detailer All-Purpose Cleaner
A bit of a specialist in the all-purpose world. This foaming action product targets carpet, upholstery, vinyl, and leather. It’s a reconditioner that lifts dirt from surfaces and luxuriates them with a fabric softener. Use it for car seats as well.