What Chemicals Are in Household Cleaners?

Household cleaning products make it easier to remove dirt and germs from our homes.

Surfactants

A hand cleaning a bathroom sink with a cloth.A hand cleaning a bathroom sink with a cloth.
The chemicals most commonly found in cleaning product formulas support these goals and include surfactants, solvents and antimicrobial agents. Some chemicals fulfill a combination role in a cleaning formula or act to support other chemicals in their role.
Sodium laureth sulfate is a surfactant and foaming agent found in both hand soap and dish detergent.

Surfactants lower the surface tension of water, making it easier to wet down an area to be cleaned. Surfactants may also act as degreasers. Soap is a familiar surfactant used in some cleaners, but chemical surfactants are more common. For example, alcohol ethoxylates and linear alkylbenzene sulfonate are commonly found in dish detergent, laundry detergent and all-purpose household cleaners. Alkyl sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate are used in hand cleaners and dish soaps.

Sanitizers and Disinfectants

Common household bleach is found in products from mold-control shower sprays to toilet bowl cleaners.

Antimicrobial agents reduce or destroy bacteria, viruses and molds. Pine oil, benzalkonium chloride, ammonium hydroxide or household ammonia are often included in cleaning products for their antimicrobial properties. Some antibacterial agents, like isopropanol, double as a solvent. Sodium hypochlorite, or chlorine bleach, is an oxidative agent used to remove stains from laundry. But bleach is also included in many toilet, shower and bathroom cleaners for its anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

Solvents

Touted for its biodegradable properties, D-Limonene is still a powerful solvent and highly irritating to the lungs and skin.

Cleaning solvents are used to dissolve oil and grease. Alcohols like ethanol and isopropanol are two of the most common solvents found in cleaning products. Propylene glycol is sometimes added to cleaning solutions as both a solvent and surfactant. Cleaning products marketed as eco-friendly often include d-limonene, a solvent extracted from citrus peels.

About the Author

Emily Jacobson has been working in online media and publishing for more than two decades. Her articles have been featured on America Online and the Maxwell Institute. She specializes in articles related to science, health and nutrition. Jacobson holds a Bachelor of Science in food science and nutrition.