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Business, Green Products, Practical Science, Weird Physics

Cleaning Clues

This piece of literature was worked up for our Green Technology cleaning and floor care product line.


Cleaning Clues

Here we talk about everything from soap bubbles to brighter whites.  Just a start to get you thinking about what the different cleaners do.

Soap and pH

The earliest soaps were made by breaking up fats and oils with lye, a very caustic substance.  As such, they only work in a caustic (high pH) environment.  Detergents are so strongly caustic that they continue to break down fats and oils as they clean, converting them to water-soluble soaps.

Soaps are surface-active (surfactant) molecules, with a water-loving end, and an oily end.  They migrate to the oil-water boundary surface, lift up the oil, and allow it to be carried away by water.  Formulators must find the right balance between tendency to clump up with the oil (i.e., form “micelles”), and ability to dissolve in the water and find new clumps of oil to coat and lift away.  This is characterized by the CMC (critical micelle concentration).

In modern times, we have surfactants that work in acidic (low pH) environments, and neutral pH environments.  GT Creekside is formulated with neutral-pH surfactants to be gentle on high-gloss acrylic finishes.

Sometimes we make a solution more acidic with ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice, or more caustic with washing soda, to improve the surfactant’s lifting power, or even directly attack and break down fats and oils.  Acids are good at breaking up lime and mineral deposits.

Sheeting Action and Degreasers

Degreasers like our GT Rockslide are useful for removing fats and oils, because they are the strongest of surfactants.  They will, however, require a lot of rinsing and are prone to leave a soapy residue behind.  (You sometimes actually want that on the surface of a metal, to protect from rust).

But with a window cleaner, such as GT Far View, you don’t want spots.  So, surfactants specially designed to inhibit the surface tension of water are added.  These prevent droplets from forming, and give you that “sheeting action” so desirable in automatic dishwashers.

Stains and Bleaching

Chlorine bleach is strongly caustic, to break up fats and oils, but is mainly used as an oxidizing agent.  It directly attacks the large molecules that give foods like tomato bright colors, and break them down to a near-invisible form.

Optical brighteners are sometimes added to the wash, or the fabrics themselves, to fluoresce UV light back in the blue spectrum to mask the yellow colors that naturally result from aging and incomplete oxidation.  If your clothes glow brightly under a black light, you’re seeing the effect of an optical brightener.

If all you want is the bleaching action against stains, without the harsh caustic and environmental impact of chlorine bleach, peroxide is a much gentler and eco-friendly oxidizer.  This is used in our GT Mainstream and GT Rapids.  It attacks the bright colored molecules, breaking down to just oxygen and water.

Borax is also an oxidizer, sometimes used in cleaning products.  It is fairly weak, but has a lot of staying power.  It is often used to fortify a faster-acting oxidizer.  Boron compounds are generally safe, as they are used for insect control in commercial kitchens.


Did you know the suds in your dish soap are added just to give you a visual cue that the cleaning power is still effective?  However, the surfactants that make the foam at the top are NOT the same ones that actually clean your dishes!

On the other hand, foam generated by the peroxide cleaning action of GT Mainstream and GT Rapids is the result of oxygen released when dirt and grime are attacked.  These really do show you that the cleaning action is still working!


Some cleaning products, like our GT Rapids, have a natural citrus scent due to the raw materials used in their formulation.  Other products might have fragrance added to either mask an unpleasant scent, or to enhance the cleaning experience.

We try to offer products that require no added scent, to minimize allergic reaction or sensitivities that some people might otherwise experience.

Floor Finish & Strippers

Acrylic floor finishes are generally water-based emulsions, like paint, that harden when they dry.  To get the hardness and durability needed in a floor finish, the little balls of acrylic are locked together with metal bonds.  In conventional floor finishes like Siderail 7, these metal bonds are made with Zinc, which requires careful handling of the waste due to environmental concerns.  In our green technology GT 2020 floor finish, the bonds are eco-friendly and require no special handling for disposal.

Our green technology stripper, GT Trailblazer, breaks up the metal bonds in floor finish, whether conventional Zinc, or green, and allows the old floor finish to be scrapped up and removed.  The action is a mix of caustic pH to break the bonds, and chelating action to tie up the metals in an inactivated form.





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