In order to do their jobs well, commercial cleaning companies like Crewcare use a variety of cleaning chemicals. These substances are essential tools in maintaining a clean and hygienic environment. From our homes to workplaces, hospitals to public spaces, these specialised cleaning agents play a crucial role in removing dirt, stains, and harmful microorganisms that can compromise the cleanliness and safety of our surroundings.

The effectiveness of cleaning agents lies in their formulations, each designed to address specific cleaning challenges. In this article, we will explore the mechanisms behind how cleaning agents work, so that you can better grasp the basic science that enables these substances to tackle everything from grease and grime to bacteria and viruses.

Through understanding the principles behind cleaning agents, you can be empowered to make informed choices and ensure the optimal use of these products for a healthier and safer living and working environment.

Common Cleaning Chemicals and How They Work

Depending on the cleaning task, you may need to use a combination of two or more cleaning chemicals or agents to achieve the best results. Below is the list of some of the most common products and how they work:


Detergents are cleansing agents designed to break down dirt and grease, making it easier to rinse them away. This action is made possible by surfactants, which possess unique molecular structures that allow them to interact with both water and oil.

One end of the surfactant molecule is hydrophilic or water-attracting, while the other end is hydrophobic or oil-attracting. This dual nature enables surfactants to form emulsions, effectively breaking down the bonds between dirt and surfaces.

How Detergents Work:

When a detergent is applied to a dirty surface, the hydrophobic ends of the surfactant molecules attach to dirt grease or oil, surrounding or trapping these substances. Meanwhile, the hydrophilic ends face outward and form a protective barrier around the oil droplets, dispersing the dirt in the cleaning solution and preventing it from reattaching to the surface. This process is known as emulsification,

Once the emulsified dirt is held in suspension within the cleaning solution, it becomes easier to wash off or wipe away.


A disinfectant is a cleaning agent designed to eliminate or inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Do note that different formulations may work on specific microorganisms only, although many disinfectants are effective against multiple germs.

Some popular examples of disinfectants include hydrogen peroxide and bleach. They work by disrupting vital processes within microbial cells, rendering them incapable of survival or reproduction.

How Disinfectants Work:

Different disinfectants work in different ways. Some common mechanisms include the following:

  1. Cell Membrane Disruption. Some disinfectants break down the cell membranes of microorganisms. Once the cell membrane is destroyed, the microorganism’s cells cannot maintain their integrity and functionality.
  2. Protein Denaturation. Proteins play vital roles in the structure and function of microbial cells. When these proteins are denatured, their three-dimensional structure is altered and becomes non-functional. This disruption in protein function affects critical cellular processes, ultimately leading to the death of the microorganism.
  3. Nucleic Acid Interference. There are some disinfectants that disrupt DNA replication or RNA transcription of microorganisms, preventing them from reproducing or carrying out essential genetic functions. Without the ability to replicate, the microorganism is unable to sustain itself and eventually dies.
  4. Oxidation. Certain disinfectants work by causing oxidative damage to microbial cells. These disinfectants generate reactive oxygen species that react with cellular components, leading to cellular damage and death.
  5. Enzyme Inhibition. Disinfectants may also inhibit key enzymes essential for the survival of microorganisms. Enzymes are involved in various metabolic pathways once these pathways are disrupted, the microorganisms will not be able to perform vital cellular functions.
  6. pH Disruption. Finally, there are disinfectants formulated to alter the pH of the environment, creating conditions that are inhospitable for microbial growth. Microorganisms often have specific pH requirements for optimal survival, and a drastic change in pH can affect their capability to survive or replicate.


Unlike disinfectants that kill or stop the growth of microorganisms, sanitisers reduce the microbial load on surfaces to a safe level. They play a crucial role in maintaining hygiene, particularly in settings where preventing the spread of infections is crucial.

Sanitisers work through various mechanisms to effectively reduce microbial contamination.

How Sanitisers Work:

Alcohol-based sanitisers, commonly containing ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, are effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms. These alcohols denature proteins by disrupting their molecular structure, leading to membrane damage and cell death.

There are also sanitisers that use cationic action to remove microbes. A good example here are quaternary ammonium compounds or QACs, which are considered low-level disinfectants. QACs contain positive charges, which bind to negatively charged components on the cell surfaces of microbes.The positive charges interfere with cell functions, which then inactivates the germs.

Some sanitisers also exhibit the oxidative action of disinfectants. These sanitisers exhibit broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, making them effective against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.


While some detergents are able to remove oily or greasy residues, the hydrophobic nature of oil and grease make most detergents ineffective or inefficient. This is where degreasers come in.

Degreasers are cleaning chemicals designed to tackle grease and oil. They often contain solvents that break down fatty substances, making them easier to remove.

How Degreasers Work:

Degreasers typically contain solvents that have a high affinity for hydrophobic (water-repellent) substances like grease and oil. These solvents can penetrate the layers of grease, breaking the bonds between the molecules. This process dissolves the fatty components of grease and oil, turning them into a solution that can be easily rinsed or wiped away.

There are also degreasers that include surfactants, similar to those found in detergents, allowing the degreaser to emulsify the grease and prevent it from re-depositing on the surface.

In industrial settings, alkaline degreasers are a popular option. These degreasers contain alkaline substances, such as sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), that undergo saponification. This is a chemical reaction where the alkaline substance reacts with fats and oils, converting them into soap-like substances that can be easily rinsed away.


Understanding Cleaning Agents for Better Cleanliness

When you fully understand the distinctions between cleaning agents, it enables you to choose the right product for specific cleaning challenges. Thus, you can ensure optimal results and maintain a clean and healthy environment at home and at work.