Chemicals in Glass Cleaner

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The various chemicals in glass cleaner

Average Read Time: 8 Minutes

Glass is a common material in all types of building and consumer products. Practically every part of your life has a glass influence, from the windows in your home to the screen you are reading this on. Like all products, you prefer to use glass materials when they are clean, and cleaning glass requires using some sort of chemicals.

When you hear the word “chemicals,” you may have a natural tendency to think about strong and caustic substances that might do more harm than good. However, that is far from the truth. Chemicals affect every part of your life, and that is because in pure essence, every material structure has a chemical base or signature. It is no different for glass cleaners than it is for glass surfaces themselves.

In this article you will learn:

Chemical formula for window cleaner

Chemicals in glass cleaners vary depending on the manufacturer. Windex®, by brand name, is America’s most recognized commercial glass cleaner. Windex is such a common name, it has become a verb — such as when someone says they are going to "Windex® the windows."

Windex® as a chemical window cleaner is tremendously popular as a consumer product. According to the website authority, the American cleaning compound industry generates more than $60 billion in annual sales. That includes soaps, detergents and general glass surface cleaners like Windex®. Even the site recognizes Windex® Original Glass Cleaner for reigning supreme because it cuts through grime, doesn’t streak, and is cost-effective.

If you are wondering what Windex is made of, have a look at the SC Johnson website. It clearly lists the ingredients you will find in a Windex® bottle. The Windex® cleaner formula includes the prime ingredient as water. It provides the liquid base to add the remaining ingredients which make up a Windex® solution. These ingredients are:

2-Hexoxyethanol — a surfactant cleaning agentLauryl dimethyl amine oxide — a surfactant wetting agent
Ammonium hydroxide — better known as ammonia-DLiquitint® Sky Blue Dye — a coloring agent
Fragrances — odor-enhancing agents, primarily to mask ammonia gasSodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate — also a surfactant wetting agent
Isopropanolamine — a solvent cleaning agent

Different glass cleaning manufacturers use a variety of chemical compositions to compose window cleaners. It distinctly depends on the cleaning strength they are trying to achieve. Mild cleaners like Windex® Original Glass Cleaner keep caustic chemical content low for light-duty applications. Other Windex® cleaners and their competitors have stronger chemical actions designed to cut through tougher dirt, grease, and mineral buildup.

a female cleaning contractor is polishing the glass partition offices whilst In the background a male colleague steam cleans an office carpet in a empty office in between tenants.  .The female is smiling to camera.

Ingredients and raw materials in window cleaner

You will hear two main terms when talking window cleaner chemicals. One is “surfactant.” The other is “ solvent.” Both are chemical actions that lead to effective window cleaning. Here are definitions of the two cleaning chemical action terms.

  • Surfactants are chemicals that molecularly surround contaminants and break their hold or
    bond on glass surfaces. Surfactant action from chemicals like ammonia loosen
    contaminant grip, causing them to molecularly release or dislodge.
  • Solvents are chemicals that molecularly attack and destroy contaminants. Solvents create
    chemical reactions that dissolve dirt, fat, grease, or mineral compounds and make them
    disappear from dirty surfaces.

Next time you are purchasing window cleaning products, make sure to read the label and examine what ingredients they contain. Federal law mandates that all cleaning product manufacturers list their chemical contents on the label, except for fragrance ingredients, which are private proprietary information. Besides, most fragrance additives in window cleaners and similar products are plant-based materials and generally harmless. These are the most common raw materials and ingredients you’ll find in commercial glass cleaners.

Ammonia in glass cleaner has supporters and non-supporters. Many leading window cleaning products contain ammonia because it is widely considered the best surfactant that gets the job done without leaving streaks. For that reason, many householders and commercial cleaners demand glass cleaners containing ammonia, such as Windex®. Others consider ammonia too harsh and look for product labels advertising them to be ammonia-free.

Ammonia is a nitrogen-based compound. It’s extremely water-soluble but has a low evaporation rate. Strong surfactant cleaning power and quick drying time are attractive benefits of having ammonia in glass cleaners. The ammonia you’ll find in Windex and other window cleaners is a called ammonium hydroxide or ammonia solution — commonly called ammonia-D.

Do not confuse ammonium with ammonia. They are two distinctly different chemicals, although they have a common origin or denominator. Ammonia is a base chemical, normally present as a gas because of its low boiling point. Ammonium is also water-soluble, and it has a higher gassing-off point.

The main difference in using ammonia and ammonium in cleaning products is how they affect the solution's pH levels. Ammonia is acidic and lowers a cleaning product’s pH level. Very low pH levels around a 2-scale make the cleaner caustic and vulnerable to causing burns on flesh or exposed areas. High rates of alkaline ammonium in glass cleaners raise their pH levels to above the neutral 5.5-scale, making ammonium-based cleaning solutions safer to handle. However, high alkaline content reduces a cleaner’s surfactant effectiveness.

2-Butoxyethanol is a key ingredient in many of Windex’s glass cleaning competitors. It is part of the glycol ethers chemicals category and what gives cleaners containing butoxyethanol their characteristic sweet smell. Do not be fooled by the pleasant fragrance, however, as butoxyethanol is a powerful solvent as well as being a mild surfactant.

You will also hear butoxyethanol called butyl glycol. Its stable chemical state is a colorless liquid composed of ether and alcohol. Companies that use butoxyethanol in cleaners aim at a stronger cleaning product demand market. While butyl glycol is effective at removing strong stains, it is also a harsh environmental hazard when used in large quantities.

Chlorine is a chemical element. Its periodic table symbol is CL and its atomic number is 17. Chlorine is an extremely common ingredient and best known as the compound sodium chloride—NaCl, or common table salt. Chlorine is often used as a cleaning and water-purifying agent in public water systems, swimming pools, and fountains.

Chlorine in surface cleaner works well because of its purifying action. It is neither an effective surfactant nor solvent, but chlorine kills microscopic biological impurities and leaves surfaces clean and healthy. Like other ingredients in glass cleaners, chlorine needs the right balance. Overpowering a cleaner with chlorine makes it caustic and strong-smelling.

Speaking of strong smells, many glass cleaning product manufacturers add fragrances to their liquid cleaners. There are a few reasons for fragrances. Primarily, cleaner makers want their products to smell pleasant to increase user experience and encourage future sales since many users associate strong smells with their cleaning products and shop accordingly. Secondly, these scents mask harsh odors like chlorine, ammonia, and butoxyethanol.

As mentioned, most added fragrances are organic compounds found in natural plants. Because these fragrances are not harmful and add a unique characteristic to cleaners, the EPA does not require manufacturers to include fragrance chemicals on product labels. The human memory strongly links to odors, both pleasing and offending. Pleasant odors help product marketing, and the regulating authorities see glass cleaning fragrances as confidential and proprietary information.

Beware of cleaning products using fragrances containing phthalates. These are synthetic chemicals called diethyl phthalate or diethylhexyl phthalate. Some companies add phthalates as an odor-enhancing agent, but they are a chemical plasticizer rather than a truly organic fragrance additive like lavender, tea-tree oil, and eucalyptus.

Most people call isopropyl alcohol “rubbing alcohol.” It is also called isopropanol or “iso.” Isopropyl alcohol is a solvent, and a strong one at that. Iso quickly dissolves all types of organic and mineral contaminates on glass and other surfaces. It is colorless and has a strong odor unless masked by a fragrance. Isopropanol is also highly flammable when in its pure state. Mixed with water, isopropyl alcohol is very safe.

Like ammonia, isopropanol has a low gas point. It evaporates fast and has an excellent reputation for leaving glass surfaces like windows, mirrors, and shower doors streakless. Isopropanol is also an excellent disinfectant. It is often used in medical settings for purifying equipment and tools. Many commercial glass cleaning products show isopropyl alcohol on their content labels.

Monoethanolamine (MEA) is a complex organic compound with the symbol HOCH2CH2NH2. Scientifically, it is both a primary amine and a primary alcohol. Practically, that makes MEA a good choice as a glass cleaning solvent.

MEA is closely related to ethanolamine. Both are colorless liquids that smell similar to ammonia. However, as a cleaning agent, both chemicals are highly caustic, toxic and flammable unless diluted sufficiently in water. Then, they become useful and stable solvents for cleaning all sorts of surfaces.

You might not be able to pronounce perchloroethylene clearly, but you will certainly recognize its odor. Perchloroethylene is the primary cleaning agent used in the dry-cleaning business. It is a strong-smelling solvent that works on stains without needing water. However, for the glass cleaning business, manufacturers often drop a bit of perchloroethylene into the liquid mix for good measure.

The cleaning industry refers to perchloroethylene as "perc." It also has a chemical cousin called tetrachloroethylene. Both are effective solvent cleaners. They are easily soluble in water, chemically stable, and nonflammable. That makes them ideal additives to commercial window and glass cleaning products.

Lye and caustic soda are two alternative names for sodium hydroxide. Chemically, sodium hydroxide is a combination of sodium cations (Na) and hydroxide anions (OH). Compounded, the two base chemicals work as an effective solvent in window cleaners.

Although sodium hydroxide is a caustic solvent, it blends well with surfactants in glass cleaners to give the solution an added boost in the fight against dirt, oil, and grease. Lye is a natural solution to dissolving organic material. Sodium hydroxide’s extreme dissolving capabilities may be exaggerated, but there is no doubt about how well caustic soda works as a window cleaner.

Natural ingredients for glass cleaner

Not all window cleaning products need the power of isopropanol, chlorine, butoxyethanol, and ammonia to be effective, nor do they need chemical fragrances to hide strong smells. Some of the most efficient window cleaning ingredients are common substances found close to home.If you are concerned about toxic or caustic soda ingredients in commercial window cleaning products, you might want to try some home recipes. Although government regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Protection Agency have approved every commercial window cleaner sold in America, some folks still prefer to go it alone and concoct their own cleaners, feeling more comfortable with the safety and availability of the included ingredients. Here are four window cleaning formulas made with simple products:

  • Two cups of water, one tablespoon of vinegar, and 10 drops of essential oil
  • One-half cup of water, one-half cup of ethanol, and one tablespoon of vinegar
  • Two cups of water, one-quarter cup of vinegar, and one tablespoon of cornstarch
  • Two cups of water, one-quarter cup of vinegar, one-quarter cup of ethanol, and one tablespoon of cornstarchAll these recipes call for white vinegar and warm water. Cold water does not have the same blending capability, and colored vinegar can stain your surfaces.

All the ingredients above are nontoxic. They are also nonflammable when mixed in the recommended ratios.You can also add your choice of fragrance to homemade window cleaners. Some people prefer the scents of essential oils like lavender. Others prefer the citrus scents of lemon, orange, and even grapefruit. There are many choices you can get crafty with in the combination of natural ingredients for glass cleaners.

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Regardless of your homemade window cleaning contents, please realize that these natural blends will have limited cleaning power. It’s fine to use them on light-duty applications. But for serious situations, you’re going to need a window cleaner with one of the big boosting ingredients, which are still safe if used properly and by the right guidelines.

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