Soap: Soap emulsifies the oil and grease that make dirt cling to fabrics and finished surfaces, and helps to carry it away. Some soap is the mild, neutral type used for toilet purposes and on beautiful fabrics. Others contain varying proportions of alkaline salts to produce a better suds in hard water and to aid in the cleansing action. This type is commonly used for laundry and dishwashing.
Most surfaces in the home should be washed only with mild, neutral soap. Soaps containing free alkali or large amounts of alkaline salts may be even more injurious to linoleum, paint, varnish, and lacquer than they are to the skin. Ordinary laundry soap and homemade soaps use on hard surfaces inadvisable. If more drastic cleaning action is needed than neutral soap and water alone supply, it is safer to add a small quantity of one of the alkaline salts, which also have value as cleansing agents.
Detergents: Some synthetic cleansers are superior to soap for washing dishes, particularly in hard water in which, unlike soap, they can form suds without curd. In hard water localities. It may be advisable to use one of the sulfated fatty detergent mixtures with soap for washing upholstery and rugs, although they are more expensive than mild, neutral soap alone.
Alkalies: Many of the alkali cleaning materials are less expensive when bought in bulk. Trisodium phosphate is a moderately strong alkaline salt and one of the most effective. It is seldom sold by its chemical name, so it is well to ask grocers who carry cleansing agents to find out which contains trisodium phosphate. When bought in drüg store or chemical supply houses it may be more expensive. A half tablespoon to a gallon of water is sufficient to remove any dirt that cannot be loosened with mild soap and water alone. A larger amount will injure surfaces on which it is used. Trisodium phosphate is stable; hot solutions is used as a paint remover. Some authorities are reluctant to advise it for household use because some persons act on the assumption that if a little is good a lot must be better.
Washing soda (also called modified soda) is a mildly alkaline salt combining sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate. Two tablespoons to a gallon of water are sufficient. Sal soda (sometimes called washing soda crystals) contains about 40 percent of sodium carbonate and about 60 percent of chemically combined water. It will liquefy at high temperatures or humidity and is expensive when its high water-content is considered.
Borax is a mildly alkaline salt and is not very efficient as a cleansing agent. Four tablespoons to a gallon of water are required.
You can read: Cleaning Supplies – Water
Ammonia may be bought at a drug store in liquid form which solution of the gas in water. If water equal to three times the volume of the strong ammonia water is added to it, the same strength will be obtained as household ammonia. Household ammonia is mostly water, and the cloudy appearance usually results from the addition of a small amount of soap; it is an expensive way to buy ammonia for cleaning purposes.
Lye, which commonly is caustic soda, is often used to clean drain pipes. However, to prevent the caustic soda from combining with grease and forming hard soap that will clog the pipes, the pipes must be flushed immediately with plenty of hot water. Lye will also damage the glaze on most vitreous china plumbing fixtures and on enameled iron, even that with an acid-resisting finish. Lye is poisonous and injurious to the skin and must be handled with great care.