Can you pick up any household cleaner and expect it to do a good job?
Types of multi-purpose cleaner
We tested two common types of multi-purpose cleaner: sprays and creams. Sprays are a quick, easy-to-use type while creams require a bit more elbow grease.
Wipes are another common type of cleaner. We haven’t tested any this year, but if you do use them, always dispose of them in the rubbish bin and not down the toilet.
Water and vinegar
A good cleaner uses surfactants, enzymes or abrasives to cut through grease and grime. We also use a vinegar and water mix, and plain water as performance benchmarks. Water shows how clean your surfaces would be with no cleaner at all and the water and vinegar mix – which is essentially diluted acetic acid – has been used as a cleaner for millennia. Neither cleaned well in our test – they both scored 30%.
How we find the best cleaners
Our test is a tough one, testing how well a cleaner removes greasy dirt. You may not need such a tough cleaner for everyday cleaning, but when you’re scrubbing the backs of cupboards, behind the fridge or a sticky table that’s had little hands all over it, you want a cleaner that definitely works.
Surfaces to avoid
Most multi-purpose cleaners shouldn’t be used on metals or unfinished surfaces.
Always check the pack to see if other surfaces should be avoided – we found a wide variety of “unsafe” surfaces listed.
Unless the product’s label specifically says you can, you shouldn’t use multi-purpose cleaners on:
cracked and damaged surfaces
porous, cracked, non-glazed or unsealed surfaces
When using a cleaner for the first time, check it’s safe for your surfaces.
Follow the instructions on the label and apply a coin-sized amount (as instructed) on to the surface you want to clean in an area where it won’t matter if it gets damaged. Wait a few hours to see if the product harms the surface.
Always keep your cleaners away from children — ideally in a high or locked cupboard.
If anyone swallows cleaning product, immediately rinse out their mouth with water and phone your doctor or the National Poisons Centre (0800 POISON or 0800 764 766).
The wastewater (grey water) is safe
Some cleaners claim the waste, or “grey”, water is safe for other uses, such as watering the garden. If you are using grey water in your garden, we suggest not using it on food that will be eaten raw.
Some cleaners state they kill a certain percentage of bacteria, but there’s little evidence antibacterial cleaners stop bacteria spreading in a home. There is even the risk they contribute to antibiotic resistance in the environment.
Septic tank safe
Looking for a product that won’t harm your septic tank? While we record if products claim to be septic tank safe, check with the manufacturer of your septic tank as there’s no recognised standard to test whether products meet these claims.
Household cleaner green claims
For more on multi-purpose cleaner claims see our Do green claims on multi-purpose cleaners stack up?