Find out which multi-purpose cleaner is best with our lab-based test results.
Cleaning the kitchen, bathroom or laundry?
Multi-purpose cleaners are designed to be used on multiple types of surfaces, meaning you don’t need a specific cleaner for a specific area of your home. We tested a range of spray cleaners to see how well they removed greasy soil.
We’re dedicated to getting NZ consumers a fairer deal. We provide as much information as we can for free but we rely primarily on membership and donations to fund our work. You can help by becoming a Consumer member or making a donation. We’ll use your contribution to investigate consumer issues and work for positive change.
We've gathered information on 21 multi-purpose cleaners.Find a multi-purpose cleaner
Follow the instructions on the label and spray a small amount the size of a coin onto the surface you want to clean (do this 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).
Always check the pack to see which 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 these surfaces:
They’re easy to use, the packs are generally resealable, and there’s little mess. But they aren't environmentally friendly, and our previous test found wipes consistently performed worse than spray cleaners. Three wipes in the previous test garnered the lowest scores and we made them “don’t buys”.
We also found they often performed much worse than sprays of the same brand and they’re less economical. The wipes we tested cost an average of 10¢ per wipe. In comparison, the spray cleaners we tested have, on average, 631 sprays per bottle. So, for example, if you use 5 sprays to clean an area, such as your kitchen bench, it’ll only cost 6¢.
You should never flush wipes down the toilet, even if they state they are flushable. Our previous testing of wipes found “flushable” ones don’t break down as readily as claimed. None of the wipes in our test claimed to be flushable.
A good cleaner uses surfactants, enzymes or abrasives to cut through grease and grime. However, as we don’t know exactly what’s in each cleaner, we test with water and vinegar and use their performance as a benchmark. Water shows how clean your surfaces would be with no cleaner at all and vinegar, which is essentially diluted acetic acid, has been used as a cleaner for millennia. Neither cleaned well – they both scored 29%.
Pour some vinegar into a spray bottle. They’re available from supermarkets, hardware stores and garden centres, or you can re-use a clean bottle. Make sure to clearly mark it as vinegar or cleaner and keep it out of reach of children. We recommend storing the baking soda in an air-tight container, like a spice shaker. This makes it easier to apply and being air-tight means the baking soda won’t absorb moisture from the air. We also suggest having a second spray bottle of water, for rinsing off after cleaning.
There are a few theories about why baking soda and vinegar works as a cleaning agent. When they are combined, the resulting chemical reaction produces water, carbon dioxide and sodium acetate. Its cleaning ability may be due to bubbling from carbon dioxide being released, the extra water being produced, the abrasive nature of the mixture, or a combination of all 3. But, however it works, it does.
Most cleaners are designed to leave a pleasant smell. Our home-made cleaner had an obvious vinegar fragrance, but you can mask it by adding ingredients such as citrus juice, vanilla or an essential oil. We tried all of these and found adding citrus juice worked the best (we used lemon). However, adding anything to the mixture affects how well it cleans, so try a test batch first.
Baking soda is known by many names, but it’s all the same product:
Surfactants can have adverse effects on the environment, but “biodegradable” ones will break down and have little effect. There is an Australian standard, AS4351, some manufacturers may follow but this only applies to surfactants. There are no guarantees the other ingredients are biodegradable.
If you have a septic tank, it can be hard finding household cleaners that are safe to flush down the drain. Cleaners can contain harsh chemicals that can damage a septic tank. We suggest contacting your septic tank manufacturer to see what it recommends.
This means 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 is little evidence antibacterial cleaners stop the spread of bacteria in a home. There is even the risk they contribute to antibiotic resistance in the environment.
This claim may only apply to some ingredients in the cleaner, and may not mean the entire product is made from plant-based products. There’s no standard against which to measure these claims.
Usually listed on laundry detergents, this claim is best accompanied by a minimum phosphate percentage. See our article on green cleaning products for more about phosphates in dishwashing liquids.