Multi-purpose cleaners

Find out which multi-purpose cleaner is best with our lab-based test results.

spray bottles with cleaning fluid

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.

Why is this free?

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.

Donate

We've gathered information on 21 multi-purpose cleaners.

Find a multi-purpose cleaner

Spot test

Whenever using a cleaner for the first time, check it’s safe for your surfaces.

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.

Safety first

“Natural” doesn’t mean safe. “Natural” ingredients, even fragrances, can be harmful.

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).

Surfaces to avoid

Most multi-purpose cleaners shouldn’t be used on metals or unfinished surfaces.

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:

  • Acrylic plastics
  • Aluminium
  • Brass
  • Carpet
  • Clear plastics
  • Copper
  • Cracked and damaged surfaces
  • Fabric
  • Granite
  • Halogen hobs
  • Hot surfaces
  • Lacquered surfaces
  • Leather
  • Marble
  • Natural stone
  • Non-glazed surfaces
  • Soft porous surfaces
  • Suede
  • Terrazzo
  • Unfinished wood
  • Unwaxed vinyl
  • Vitroceramics

Cleaning wipes

Pre-treated cleaning wipes have become more prevalent in the cleaning aisle.

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.

The water and vinegar test

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%.

Making your own multi-purpose cleaner

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.

For horizontal surfaces:

  1. For each tile, sprinkle a small amount of baking soda (about ¼ of a teaspoon) on the area to be cleaned.
  2. Spray a few sprays of vinegar (about 3 teaspoons worth).
  3. Once the baking soda starts foaming, scrub the surface.
  4. Rinse with water and wipe with a clean cloth.

For vertical surfaces:

  1. For each tile, sprinkle the baking soda on a cloth.
  2. Spray a few sprays of vinegar onto the cloth and immediately start cleaning the tile.
  3. Rinse with water and wipe with a clean cloth.

Note:

  • Don’t use malt or red wine vinegar. White wine vinegar won’t stain any surfaces, but other vinegars might.
  • Don’t pre-mix the ingredients. The baking soda will dilute in the vinegar mixture, its effervescence will be lost and you’ll probably recreate that school science experiment of making a volcano.

The chemistry

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.

Fragrances

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.

A soda by any other name

Baking soda is known by many names, but it’s all the same product:

  • Bicarbonate soda
  • Bi-carbonate soda
  • Bi-carb
  • Bread soda
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Sodium hydrogen carbonate

Other claims

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.

Antibacterial claims

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.

Green claims

Green claims

Green claims

From the claims on the bottles, you’d be forgiven for thinking many household cleaners were nature’s own recipe. However, a lot of these claims are at best meaningless, and at worst misleading.

Read our full report

Septic tank-safe claims

Septic tank-safe claims

Septic tank-safe claims

Have a septic tank? There are some types of cleaner you should avoid.

More about septic tank-safe claims

More cleaning products

More cleaning products

More cleaning products

Don't waste money on cleaning products that don't do a good job. See which ones come out on top in our tests.

Learn more