What's the Real Difference Between Cleaning Powders, Sprays, and Foams – and Where Should You Use Them?

Mama always knows best, but we wanted to double check with the experts.

We all learn our cleaning habits from our mamas – and, of course, what we find on the internet – but which types of cleaners work best for specific surfaces in a home?

With so many different products available, it can be overwhelming to decide whether you want to use a powder or spray when cleaning. Some of the decision making comes down to preference, but the surface that you're cleaning is also a major factor. Not to mention that the amount of cleaning needed in an area of your home also impacts which type of cleaner you should use. We consulted a few cleaning experts to get their input on how you should be using various types of cleaners in your home.

Powder Cleaners

If you're hoping to start your deep cleaning journey on the right track, powders can be an inexpensive and effective cleaning solution. "Powders are best for controlling the amount of abrasiveness in your cleaning solution as you can dilute it to whatever power necessary for the surface you are cleaning," Noell Jett, creator of @jettsetfarmhouse, says.

Powders give your cleaning that extra grit in case you have stuck-on food or dirt in your sink or bathtub. For surfaces like sinks, inside of an oven, inside of a fridge, bathtub, etc., with more build-up, a scrubbing powder should be called to the rescue and be used as a complement to a spray cleaner, says Chris Solodko, the chief operating officer, and Co-CEO of AspenClean, a premier green cleaning products and house cleaning service company.

"For dealing with more grime, the most effective approach is to spray the surface first, then sprinkle a layer of powder," Solodko says. "Let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub with a sponge, brush, or a cleaning cloth; Rinse, check the results, and repeat if necessary."

You should use caution when using powders on some surfaces though. Because of their abrasive nature, powders should not be used on delicate surfaces that scratch easily like granite, marble, glass, and gold, Jett says. Powders can cause irritation to skin, Jett says, so it's best to use cleaning gloves, when using such products.

Spray Cleaners

Spray cleaners are great for areas in your home that typically see regular cleaning. As their name suggests, sprays offer a wide reach, so they work best on large flat surfaces, hard to reach areas, and corners, Jett says.

You can also leave a spray on a flat surface for as long as necessary before wiping it away. Sprays work well to clean most surfaces with light-to-average build-up of dust and grime, Solodko says.

Foam Cleaners

Foams are most effective on vertical surfaces because they are designed to cling to walls and require time to sit on the surface that's being cleaned before wiping away the product, Jett says.

Cream Cleaners

Creams are also meant to cling to vertical surfaces, but in small sections, Jett warns. Certain products, if left to sit for too long, will dry, which results in having to use more effort to wipe the product away.

If you're just starting off on a deep cleaning journey, creams and foams may not be the best options for all areas of your home. Both creams and foams are generally less effective than powders in combination with spray cleaners, Solodko says.

What's the difference in formulation between a spray and powder that appear to have similar ingredients?

It all comes down to the amount of active cleaning ingredients in each product. "With water constituting about 95%, and active ingredients about 5% of the content, spray cleaners are inherently designed to deal with light-to-medium soil on larger surfaces, Solodko says. "Powders are formulated to be a booster to spray cleaners so the formulas would have little overlap with sprays."

The abrasive ingredients mixed with the active ingredients in powders are what make them a heavy-duty cleaner for extra gunky areas in a home. The abrasive ingredients grind up the dirt, like sandpaper, while the active ingredients help to loosen the grime, Solodko says.

Since powders are formulated to be a booster there is little overlap in overall ingredient list, despite how it may appear on a label. Spray solution when paired with a powder, offers further help dissolving dirt, which makes the two a winning cleaning product combination, Solodko says.

If certain powders and sprays are safe to be used together, then are other cleaning products also safe to be mixed?

Absolutely not. Mixing cleaning products can result in dangerous and deadly chemical reactions. "Mixing ammonia and bleach results in chlorine gas, which is very toxic and could be fatal," Solodko says. "Also, hydrogen peroxide mixed with vinegar will produce a peracetic acid, which could irritate skin and damage surfaces."

Mixing all natural products, like those offered from AspenClean is less dangerous, but most likely would lessen their effectiveness. "We don't recommend mixing cleaners," Solodko says. "There are some exceptions to this rule such as sprinkling a scrubbing powder over a pre-sprayed surface with a recommended spray cleaner. "Therefore, each product we create is specially formulated for that surface and space."

At the end of the day we all find cleaning routines that work best for our needs, and knowing the purpose behind types of cleaners is a great way to start or refresh your cleaning routine. "Finding what works best for your needs can take some time and trial and error, Jett says, "but no matter how perfect the formulation, if it's just sitting under your counter not being used, it does you no good, so find the products you will actually use!"

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