Most industries have their specific terms and “language.” The cleaning sector is no exception. To make sure you understand your contractors and receive the best possible services, it is important to understand the professional lingo. So to make things easier for you, our team has made a list of the most commonly used words. We tried to exclude the scientific terminology, as knowledge of advanced chemistry is not required when it comes to dusting and vacuuming. However, you can still spot here and there some “complicated” words that are frequently used on the labels of different cleaning solvents.
So without further ado, let’s dive in!
Abrasion – The frictional wearing down or cleansing of a surface, for instance when using scouring creams or pads. The term can also describe how a rotary floor polisher wears down a floor finish.
Absorbency -The ability to absorb (take in). For example, microfiber cloths have high absorbency when it comes to liquids.
Acetone – A volatile flammable solvent that can dissolve synthetic resins. A great example is the nail polish remover.
Acid – A substance that reacts with water to form hydrogen ions. It rapidly gives protons to other compounds. Sulphuric, nitric, hydrochloric, and phosphoric acids are examples of inorganic acids (sometimes known as mineral acids), and they are frequently used in toilet cleaners. Organic acids include citric, oxalic, and acetic (found in vinegar).
Active ingredients – The components of a product that are specifically created to fulfil the goals of the product in question in terms of performance.
Adhesion – The ability of soillage or films to cling to surfaces and form bonds with them, making it challenging to clean them.
Aerobe – A type of microorganism that can only grow in an oxygen-rich environment.
Aerobic – A microorganism that breathes oxygen.
After builders cleaning – Also known as post-builders cleaning, this is a specialised service that focuses on removing construction debris and stains from your property.
Alkaline – A substance with a pH higher than neutral (7.0).
Allergen – Something that sets up an allergic response.
Ammonia – A nitrogen and hydrogen-based alkaline gas. Household ammonia is sold in liquid solutions of 5–10% ammonia.
Anaerobe – A microorganism that only thrives or develops most effectively without oxygen.
Anhydrous – A product that doesn’t contain any water.
Antibacterial – A chemical with the ability to inhibit or destroy bacteria. Viruses cannot be harmed by antibacterial compounds.
ATP – Adenosine triphosphate is a component of every live cell. ATP can be a sign of the presence of bacteria, viruses, proteins, or anything else completely benign on a surface. A significant amount of ATP can be viewed as a warning cue that more thorough cleaning is required.
Aseptic – Without bacteria.
Autoclave – A steam sterilisation system that uses high pressure.
Bacteria – Microscopic, one-celled organisms that quickly reproduce by dividing in two.
Bactericide – A chemical solution that can kill bacteria.
Bacteriostat – A solvent that can stop the growth of bacteria.
Bed bug – A tiny bug that feeds primarily on human blood and inhabits mattresses.
BICSc – The British Institute of Cleaning Science. A UK-based organisation dedicated to raising cleaning standards.
BIFM – The British Institute of Facilities Management. The facilities management industry’s governing body in the UK.
Biodegradable – The ability of a material to undergo biological breakdown into simpler, smaller pieces.
Bleach – A substance (usually hydrogen peroxide or sodium hypochlorite solution) used to whiten items or sanitise drains, sinks, etc.
Boiling point – The temperature at which, at a certain pressure, a liquid transforms into a gas.
BS13549 – The British Standard for the cleaning industry.
Build up – A substantial accumulation of filth and wax on the floor. It results from applying floor polish over dirt in successive layers without first removing the previous ones.
Builder – A substance that enhances or defends a surfactant’s cleaning effectiveness. Builders are frequently found in laundry detergents. They deactivate water hardness, give alkalinity to aid cleaning, act as a buffer to maintain alkalinity, prevent soil from re-depositing, and emulsify oily and greasy soils. We have dedicated a whole article on builders, acids and surfactants and if you are interested in stain removal you should definitely check it out.
Carpet beetles – The carpet beetle is a type of insect that lays its eggs in carpeting or other fibrous materials so that its young can feed on it. They won’t bite you but if you’re allergic to them, the bristly hairs on the carpet beetle larvae may itch your skin. If you are allergic to these bugs, coming into contact with them may result in a rash or bite-like marks on your skin.
Carpet cleaning – A cleaning method focused on removing stains, dirt and dust from your carpeting.
Catalyst – A substance or element that speeds up a chemical reaction without changing or being absorbed.
Caustic -A strongly alkaline chemical that burns the skin and irritates it.
Chemical reaction – Any modification that creates a new substance or changes the chemical makeup of an existing one.
Chlorine bleach – A class of potent oxidizers that are frequently offered in sodium hypochlorite solutions of about 5%, although bleaches that have been heavily thickened can reach solutions of up to 11%. Should only be used with COLD water because the active ingredient just evaporates in hot water! Never combine bleach with any acid product, or indeed any other chemical, as this might release hazardous chlorine gas.
CHSA – Cleaning and Hygiene Suppliers Association – An organisation that represents the UK-based producers and sellers of cleaning and hygiene products.
CINTO – Cleaning Industry National Training Organisation – Created by BICSc.
Cleaning – to locate, identify, contain, remove, and dispose of harmful substances from the environment. It is the best way we have to control our immediate environment and safeguard our health.
Coagulation -A series of emulsion droplets merge in an irreversible process that causes the emulsion to completely separate. Frequently brought on by overcooling or storage in cold environments.
Commercial cleaning – It is done by qualified commercial cleaning companies employed by a specific business or organisation.
COPC – Cleaning Operators Proficiency Certificate – Issued by BICSc.
Corrosion – The gradual destruction of a solid substance by a chemical attack, especially metals.
COSHH – Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations – Standards that cover the safe application of potentially dangerous substances, such as cleaning agents
CSSA – Cleaning and Support Services Association-The cleaning industry’s trade association in the UK.
Curtain cleaning – A cleaning method dedicated to removing grime, dust and stains from different types of curtains.
Decontamination – The physical control or elimination of germs or harmful elements, such as infectious viruses and biohazardous materials, by procedures including cleaning, disinfection, and/or sterilisation, or chemical neutralisation.
Deep cleaning – The meticulous and thorough procedure of cleaning something to stop the spread of disease and germs.
Detergent – A cleaning and washing agent made of something other than soap. Contrary to soaps, detergents are less sensitive to water minerals.
Dilute – To weaken something by adding water or another suitable solvent. Before using them, many concentrated cleaning agents must be diluted.
Dirt – A filthy or contaminated material like mud, dust, or grime.
Disinfectant – Any substance that kills microbes.
Distilled water – Water that has undergone distillation to remove its salts.
Domestic cleaning – A cleaning service offered by professional house cleaning companies, that covers dusting, vacuuming, wiping down surfaces, disinfecting, removing cobwebs, etc.
Driers – Used to quicken the drying or hardening process when maintaining floors or cleaning carpets.
Dry cleaning – The cleaning of fabric using solvents with minimal to no water.
Dust – Soil or waste material in the form of a fine, dry powder that is carried in the air or spread out on surfaces. Sometimes dust contains organic materials like microscopic skin flakes, fibres or hairs.
Dust Mites – Microscopic insects that reside in home dust and infiltrate soft objects like cushions, blankets, mattresses, and plush toys.
Dwell time – The amount of time a disinfectant needs to come into touch with a surface before beginning to work. While the majority of disinfectants have a dwell time of four to ten minutes, some have a dwell time of one minute or less.
Eco-friendly cleaner – A cleaning product that won’t cause any harm to the environment. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain chemicals, rather its ingredients won’t cause pollution and harm to live organisms.
Electrolytes – Substances that can carry an electric current in either their pure liquid or solution states. They include salts, bases, and acids.
Electrostatic disinfection – During the COVID-19 pandemic, this contemporary disinfection technique has grown in favour. It consists of a portable device that emits a purifying fog.
Electrostatic duster – A cleaning tool made of synthetic fibres that generate static electricity when moved and thus capture the dust particles.
Electrostatic sprayers -Antimicrobial liquid in electrostatic sprayers is charged as it goes through the nozzle. Improved coverage on hard, non-porous environmental surfaces is made possible by the positively charged antimicrobial droplets’ attraction to negatively charged environmental surfaces.
Emulsification – The process of dissolving fats, oils, and other substances in a solution by breaking them up into little particles.
Emulsion – The holding in place of two liquids that normally do not mix. Using an emulsifying agent, they emulsify.
End of tenancy cleaning -. People book an end of tenancy cleaning service when a rental property must be returned to its original state before the tenant vacates it.
Enzyme – Biologically generated proteins that act as catalysts in biological reactions. Enzyme cleaner – Substances with enzymes that aid in neutral pH soil deterioration (typically pH 6-8). Enzymatic cleaners may contain a variety of enzymes, including proteases, amylases, and lipases that break down different soil types.
Essential oil – A natural oil that is often produced by distillation and has the distinctive smell of the plant or other source from which it was produced. It doesn’t have any cleaning abilities.
Evaporation – A transition from a liquid to a gaseous state (vapour) brought on by molecules escaping from the surface.
Flammable – The ability to ignite easily and burn swiftly.
Floor cleaner – A solvent that is designed to remove stains and dirt from different floor surfaces.
Gas – A form of matter that has no structure, diffuses easily and takes on any closed container’s full volume. Gas molecules are highly dispersed and have unlimited mobility. The other two states of matter are solid and liquid, whereas gas is the third.
Germ – A tiny mass of biological material with the potential to grow into an organism or one of its parts and cause disease
Germicide – any method of eradicating germs.
Grease – A thick oily substance like animal fat or non-organic lubricants.
Grime – Dirt embedded in the surface of something.
Hard water – Water that has dissolved calcium and magnesium salts from the rocks it has passed through. There are two forms of hardness – temporary and permanent.
House cleaning – The method of removing dirt and dust from the home. In the professional cleaning language, it is a synonym for domestic cleaning.
Humidity – A measurement of atmospheric moisture that is influenced by temperature and is more prevalent in warm air than in cold air.
Hygiene theatre – A phrase coined by Derek Thompson in the July 2020 issue of The Atlantic, is the act of creating the appearance of thorough cleanliness. To address the health and safety concerns of building occupants during the epidemic, some organisations engaged in hygiene theatre. This frequently led to unnecessary disinfection.
Hygroscopic – Describes a substance that can take up to 70% of the water vapour in its own mass. The substance in question gets wet but does not disintegrate. One such drug is alcohol.
Hypoallergenic – A product that has a small number of allergens, or compounds that cause allergies.
Incubation period – The interval of time between being exposed to a pathogenic bacterium and being ill.
Insolubility – The incapacity of one substance to dissolve in another.
Ions – When an atom loses or gets one or more electrons to form a stable outer shell, the result is an electrically charged particle called an ion. They are either cations or anions.
Isotopes – An isotope is one of two or more species of atoms of a chemical element having the same atomic number and location in the periodic table and virtually identical chemical behaviour but with distinct atomic weights and physical characteristics.
ISSA – International Sanitary Supply Association – A US-based organisation that has published the typical productivity rates for 447 different cleaning activities.
Janitorial cleaning – A sort of commercial cleaning that manages numerous chores in formal business settings. This covers places like offices in factories, hospitals, and financial organisations.
Kill claims – Every disinfectant sold in the United States will have “kill claims” on the label that list the germs it is intended to kill or get rid of.
Ledger – A squeegee with an extra long handle and a curve that allows it to reach the bottom of the glass when used for pole work.
Limescale – A white substance that accumulates inside kettles, water pipes, etc. r on different surfaces in locations with hard water.
Liquid – A form of matter that takes on the shape of its containers since its molecules are always in motion.
Maid – A household worker who cleans and performs various other tasks to maintain the home tidy and sanitary. Many companies offer regular maid services that are similar but not identical to domestic cleaning.
Mildew – A microscopic layer of fungal hyphae that grows on damp organic materials like paper or plants.
Mixture – A combination of at least two elements that have not been chemically bonded.
Mould – A coating or colouring brought on by different saprotrophic fungi that thrive in a moist environment on the surface of preserved food, clothes, wallpaper, etc.
Mud – The outcome of mixing soil and water is mushy, sticky matter.
Neutral – A chemical state that falls between acids and alkalis. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being considered neutral.
Neutral cleaner – A floor cleaner having a pH that works with the surface being cleaned. This often indicates a pH of 7-9. Correct dilution of cleaning agents used for floor cleaning is essential since higher pH floor detergents can damage and dull floor finishes.
Non-ionic surfactant – A substance with a surface activity that doesn’t have any functional groups that are positively or negatively charged. It has been discovered that these surfactants work particularly well at removing greasy soil.
NP’s – Nonyl phenyl ethoxylates are surfactants that, even in small amounts, harm the environment and become increasingly hazardous as they degrade. Although nonyl phenol is one of the 32 most harmful marine pollutants according to the EU website, some chemical firms still use it.
Output specification – A document that specifies the standards for how cleaning results must appear. e.g., free of debris, dust, and grime.
Oxidant – In a redox process, an oxidant is a reactant that oxidises or removes electrons from other reactants. Another name for an oxidant is an oxidizer or an oxidising agent.
Oxidation – To incorporate oxygen. Rusting of iron or steel, verdigris on copper or white deposit on aluminium are examples of slow oxidation.
Patch test – A method to determine whether substances might irritate someone’s skin. Analogically a cleaning patch test concludes whether or not a detergent can damage a particular fabric or surface.
pH – A way to measure how acidic or alkaline a substance is. It is described by a number between 0 and 14. 0 is a potent alkali, whereas 14 is a potent acid. 7 is distilled water.
Phosphates – A component that is added to detergent to improve its capacity to soften water.
Pre-tenancy cleaning – The service is intended for homeowners who want to lease their property or for landlords. It includes thoroughly cleaning the estate before the prospective tenants visit the premises.
Regular domestic cleaning – House cleaning service performed by professionals regularly – weekly, bi-weekly, monthly and so on.
Residue – A part of a substance that is still left after its removal. For example carpet cleaning solutions if not properly washed can leave a thin layer of residue covering your rugs.
Sanitise – To decrease, not kill, microorganisms by 99.9% in 30 seconds or less. Sanitisers should only be used against the specific pathogen(s) listed on the label as they cannot destroy viruses or fungi.
Saponification – The procedure of using an alkali to treat fat to turn it into soap. The method can also get rid of oil and grease.
Saturated -describes a solution that will not continue to dissolve a solute at a specific temperature. The remaining solute will form crystals.
Scrim – This lint-free cloth is used to polish or dry glass
Sequestering agents -chemicals that bind up water hardness and stop hard water salts from precipitating. Liquid soap becomes clear as a result of this activity.
Soap – A cleaning and emulsifying agent created often by the action of alkali on fat or fatty acids and mostly made of sodium or potassium salts of such acids.
Soft water – Water devoid of calcium and magnesium salts.
Soil – The upper layer of the ground where plants can grow; often black or dark brown, it is made up of a combination of rock, clay, and organic remnants.
Soil extraction – A collective term for wet carpet cleaning which uses devices that suck up the cleaning solution after spraying it into the carpets.
Solid – Form of matter that can maintain its volume and shape even when not contained and has molecules closely packed and barely moving at all.
Solvents – A fluid capable of dissolving another substance. The most popular solvent is water, whose “wetting power” is significantly increased by the use of detergents.
Spot cleaning – Cleaning only the stained part of the given material.
Squeegee – A tool for cleaning windows and large glass surfaces.
Stain – Spot or mark that is difficult to remove and can cause damage or discolouration to the surface on which it resides.
Steam cleaning – A cleaning method that utilises steam to cleanse different surfaces.
Surface tension – The mutually attractive forces between liquid molecules. Most readily noticeable on the “skin” of water.
Surfactant – Substances that lower the surface tension of water. These surface-active agents modify the emulsifying, foaming, dispersing, spreading and wetting properties of a product.
Suspension – A method of cleaning in which an agent traps and prevents the re-deposition of insoluble dirt particles in the cleaning solution. It is widely used in laundry detergent powders.
Toxic – Poisonous and potentially deadly.
Vacuum cleaner – A home cleaning tool that uses suction to clean surfaces like carpets, upholstery, and floors, which is sometimes known as a vacuum sweeper.
Viscosity – The liquid’s thickness, which affects pourability.
Volatile – A term used to describe a liquid that rapidly evaporates.
Water hardness – An indicator of how much metallic salts are present in water. Some surfactants’ ability to work can be inhibited by hard water, which decreases the cleaning process efficiency.
Wetting agent – A substance that eases water’s surface tension so it can spread more easily.
WFP – Cleaning windows with pure water that is pumped up a lightweight pole, brushed over the surface, and then left to dry naturally is known as “waterfed pole window cleaning.” Pure water dries immaculately because it is free of impurities.
Congratulations, you have now become an expert in the “professional cleaning language!”
How did we do? Did we miss something? Tell us in the comment section below if there is a term you don’t understand or can’t find the definition of. We will include it in the next update of the article.