Plus, tips from a cleaning pro about how to use all three.

By Caroline Biggs
October 02, 2020

If you're curious about how natural cleaning products work or why baking soda is such a powerful ingredient, you've come to the right place. We'll explain the science behind some of the most popular cleaning methods and tools, so you can you clean smarter—not harder. Follow along with Clean Science to see which technique we break down next.

Cleaning products come in all kinds of formulations, which can make figuring out the best option for your needs difficult. "There are so many different types of cleaning powders, spray cleaners, and foams, used for everything from carpet cleaning to glass surfaces and more," explains James Conner, the vice president of Molly Maid, a Neighborly brand. "All of them have their specific strengths."

cleaning products
Credit: Getty / Jamie Grill

So, how can you determine when it's most appropriate to use a powder, spray, or foam—and which, ultimately, is best? "We'd say that powder is best for the bathroom and kitchen sink, spray is best for horizontal surfaces, and foam is best for vertical ones," Conner notes. "In the end, it usually comes down to your personal preference." Curious about when to use every iteration? We asked Conner to explain their benefits and key differences—and here's what he had to share.

Use powder for heavy-duty cleaning jobs.

Since powder cleaners tend to have more of an abrasive quality than sprays or foams, Conner says they're best reserved for heavy-duty jobs around the home, such as the toilet, bathtub, and kitchen sink. "Their built-in scouring ability will cut down the time it takes to hand-scrub toilet or tub stains," he explains, noting that it's important "not to use abrasive powder cleaners on sensitive surfaces that scratch easily. Also, take care not to kick up a lot of the powder into the air when dispensing it; it can be irritating to your eyes, nose, and throat if you breathe it in."

Use spray cleaners for horizontal surfaces.

When it comes to cleaning and wiping down horizontal surfaces, such as countertops, tabletops, and bookshelves, Conner says spray iterations are the way to go. "Spray cleaners come in a wide variety of very specific uses, ranging from all-purpose sprays to ones meant for wood or stainless steel. It's easier to get a hold of the product you need in spray form," he explains. "Spray cleaners also make for an easier clean. Powder, on the other hand, can be difficult to fully wipe away from the surface you're using it on."

Use foam cleaners on vertical surfaces.

Conner says that foam cleaners are designed with agents that make them sticky, which is why they're great for cleaning vertical surfaces such as windows or mirrors. "Foam clings to a surface, so it is less likely to drip and streak, or spread to other surfaces, than powders or spray," he explains. "Foam also tends to be useful for instances where you'd need the product to linger on a specific spot, such as a carpet or upholstery stain. Liquid sprays can drip, run, or oversaturate; powders may dissolve and run off the surface."

To use this product type effectively, allow the formula to sit for a bit before wiping down a surface or stain. "Let the product do its job," he advises. "Oftentimes foam cleaners will require you to spray it and let it sit before you rinse or scrub. Working too quickly and rushing the process might impact its effectiveness."

Always read the label, especially on sprays.

Believe it or not, Conner says that spray cleaners that label themselves as all-purpose may still have restrictions as far as what surfaces to avoid ("And never assume a cleaner kills germs and viruses unless labeled to do so!" he adds). As a failsafe, he recommends spraying a cleaner into a microfiber towel or cloth, and not directly onto a surface, to minimize the chance of stains or other damage.


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