Certain formulas are designed to clean different surfaces—and yes, that includes your appliances.

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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.

With so many all-purpose cleaners on the market, you may be tempted to use one in place of appliance-specific formulas. In most cases, a generic product won't cause much damage, but it won't necessarily produce the desired result (a sparkling clean) and could potentially damage the surface's finish. Ahead, why these experts say you should opt for device-specific cleaners whenever possible.

Getting It Right

All-purpose cleaners are generally made from a mixture of soap and water, says Ron Shimek, the president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company. While these formulas work well on regular surfaces, like countertops and small appliances (think microwaves and coffee makers), larger machines—and stainless-steel appliances, specifically—are best cleaned with an appliance-specific product that has been designed to minimize the risk of damage.

Oven

While it may not be harmful to use non-toxic multi-purpose sprays to remove that baked-on oven grime, Shimek says it won't give you the results you want. "For a better clean, it's best to use a proper oven formula," he says. "If you have a self-cleaning oven, however, it's essential that you do not use a chemical-based cleaner on the inside [while that function runs]. You can damage the enamel throughout the appliance."

Dishwasher

If you want to thoroughly wipe down the interior of your dishwasher, an all-purpose cleaner won't do the trick. Instead, Shimek says you should use a dishwasher cleaner, such as Affresh ($0.88 for six tablets, walmart.com), while running an empty cycle. "This will help to remove calcium deposits and reduce mineral and soap scum that has built up in the interior of the appliance," he says. "To maintain its cleanliness, run this cycle every three to six months."

Stainless Steel

Your appliances' exterior might require targeted care, say our experts. "Some appliances have surfaces like stainless steel that can show streaking. A stainless-steel cleaner will be engineered to ensure the surface is left streak-free and shiny," explains Jenna Arkin, the vice president of innovation at ECOS. "No matter the cleaner selected, it's always best to spot test any new surface in an inconspicuous area to make sure that the formula and surface are compatible." This will save you the headache of trying to remove a product that doesn't get the job done—and the nightmare of dealing with damaged appliances.

Getting It Wrong

And that's exactly how we'd describe using a deleterious formula on any appliance: a nightmare. Choosing the right product, then, is critical—and much easier to do if you're shopping specifically. Need an example? Oven cleaners are composed of high alkaline materials like sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide; they must be applied to baked-on grease and stains and exposed to a high temperature in order to work, notes Eleni Shipp, the Vice President Marketing at Lemi Shine. "Those types of products will damage any aluminum parts that are found in washing machines and dishwashers," she says. "These applications are completely different and one cleaner type won't work on one the way it will on the other."

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