4 Types of Cleaning Agents and When To Use Them

Different cleaning agents are used depending on the item to be cleaned, the cleaning method and the type of soiling found on the item.
June 12, 2017

Different cleaning agents are used depending on the item to be cleaned, the cleaning method and the type of soiling found on the item. There are four main types of cleaning agents used in commercial kitchens:

  1. Detergents
  2. Degreasers
  3. Abrasives
  4. Acids


Detergents are the most common type of cleaning agent and are used in home and commercial kitchens. They work by breaking up dirt or soil, making it easy to wash it away.

The detergents used in commercial kitchens are usually synthetic detergents made from petroleum products and may be in the form of powder, liquid, gel or crystals.


Degreasers are sometimes known as solvent cleaners and are used to remove grease from surfaces such as oven tops, counters and grill backsplashes.

Methylated spirits or white spirit were commonly used as degreasers in the past. Most food businesses now try to use non-toxic, non-fuming degreasers in their operations to prevent chemical contamination.


Abrasives are substances or chemicals that depend on rubbing or scrubbing action to clean dirt from hard surfaces. In commercial kitchens, abrasives are usually used to clean floors, pots and pans.

Abrasives should be used with care as they may scratch certain types of materials used for kitchen equipment such as plastic or stainless steel.


Acid cleaners are the most powerful type of cleaning agent and should be used with care. If they are not diluted correctly, acid cleaners can be very poisonous and corrosive.

Acid cleaners are generally used to remove mineral deposits and are useful for descaling dishwashers or removing rust from restroom facilities.

Always follow cleaning with sanitizing

Cleaning is only the first step to a germ-free kitchen. Cleaning is done using detergent, but it doesn’t kill bacteria or other microorganisms that can cause food poisoning. To kill bacteria and ensure a clean workplace, you must follow cleaning with sanitizing.

Effective cleaning and sanitizing also helps to:

  • prevent pests from entering your business
  • prevent cross-contamination
  • prevent allergic reactions caused by cross-contamination

Make sure everyone who handles food in your business knows how to clean and sanitize properly and why it's important. Enrolling your staff in a food handling course can help to ensure that your business stays compliant with food safety laws and regulations, passes health inspections and protects customers from health risks like allergic reactions and food poisoning. 

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS) provides online food safety courses that are approved in every province and territory in Canada. For more information about our Food Handler Certification Course, contact us or view our food handling certificate course page.