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How to buy the best surface cleaner

A guide to the best performers across different rooms and surfaces.

hands spraying mutli purpose cleaner on sink lead
Fact-checked

Fact-checked

Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

While few of us actually enjoy cleaning (and those of you who do – my house needs a going over please), we do expect that those few dollars we spend on cleaning products aren't just adding to the chemical load in our sewers, but are actually getting rid of the dirt from our house. But what else should you look out for, besides performance?

At CHOICE we don't just test one type of surface cleaner – marketers have diversified into many surface types. You'll find results for:

What surfaces are surface cleaners not suitable for?

While ideally a surface cleaner would clean everything, most cleaners warn they're unsuitable for some surfaces, such as acrylics, wood veneer or unsealed marble. Take a close look at the label before purchasing a product you haven't used before, or patch-test sprays on a small area where any damage or discolouring wouldn't be too noticeable. There are a few products that don't list any surface they aren't suitable for, but it's best to be cautious and patch-test with these as well.

How easy are surface cleaners to use?

Almost all of the surface cleaner bottles are designed to make them easy to use, with finger indentations and a trigger handle big enough for at least two fingers. Those that do well in our testing don't require a lot of elbow grease, however with some additional effort, all will probably work better than they did in our tests. Some exceptions to this include toilet cleaners which have the unmistakable angled bottle kneck to better reach under the rim, and floor cleaners which tend to be concentrates that are mixed into water for mopping.

How safe are surface cleaners to use?

Cleaning products must have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The MSDS is a document which contains more information about the product than what you see on the label. It details the composition of the product, providing details on the properties of dangerous substances and their effect on health and safety. It also includes information about safe handling and storage procedures, emergency actions and considerations for disposal.

Are surface cleaners safe around children?

Vivid colours are largely for for marketing purposes, making the products stand out on the shelves but contributing nothing to cleaning performance, however they can also make surface cleaner sprays very attractive to younger children because they look like cordial. Combine that with the fragrance of some of them and they could be a hazard, so remember to store them out of the reach of children and pets and switch them to the 'off' position if there is one on the trigger.

What kinds of fragrances are in surface cleaners?

Everyone has a good sense of which smells make them wince and which they actually don't mind. If you can sniff before you buy, at least you'll know if you'll cope with the smell while you're using it in your home. Some cleaners are available fragrance-free.

How are surface spray cleaners applied?

Most have a nozzle at the end of the spray output. Most can be turned to an 'off' setting, and many also have spray and stream options, otherwise known as a thick mist spray or thin stream spray. You might prefer one type, but both are as good as the other.

What other uses do surface sprays have?

Very few of the general purpose cleaners claim multiple uses (aside from their primary purpose of cleaning), however occasionally we'll see claims about pests avoiding the smell of the product, and others have anti-bacterial claims which is more common.

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