I fondly remember mom’s famous spaghetti sauce, which she used to make when I was a boy. It was, without exaggeration, the best in the world. And yet, everyone had access to the same ingredients. Her secret? The ingredients she chose, and the quantities she used.
Formulating cleaning products works much in the same way. Formulators can all use the same ingredients but end up with very different results. Some products will be just mediocre. Others will have that something special that truly sets them apart.
Take for example hydroxide, commonly known as caustic. It is one of the most widely used ingredients in industrial degreasers. It serves as a reinforcing agent, helping to saponify oils and grease and effectively dislodging certain proteins. It also emulsifies dirt and neutralizes acidic particles.
Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is by far the most widely used hydroxide found in cleaning products—thanks to its very low cost and high efficiency in most applications.
Although the cost of potassium hydroxide (KOH) is much higher, some purists prefer it in order to achieve unparalleled properties.
There are several clear advantages to using potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide:
- Since the solvation cage of KOH is smaller than that of NaOH, KOH can penetrate thick layers of stubborn oil and grease more easily. This makes it ideal for cleaning heavily
- soiled surfaces such as smokers.
- Since hypochlorite is more stable in the presence of potassium ion than in the presence of sodium ion, chlorinated alkalines formulated with these ions degrade more slowly.
- Since potassium-based products are generally more soluble than their sodium-based equivalent, this allows for more concentrated products. Concentrated products typically have a lower freezing point, which means they are less sensitive to low temperatures.
- Since dirt that has reacted with KOH is generally much more soluble in water, cleaned surfaces are much easier to rinse.
- Wastewater containing potassium salt has less impact on the environment than its sodium-based counterparts. In fact, sodium is more toxic to certain living species.
All these notions may seem highly theoretical, and in some cases, the differences can be subtle. But in many situations, these details can make all the difference between “just another cleaning product” and one that offers truly exceptional performance.