The Anatomy of a Cleaner Part III

Bite-Sized Blog: What it Means to Clean Green Series

Part III: Product Modifiers

Why are the ingredients in your household cleaners selected?

Just what is their role in helping your cleaner do its job?

In this blog series, we break down the basic roles ingredients serve in typical household cleaners.  In our first post in the series, we explained that household cleaner ingredients fall into one of the following categories: solvents, surfactants, builders, fragrances, preservatives, pH adjusters and product modifiers.1 In that post, we discussed what solvents and surfactants are and the role they play in cleaning formulas. In our last post, we discussed builders, fragrances, preservatives and pH adjusters.

You can find links to our series here:

Part 1

Part 2

In this post, our final installment in the series, we will discuss product modifiers. Product modifiers are added to a formula to improve certain product characteristics or alter the appearance of the product. These typically are dyes, foam boosters/stabilizers, or thickeners.

Certain cleaning agents are sometimes require dyes to distinguish itself from others. Often they are used to improve appearances and meet the consumers expectations

Dyes typically make up a small fraction (often less than 1%) of the overall cleaning formula. A very small amount of these materials are added to give a cleaning product a desired color. Have you ever noticed that many glass cleaners are blue? This blue color is due to the presence of dyes. Dyes are added to a formula to improve product appearance and to meet a consumer’s psychological expectations for that type of cleaning product.

Foam Boosters/Stabilizers

These materials are added to help increase a product’s capacity to produce lasting foam. A common foam booster/stabilizer used in household cleaning products is lauryldimethylamine oxide (lauramine oxide).1 Some products may have these ingredients, while some products a sudsy, long-lasting foam is not ideal (substituting regular dish soap for dishwasher detergent can result in a bubbly mess!).


These materials are added to increase the viscosity or thickness of a cleaning formula. Increasing a product’s thickness can make it easier to handle or work with. For example, a hand soap that is too runny may be wasteful (as well as annoying!) because when you try to pump it, most of it will run off of your hands and into the sink or counter top With this in mind, formulators will often adjust a product’s viscosity to suit its intended application. Common thickeners include xanthan gum, silicates and even sodium chloride (table salt).

Bringing it all Together

It is important to note that many ingredients can serve more than one purpose in a cleaning solution. Sodium citrate may be added to a solution as an eco-friendly builder,2 but this material will also increase the alkalinity of the solution. Likewise, some surfactants may be added to improve the cleaning ability of a formula towards certain soils, but these surfactants may also aid with formula wetting, emulsification and foam stability.


1. Lange, K. Robert. Detergents and Cleaners a Handbook for Formulators, Hanser Publishers: New York 1994. 43-50, 165-168.


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