Cleansafe non-hazardous cleaner

Using Material Safety Data Sheets to Compare Cleaning Products

SDS Report Card
(grade your product against our products)

Potential customers often have questions concerning how they can evaluate and compare cleaning products in terms of personnel safety, environmental friendliness and regulatory compliance issues. Much of the information needed to complete an initial screening is given in the product's SDS, and the scanning of a few sections will give you the basics on the nature of the product.

First, you should have some general information on cleaning products so that you know what to look for. Most effective industrial cleaners available today are highly alkaline products that contain caustics and/or strong alkali salts such as sodium hydroxide, sodium silicates and sodium phosphates. These products can have very high pH's of 12.5-14.0, and can cause strong irritation and burns to skin and eyes. Glycol ethers are often combined with the alkalis to increase cleaning power. Certain glycol ethers (such as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, or 2-butoxyethanol) are classed as toxic chemicals subject to SARA Title III Annual Reporting, and worker exposure to airborne concentrations must be controlled. Glycol ethers are volatile organic compounds (VOC's), which are subject to increasing regulatory pressures. A new Federal EPA Regulation limits the VOC content of general purpose cleaners to a maximum of 10%.

Some products, usually the more expensive cleaners, are based on terpenes such as d-Limonene. D-Limonene is a VOC and a flammable liquid. The higher the concentration of d-Limonene in a product, the higher the VOC level and the stronger the possibility that the product has a flash point.

There are also some strong cleaners based on acids, which can cause burns to skin and eyes. Examples include certain metal cleaners, including most aluminum brighteners. These represent a relatively small part of the market.

When scanning an SDS for information on the nature of the product, the following suggestions may be helpful:

1. Usually, in the very first portion of the SDS where company and product information are given, the "proper shipping name" or "DOT shipping name" are given. A product, with a high pH may cause skin irritation and burns, may be indicated by the following shipping name: Caustic Alkali Liquids, n.o.s. A Flammable product, like d-Limonene, may say: Flammable Liquids, n.o.s. If not found in the first portion of the MSDS, this information may be given under some of the latter sections titled "Transportation Information" or "Regulatory Information".

2. Section 2 of the MSDS usually gives information on the composition of the product. It always highlights any hazardous ingredients. It may be limited to hazardous ingredients or it may give information on ingredients in general, including hazardous ingredients. This section usually gives limits on worker exposure to airborne vapors and dust. If limits are given as OSHA TLV's, OSHA PEL's, ACGIH PEL's, ACGIH TWA's or ACGIH STEL's, then the ingredient is regulated by OSHA and worker exposure must be controlled by the employer, in accordance with these limits. A summary of ingredients typically found in industrial cleaners, their functions and hazards is attached.

3. A section that could be anywhere in the MSDS will be titled "Physical Properties", "Physical and Chemical Properties" or "Physical Characteristics". This section can provide some important information on the pH of the product and on its content of volatile organic compounds (VOC's). This information is not always given, but if it is provided, use the following guidelines to evaluate it.

pH - If the pH is given without qualification, it is the pH of the product without dilution. pH's above 12.5 are very aggressive to skin and eye tissue. pH's below 12.5 are usually of low aggressiveness and pH's of 7-10 are not considered hazardous. If the pH is given in a diluted form, the concentration of the product in water will be noted. A 10% dilution is used with some frequency. At this level, a pH of 11.5 or greater usually translates to a pH of 12.5 or higher as undiluted product.

% Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) - This is the weight % of organic ingredients considered to be volatile. Any glycol ethers or d-Limonene in the formulation will contribute to this figure. EPA Regulations limit general purpose cleaners to a maximum VOC content of 10%. If % VOC is not given, but concentrations are given in the composition section (Section II), you can add up the total of glycol ethers, d-Limonene and any other solvents to see if they total 10% or more.

4. Other sections of the MSDS can provide more information concerning the personnel and environmental friendliness of the product. All of these sections are not always included in the SDS, but you can quickly scan the document to determine this.

Health Hazard Data, Hazard Identification, First Aid Measures: These sections will give you a good idea of how aggressive the product is to skin and eyes, and of how toxic it is, in general.

Ecological Information: This section will indicate if the product is biodegradable.

Regulatory Information: This section will often cover regulation of the product by all Federal Agencies. The key areas to look for are the following:

  • DOT Hazard Class & Proper Shipping Name. If the product has one of these, it is DOT Hazardous.
  • EPA CERLA Reportable Quantity. If there is a quantity listed, the product is EPA CERLA Hazardous.
  • EPA SARA Title III. Will indicate whether the product has a SARA Title III Hazard and whether a Section 313 Report is required.
  • OSHA: States if the product is a hazardous chemical per the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard.

Typical cleaning product hazardous ingredient information:

1. Surfactants

Increase the wetting and penetrating ability of the cleaning product.

Lift dirt, oil and grease from a soiled surface and dissolve, suspend or emulsify them in the water phase.

Provide foaming action.

Non-ionic surfactants

Anionic surfactants

Cationic surfactants

Amphoteric surfactants

Surfactants used in cleaning products are generally not classified as hazardous. Ionic surfactants can cause problems in wastewater treatment plants by interfering with heavy metal removal processes and anionics can cause foaming problems. Virtually all cleaning products contain surfactants.
2. Alkalis

Provide high pH to boost the cleaner's ability to remove and emulsify oil, grease and organic dirt.

Neutralize acids to buffer the pH.

Sodium metasilicate

Sodium phosphates

Potassium phosphates

Sodium hydroxide (caustic soda)

Potassium hydroxide (caustic potash)

These ingredients elevate the pH of many heavy duty cleaners to the 12-14 range. pH at this level can cause skin irritation and burns, dull or remove paint, darken aluminum and etch glass and countertops.

Super Clean

Tuff Act

3. Solvents
& co-solvents


- glycol ethers

Work with surfactants in a cleaning product to penetrate soil and remove both water-soluble dirt and water-insoluble grease and oil.

Help dissolve ingredients of limited water solubility in water-based cleaners.

Ethylene glycol n-butyl
ether (2-butoxyethanol,
butyl cellosolve)

Propylene glycol
methylether (propyl

Dipropylene glycol
methyl ether

Glycol ethers are solvents, and as such evaporate more rapidly than water, creating fumes/vapors.

Contribute to volatile organic content (VOC)

Butyl ether which is widely used, is classified as a toxic material by the DOT and personnel exposure to airborne vapors is regulated by OSHA.

Super Clean

Simple Green

Tuff Act

Oil Eater

- Terpenes Naturally occurring solvents closely related to isoprene and found in lemon oil, orange oil, pine oil and other essential oils. Solvents for oil and grease. d-Limonene

Combustible solvent

A volatile organic component (VOC)

Big Orange

Bio T products


4. Builders Deactivate water hardness compounds, buffer the pH to maintain alkalinity and emulsify oily dirt particles to prevent redeposition on cleaned surfaces.

Sodium silicate

Sodium citrate



Sodium nitrilo-

Builders usually contribute to a higher pH and some are hazardous ingredients, such as sodium metasilicate, but these are covered under "alkalis". Most cleaners contain builders that are non-hazardous.

MSDS Report Card (grade your product against our products).













































Additive Technologies, LLC
1515 W 2200 S, Suite C
Salt Lake City, UT 84119
Satellite office in Madison, WI
Tel: (608) 819-8806
Fax (801) 240-0217