The best cleaning materials are the ones designed to clean the specific stain or surface that requires attention. There are a number of options, ranging from chemicals such as ammonia to household mixtures of water and vinegar. The type of surface and the type of stain can make a large difference in determining the best cleaning materials. Porous surfaces react differently than non-porous surfaces, just as an oil-based stain is different from a water-based stain.
When deciding which cleaning materials to use, the environment in which it will be used should be considered. If there are children or pets that will be moving through the area, then a non-toxic cleaner is advisable. This also applies to cleaning tight spaces such as a small apartment or bathroom, where the fumes could easily become overwhelming. Products that have low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are usually safe to use in these instances. Household cleaners such as vinegar, borax, baking soda or lemon mixed with water also are good choices for small spaces.
The types of surfaces that need to be cleaned will determine which cleaners are the most effective. A non-porous surface such as tile, enamel, plastic or glass can take nearly any type of cleaner. White surfaces can benefit from a solution of bleach and water at a ratio of one to 10. Dark or colorful surfaces will react positively to ammonia or other cleaning chemicals. One exception is a kitchen or bathroom fixture that could have lost a protective finish over time, making it vulnerable to staining from certain cleaning materials.
Porous surfaces such as natural stone, wood or areas where the finish has worn off require special cleaners. In most instances, especially for stone and wood, there are specifically designed chemicals that can be used. There also are chemicals that can help to seal the surface so it repels stains in the future. In lieu of those cleaning materials, solvents such as citrus can be used to clean the surface as long as it is followed by a thorough rinsing with water.
If the task at hand is cleaning a specific stain, then it is important to know what kind of stain it is. An oil-based stain from some types of makeup, paint or home improvement products will need to be dabbed gently with a solvent to remove the oil. Whatever remains after the solvent dissolves the oil can be removed normally. Solvents include products such as turpentine, acetone or specialty removers for substances such as adhesives.
Water-based stains such as those stemming from some foods may just require soaking in a very light mixture of water and detergent. Hand washing with a stiff brush on a material that can withstand the abrasiveness also can work well. Very bad water-based stains should be treated with cool or lukewarm water when soaking or cleaning, because there is a chance that hot water will actually permanently set the stain.