All About All-Purpose Cleaners and Disinfectants

We use all-purpose cleaner all the time. It’s basically the staple of the cleaning world. But what is all-purpose cleaner, how is it different from disinfectant, what’s the best all-purpose cleaner, what’s the best disinfectant spray, and how do you make DIY all-purpose cleaner?

We have so many questions from the Clean My Space community. Luckily, we’ve got the answers too. If you’ve been following us for a while, you may have heard us talk about cleaners vs. disinfectants, or our famous DIY all-purpose cleaner. But if you’re new here, or if you have more questions about all-purpose cleaner you’ve come to the right place. 

Melissa Maker holding a spray bottle

What Is All-Purpose Cleaner

We use all-purpose cleaner all the time, but what is it? An all-purpose cleaner is characterized by being gentle enough to clean most surfaces, but strong enough to lift dirt and some germs. However, not all-purpose cleaners are created equally. 

While all-purpose cleaners should be gentle, that doesn’t mean they are non-toxic. You should always read the label of a product, and be careful using any cleaning products around small children and pets. 

All-purpose cleaners can also be harsh on your skin. If you have sensitive skin, or you’re using a product with harsher chemicals, I always recommend wearing rubber gloves. I often use old dishwashing gloves when I clean with chemicals. It’s a great way to get one more use out of them. Just be sure to toss them in the trash when you’re done. 

All-purpose cleaners can be used for most simple cleaning tasks. But when it comes to greasy surfaces, bacteria-laden surfaces, and stains, you’ll probably need to reach for a stronger product. Knowing the best all-purpose cleaner, and how all-purpose cleaners and other products work will help you clean well and efficiently. 

Melissa wearing dishwashing gloves cleaning the fridge

All Purpose Cleaner Vs. Disinfectant 

I’ve heard a lot people use the words cleaner and disinfectant interchangeably, but they actually aren’t the same thing. Cleaners clean and disinfectants disinfect. While it might sound like the same thing, it’s actually not. 

A cleaner doesn’t disinfect, and a disinfectant doesn’t clean. Insert shocked gasp here! All-purpose cleaners remove dirt. In the process, germs are also removed which is absolutely enough of a clean for a lot of surfaces. But when you want to kill all those bacteria and germs, you’ll want a disinfectant. On the other hand, disinfectants kill germs and bacteria, but they don’t actually eliminate dirt. So you can disinfectant without cleaning, and vice versa. 

What this means for you, is that after you clean a surface you may need to break out the disinfectant (think cleaning the bathroom). However, if you’re cleaning the bedroom, an all-purpose cleaner is just fine here. 

The Best DIY All-Purpose Cleaner

If you’ve been following Clean My Space for awhile, you’ve probably heard our DIY all purpose-cleaner recipe. It’s our tried and true recipe, and a staple in our homes. 

What you need:

  • 1 teaspoon of dish soap
  • 2 cups of water
  • 10 drops of your favorite essential oil (optional)

Essential oil is not necessary for making this recipe, it’s just a fun way to customize the scent. So if you’re not a fan, skip it! Throw all your ingredients in a spray bottle and shake to mix. Making your own DIY all-purpose cleaner is that easy! I love using this recipe during daily kitchen cleaning. 

It’s also great when you need a non-toxic cleaner. If you’re cleaning baby or pet items, I would definitely recommend making this recipe instead of using store-bought products that are more likely to contain harsh chemicals. 

If you’re not sure what pet items you should be cleaning, read Pet Cleaning Tips. And if you’re looking for more great DIY recipes, check out our printable, 50 DIY Cleaning Recipes.

Spray bottle and microfiber clot))

The Best Store-Bought All-Purpose Cleaner

OK, so maybe DIY cleaner isn’t your thing. Or you like to have a store-bought cleaner on hand. Totally fair! Our pick for the best store-bought all-purpose cleaner is Seventh Generation All-Purpose Cleaner. 

This all-purpose cleaner is scent free, which is great for people who are sensitive to scents! And it’s non-toxic formula means no harsh fumes. And because it’s non-toxic, Seventh Generation All-Purpose Cleaner is safe to use even if you own pets. 

Finally, this all-purpose cleaner is a Climate Pledge Friendly Amazon product. And we always want to choose products that are easy on our environment. So this is a win in our books. 

The Best DIY Disinfectant

Disinfectant can be several dollars at the store, but if you make your own you’ll save tons of cash.

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 15 drops thyme essential oil (optional)

I like to use thyme essential oil for this recipe. Add all the ingredients to a spray bottle and shake well to mix. You can use this product as a mist after you’ve cleaned a surface with the appropriate cleaner. And the best part is, there’s no need to wipe it up–rubbing alcohol dries quickly and is safe for surfaces. On any surfaces that you can’t spray the product directly (like light switch plates), mist your disinfectant onto a microfiber cloth and then wipe the surface.

The Best Store-Bought Disinfectant

Our favorite disinfectant spray is Clorox Disinfecting Mist. This multi-use disinfectant kills 99.9% of bacteria and can safely be used on a variety of hard and soft surfaces, so you can even use it to disinfect your carpet and couch. 

Clorox Disinfecting Mist is aerosol free, which is a great choice for the environment. And the bottles are reusable so you can refill them with Clorox refill bottles, keeping plastic out of landfills. 

All-Purpose Cleaner and Disinfectant

If you made it to the end of this article, you are officially an expert on all things all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant! There are so many products in our house we use, without really knowing what they are. But understanding products is the best way to use them properly. 

If you have more questions about all-purpose cleaner, disinfectant, or other cleaning products leave a comment down below. Or let us know your favorite DIY all-purpose cleaner recipe. Happy cleaning (and disinfecting) to you all. 

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


  1. How long do these DIY cleaning solutions keep? Can I make ahead and use the same spray for weeks at a time or will they lose their effectiveness after a certain length of time sitting in the plastic bottle?

    Thank you!

  2. Do you have any recommendations for reusable spray bottles that don’t leak and have adjustable settings (mist vs stream)? Thanks!

  3. Hi Melissa!

    What about “3 in 1” products that claim to work as a cleaner and disinfectant? Lysol and Seventh Generation make products like this. Are they safe to use on a day to day basis if you try not to over disinfect? Or is it better to use two separate products?

    • Hi Amy, personally I don’t like to use these products on a daily basis. Because these products have more chemicals, I choose not to use them in my kitchen or living spaces if I don’t need to disinfect. Particularly if you have small children or pets, I would recommend not using a disinfectant everyday, but it’s great for the bathroom. However, most of these 2 in 1 products are technically safe to use daily (be sure to check the product instructions).


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