Cleaner Times Chemical Glossary: Common Names and Abbreviations, Regulatory Agencies, Pertinent Laws and Phrases, and Related Organizations, Part 1

Cleaner Times Chemical Glossary

Common Names and Abbreviations, Regulatory Agencies, Pertinent Laws and Phrases, and Related Organizations, Part 1

Published May 2022

     Editor’s note: Cleaner Times wishes to thank DECO Products Inc. and Vector Laboratories for their help in updating this Chemical Glossary in 2022, which previously was published in the August and October 2012 issue of Cleaner Times. 

     In 2012 the assistance of Cardinal Chemical; Dominion Restoration; Etowah Chemical Sales and Service; ITD Inc.; KO Manufacturing Inc.; Prosoc, Inc.; Royal Custom Products Inc.; and Xterior Sales and Service was greatly appreciated. Additional sources included the University of Montana MSDS Dictionary and The Soap and Detergent Association. 


     An asterisk signifies an ASTM definition. Many of the definitions are more focused on the cleaning setting than on chemical rigor.

     Effective pressure washing is a process that consists of five primary elements—pressure, flow, temperature, time, and chemicals. Because each individual cleaning application is a bit unique, the primary elements of pressure washing vary with each application. While the first four elements (pressure, flow, temperature, and time) can usually be determined on the spot, the fifth element—chemicals—requires some particular insights.

     Determining which chemical product to use in a particular cleaning application requires an understanding of the chemicals, and that begins with a basic understanding of chemical terms. The following listings are offered as a help.

– A –

ACC—American Chemistry Council, formerly the Chemical Manufacturer’s Association (CMA)

ACGIH—American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists

ANSI—American National Standards Institute—ANSI’s mission is to enhance both the global competitiveness of U.S. business and the U.S. quality of life by promoting and facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems and safeguarding their integrity.

ASTM International—ASTM International, formerly American Society for Testing and Materials, is a developer of international voluntary consensus standards. ASTM standards are developed by committees of relevant industry professionals who meet regularly in an open and
transparent process to deliver standards, test methods, specifications, guides, and practices.

AOAC—Association of Official Analytical Chemists

Acid—A chemical substance whose properties include the ability to react with bases or alkalis in water solutions to form salts. Always has a pH less than 7. Turns blue litmus paper red. A pH of 1 would indicate a strong acid.

Acid inhibitors—Chemicals that greatly reduce the attack of acids on metal surfaces. Inhibitors can prevent up to 99 percent of the damage caused by acids.

Acridity—The choking effect resulting from an alkaline-based product. There is no smell coupled with acridity. Bitter taste is associated with alkalinity. 

Active solvent—A solvent that can dissolve a resin by itself.

Acute effects—Short-range or immediate effects of chemicals on humans.

Additive—Any substance incorporated into a base material, usually in low concentrations, to perform a specific function. E.g., antioxidants, stabilizers, colorants, inhibitors, preservatives, thickeners, etc.

Alcohol—A broad class of hydroxyl-containing organic compounds occurring naturally in plants and made synthetically from petroleum derivatives such as ethylene. Alcohols perform several functions in cleaners: control viscosity, solubilize ingredients, and provide low temperature stability.

Alkali—A chemical substance (such as potassium hydroxide or sodium carbonate) that reacts with and neutralizes an acid. Has a pH above 7. In concentrated forms, may attack paint and some metals. Turns red litmus paper blue. 

Amphoteric surfactant—Contains both positively charged and negatively charged groups in the same molecule. Their cationic nature dominates under acidic conditions while they display the characteristics of an anionic surfactant under basic or alkaline conditions. Suitable for use in shampoos and personal care products.

Anhydrous—Refers to a substance that contains no water. For example, caustic soda beads are anhydrous.

Anionic surfactant—A surfactant derived from an aliphatic or araliphatic hydrocarbon and found most commonly in the form of a sodium salt, in which the detergency and other properties depend in part on the negatively charged anion of the molecule; hence the name “anionic.”

Anodized aluminum (anodic coating)—An AlO2 coating chemically bonded to an aluminum surface. The objective is to prevent oxidation of normal aluminum. Anodized aluminum usually looks as if it has a satin or colored finish.

Auxiliaries—See Additive.

– B –

BOD—Biological Oxygen Demand

Bifluoride salts—Salts containing fluoride that, when dissolved in water, release fluoride ions for the purpose of cleaning masonry surfaces. Typically used in restoration cleaning.

Bimetallic (galvanic) corrosion—Corrosion resulting from interaction between dissimilar metals. Can be accelerated by cleaning processes; for example, if a joint between aluminum and another metal is hit with acid, the acid forms an electrolyte that fosters corrosion that often results in a black streak.

Biodegradability—The capability of organic matter to be decomposed by biological processes. Specifically, the rate at which detergents, pesticides, and other compounds may be chemically broken down by bacteria and/or natural environmental factors.

Bleach—A product that will clean, whiten, brighten, and remove stains on hard surfaces. Chemically, an oxidizer; often contains hypochlorite salts.

Blushing—Dulling. A negative effect which caustics and acids can have on the finish of a vehicle’s painted surface, chrome finish, etc.

Boiling point—The temperature at which a liquid boils at a specified pressure.

Booster—A laundry aid available in granular or liquid form that is formulated to reinforce specific performance characteristics desirable in laundering.

Buffer*—A compound or mixture that, when contained in a solution, causes the solution to resist change in pH. Each buffer has a characteristic limited range of pH over which it is effective.

Builder—A material that enhances or maintains the cleaning efficiency of the surfactant in a detergent formulation. The part of a formulation that imparts alkalinity, buffering, corrosion resistance, etc.; generally the non-surfactant portion of a cleaner. Builders eliminate precipitation of minerals in hard water by chelating salts while keeping them suspended, or by ion exchange.

Butyl—Typically ethylene butyl (EB) but can sometimes mean any solvent containing a butyl carbon group.

– C –


CAA—Clean Air Act

CAS Number—Chemical Abstract Service Number. A numerical name assigned to chemical compounds by the American Chemical Society.

CC—Closed Cup; a flashpoint test method

CERCLA—Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (Superfund). The Act requires that the Coast Guard National Response Center be notified in the event of a hazardous substance release. The Act also provides for a fund (the Superfund) to be used for the cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste disposal sites.


CFR—Code of Federal Regulations—A collection of the regulations that have been promulgated under United States Law. Title 29 Labor (29CFR), Title 40 Environment (40CFR), Title 49 Transportation (49CFR), etc.

Chemical—Everything which has mass is a chemical. Anything consisting of matter is a chemical—any liquid, solid, or gas. A chemical includes any pure substance or any mixture.

CHEMTREC—Chemical Transportation Emergency Center; a national center established by the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) [currently the American Chemistry Council] to relay pertinent emergency information concerning specific chemicals on requests from individuals. CHEMTREC has a 24-hour toll-free telephone number, (800) 424-9300, to help respond to chemical transportation emergencies.

CO—Carbon monoxide; a colorless, odorless, flammable, and very toxic gas produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon. It is also a byproduct of many chemical processes.

CO2Carbon dioxide; a heavy, colorless gas which is produced by the combustion and decomposition of organic substances and as a byproduct of many chemical processes. CO2 will not burn and is relatively nontoxic (although high concentrations, especially in confined spaces, can create hazardous oxygen-deficient environments).

COC—Cleveland Open Cup; a flashpoint test method

COD—Chemical Oxygen Demand

CPSA—Consumer Product Safety Act

CPSC—Consumer Product Safety Commission

CWA—Clean Water Act; federal law enacted to regulate/reduce water pollution and administered by the EPA.

Calcium carbonate—A water insoluble compound that results from the reaction of sodium (or potassium) carbonate with calcium water hardness ions. This salt is acid soluble and is the major component in limestone, blackboard chalk, stomach antacids, and mason’s lime.

Calcium hypochlorite—A type of chlorine bleach used in deck cleaning products. Typically used in laundry detergents. Effective against mildew but does little to remove dirt or other surface deposits.

Cationic surfactant—A surfactant in which the detergency and other properties reside in a positively charged ionic group.

Caustic—A strong base (pH of generally greater than 12.5). The term, when used alone, usually refers to caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). It may also refer to caustic potash (potassium hydroxide). Caustic materials have a corrosive effect on human tissue.

Chelate—A substance having the ability to chemically bind substances such as calcium and/or magnesium ions to form a water-soluble third substance.

Chelating agent—A special type of organic sequestering agent that inactivates water hardness and other metallic ions in water (see sequestering agent).

Chlorinated isocyanurate—A class of organic chlorine compounds used for bleaching.

Chronic effects—Long-range or cumulative effects of chemicals on humans.

Cleanser—A powdered cleaning product usually containing an abrasive, a surfactant, and sometimes a bleach.

Clear coat—A clear protective finish applied to new cars at time of production. Applied to paint and most wheels.

Cloud point—The temperature below which a detergent concentrate or solution separates into two distinct phases.

Combustible—A term used by NFPA, DOT, and others to classify substances that will burn. Both NFPA and DOT generally define “combustible liquids” as having a flash point of 100ºF or higher but below 200ºF. Non-liquid substances such as wood and paper are classified as “ordinary combustibles” by NFPA.

Combustible liquid—Generally, a liquid with a flash point above 100ºF but less than 200ºF.

Corrosion inhibitor—A material in a cleaner that protects against attack on metal or living tissue.

Corrosive—The characteristic of a material that eats away either metals or living tissue.

– D –


Deflocculation—The action of breaking up solid aggregates of soil into small particles. The particles are then flushed away.

Degreaser—A degreaser is a solvent–based or solvent–containing cleaning agent. It is a chemical product mostly used for the removal of water–insoluble substances such as grease, paint, oil, lubricants, corrosive products, abrasive dust, and all other organic films. This cleaning agent is especially made for the removal of grease.

Demulsify—The breaking down of an emulsion. Usually results in formation of distinct layers (e.g., oil and water).

Detergency—Cleaning ability.

Detergent—Any cleaning agent. In popular usage, washing and cleaning agents with a composition other than soap that clean by much the same mechanisms as does soap. The term detergent is used to describe both the basic surface-active agents and finished products. Based on a surface-active agent that finished products are synthesized from chemically, a variety of raw materials derived from petroleum, fatty acids, and other sources. They may also contain ingredients such as builders, anti-redeposition agents (CMC), corrosion inhibitors (EDTA), suds control agents (defoamers), fluorescent whitening agents (optical brighteners), sodium sulfate (processing aids), water, alcohols, hydrotropes, colorants, fragrances, and pacifiers. Detergent ingredients vary with the type of products, which include light-duty detergents, heavy-duty detergents, hard surface cleaners, automatic dishwasher detergents, and cleansers. The finished products come in a number of forms, such as granules, liquids, and crystals.

Dilution ratio—The amount of one substance mixed with another, expressed as a ratio. Examples: 1 to 1 (written 1:1), 10 to 1 (written 10:1), etc.

Direct meter—Procedure in which chemical is used directly from drum as opposed to being premixed with water.

Disinfectant*—An agent that kills, inactivates, or repels organisms in or on plants, animals, or inanimate objects.

Dispersing agent—A material that increases the
stability of particles in a liquid.

Dispersion—See Deflocculation.

Dressings—See Glazes.

Drum—Container for holding chemicals. A common size is 55 gallons.

Dwell time—The time from application of a chemical to a surface to rinsing.

– E –

EB (Ethylene Glycol Butyl Ether)—A common solvent used in cleaners.

Efflorescence—Efflorescence is a deposit of salts, usually white, formed on a surface, the substance having emerged in solution from within either concrete or masonry and subsequently precipitated by evaporation. It occurs most readily in porous concrete near the surface. Efflorescence is not normally damaging, but it is aesthetically undesirable.

EPA—United States Environmental Protection Agency

Emulsification—The action of breaking up fats, oils, greases, and other soils into very small particles that are then suspended in water.

Emulsifier—A substance that helps stabilize chemicals in an emulsion, preventing them from separating.

Etching—The process whereby an acidic solution reacts with a surface (generally metal or glass) and either removes a microscopic layer of the metal or dissolves the glass. Aluminum is brightened through etching.

– F –

F—Fahrenheit is a scale for measuring temperature. On the Fahrenheit scale, water at sea level boils at 212ºF and freezes at 32ºF.

FDA—United States Food and Drug Administration

FHSLA—Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act

FIFRA—Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act requires that certain useful poisons, such as chemical pesticides, sold to the public contain labels that carry health hazard warnings to protect users. It is administered by the EPA.

FSCM—Federal Supply Code for Manufacturers

Fillers—Detergent ingredients that are used to add weight and lower the cost of the product.

Flash Point*—The lowest temperature at which a liquid produces sufficient vapor to ignite with a test flame.

Flashing—The word “flash” can be explained as the time that it takes solvent or water to evaporate from a substrate or a coating.

Freeze Point—The temperature where a liquid turns to a solid at a specified pressure.

– G –

GRAS—Generally Regarded as Safe

Germicide—Any agent that kills bacteria, especially those causing disease.

Glazes—Term referring to products used on car finishes to enhance shine and protect finish. Also called dressings.

– H –

HCFC— Hydrochlorofluorocarbons

HMIS (Hazardous Materials Identification System)—A hazard description that uses color bar labels to identify and provide information about chemical hazards. It is similar to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) diamond.

HMTA—Hazardous Materials Transportation Act

Hard surface cleaner—A product formulated for cleaning surfaces such as painted surfaces, washable floor coverings, plastics, metals, porcelain, and others.

Hazardous material—A substance or chemical that poses a health, physical, or environmental hazard

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