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When to Use Cream, Liquid, Powder or Spray Cleaner

A person holds a basket of cleaning supplies.
Natali _ Mis/Shutterstock.com

With so many cleaners available, it’s hard to know which ones to use on what come cleaning day. From powder, cream, and liquid cleaners to other less common types,  we’ll cover which cleaners work best, depending on the job.

To gain a better understanding, we spoke with Vera Peterson, president of Molly Maid, and Leanne Stapf, COO of The Cleaning Authority, about the different types of cleaners and when to use them.

Why Are There So Many Different Types of Cleaners?

A person applies spray cleaner to a surface.

While personal preference often comes into play, the type of cleaner you choose has everything to do with what you are cleaning.

Stapf explained that selecting cleaners depends on many factors, including what surface or item you plan to clean and what type of mess or bacteria you are cleaning up.

Because all surfaces differ so significantly, you must use the correctly formulated cleaners to avoid any damage to surfaces. That’s why it’s always important to check manufacturer instructions before trying a product for the first time.

madesmart 2-Tier Organizer

Keep your cleaners organized.

What’s great about having so many products available within an arm’s reach is that they each offer strengths depending on the cleaning job.

“If I had to shout each out for their specific strengths, I’d say that powder is best in the bathroom and kitchen sink, the spray is best for horizontal surfaces, and foam is best for vertical,” said Peterson.

Because there are so many products available in stores or online, it’s hard knowing what goes where, and when to use each.

Here’s what our experts had to say about the three major types of cleaners as well as some less frequently used others

When to Use Spray Cleaner

A person sprays cleaner onto a window.
Vladimir Miloserdov/Shutterstock.com

Liquid cleaners and sprays (especially all-purpose cleaners) are essential in your home cleaning cabinet because they can tackle many surfaces.

“There are so many different spray cleaners,” said Peterson. “From all-purpose sprays meant specifically for wood or stainless steel to cleaners that target mold and mildew, to glass, and more.”

She explained that liquid sprays are appropriate for use in just about any room as long as they are used according to the instructions on the label.

Lysol All Purpose Cleaner

Kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.

Because spray cleaners can spread out and reach large surface areas, they can make the cleaning job a tad easier. That made us wonder if there is ever a surface where spray cleaners should not be used.

Stapf recommends avoiding spray cleaner when cleaning your television because it could damage the surface. Instead, she recommends lightly dampening a cloth with the cleaner, then gently wiping the TV.

When to Use Powder Cleaners

A person sprinkles powder cleaner into a bathtub.

Powder cleaners offer an abrasive texture that will help clean some of the toughest spots. Peterson explained that powder cleaner is best for hard surfaces that need a good scrub, like tubs, toilet bowls, sinks, and ceramic tiles.

“Powder cleaners tend to have more of an abrasive quality versus its spray or foam counterparts,” Peterson said. “The built-in scouring ability will cut down the time it takes to hand scrub toilet or tub stains, making powder great for these types of chores.”

Most cleaning powders, like Comet cleanser, can be used in small amounts. Simply sprinkle some over the surface, add a small amount of water to form a paste, then scrub using a brush or sponge. Keep in mind that Comet has bleach, so don’t use it on fabric surfaces or carpets.

Comet Cleanser

An old reliable!

Speaking of carpets, we were interested in the best way to clean them and whether or not powder is a good cleaner for carpets. Both Peterson and Stapf agreed that steam cleaning is the best way to remove dirt and bacteria, aside from regular vacuuming.

When to Use Cream Cleaners


Cream cleaners are great for most areas in your bathroom, like sinks and faucets, and they also make an excellent cleaner for windows when combined with hot water, according to Peterson.

They work similarly to powder cleaners mixed with water to form a paste but with less of an abrasive consistency. Consider them powerful cleaners with less oomph.

Stapf told Lifesavvy she loves a “good, simple cleaner” and provided us with a cleaning technique she likes using with a surprising household item—shaving cream.

“Shaving cream may be used to pretreat makeup-related stains on furniture, carpets, rugs,” She explained. “Applying shaving cream to the spot will help cut through the oils within the product, helping to remove the stain.”

Mrs. Meyer's Cream Cleaner

A cream to rival your homemade cleaning paste.

She went on to explain that shaving cream can even be used to remove pet stains. Apply the shaving cream over the stain, let it sit and foam, add water to a cloth and wipe clean.

How cool is that?

When to Use Gel Cleaners

A person add toilet bowl cleaner to a toilet bowl.
Odua Images/Shutterstock.com

Most gel cleaners are used in kitchens to remove grease, fingerprints, and water stains and are formulated to clean surfaces more gently than powders and cream cleaners.

Stainless steel appliances and sinks are common areas where you’d use a gel cleaner, as the product works great for areas that accumulate water stains, soap scum, and fingerprints.

Soft Scrub Gel Cleaner

Excellent for stainless steel appliances.

You’ll notice most toilet bowl cleaners come in gel form too,  and there’s a reason for that. The gel clings well to the inside of the bowl and dissolves slowly, making for easy cleaning sessions.

Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Clings to the inside of the toilet bowl with ease.

When to Use Foam Cleaners

Multi-colored sponges are stacked on top of one another and covered in soap.
Tetiana Shumbasova/Shutterstock.com

Foam cleaners are designed to attach well to vertical surfaces. Peterson explained that the foam clings well to shower walls, giving the cleaner time to sit and clean effectively before it is wiped away.

Scrubbing Bubbles Mega Shower Foam

Removes calcium, lime, dirt and grime.

After spraying the area with foam spray, you’ll let it sit for about two minutes. This will allow the foam to penetrate through soap scum and dirt. A cleaner like scrubbing bubbles does precisely that.

From there, wipe away and or rinse clean.

Next time you wonder which cleaner to use, base your decision on what your cleaning job is first, and always check labels for assurance.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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