The Science of Car Cleaning Products
In most cases you can clean and protect your vehicle with just a few basic car cleaning products. In this article you will learn some of the science behind auto detailing supplies so you can clean your car the right way.
Soil can be organic, non-organic or petroleum. That’s important to know. If you can identify the soil you’re dealing with you can use the right cleaner. When you use the correct cleaner most stains come out with ease.
Take organic soil as an example. Organic basically means that it contains carbon. Stains in this group include proteins, animal fat, body oil, mold, yeast, insects, bacteria and excrement. The classic example is the batch of hot French fries your three year old spilled on the back seat. That’s an organic soil stain.
Non-organic soil does not have carbon molecules. Most often we find these stains on the exterior the vehicle. A good example that frustrates most of us from time-to-time are water spots from minerals. Acid rain spots fall into this category, as well.
Finally we get to petroleum. These soils come from substances that do not contain or cannot be mixed with water. Motor oil, grease and road tar are the most common petroleum soils. Note that chewing gum is also a petroleum soil.
Now that you are aware of the three types of stains we can begin to discuss cleaners. Let me tell you, there are a lot of them. Unfortunately, no one has invented a true all-purpose automotive cleaner. Due to the many different surfaces and soils, automotive cleaners are complex mixtures of chemicals blended for a particular type of surface or soil. The most common chemicals used include surfactants, solvents, wetting agents, saponifiers and chelators.
Soaps and detergents are made using a surfactant. It’s an agent that has two compounds. One molecule is attracted to the soil itself, while the other loves water. The compound that’s attracted to water is a hydrophile. Its job is to surround the soil. The soil attracting agent is a hydrophobe. Its purpose is to break up the soil so the hydrophile can get to it and make it float away.
All cleaners needs a solvent of one sort or another to dissolve dirt and carry it away. Some solvents, including mineral spirits, work on petroleum soils and may be necessary on surfaces damaged by water. Did you know that the most common solvent used in cleaners is water?
Speaking of water, any solution that has a water base or mixes with water has a pH level. The term pH is merely a measurement of the relationship between hydrogen ions and hydroxyl ions. When you have more hydrogen ions than hydroxyl ions, that’s an acid. Likewise, if you have more hydroxyl ions than hydrogen ions it’s an alkali. Knowing this is important because any cleaner that falls at either end of the pH scale can cause serious damage.
The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. The lower half of the scale represents acids and the upper half represents alkalis. As you might have guessed, water is neutral and has a pH of 7.0.
If you know the pH of a cleaner you will know where you can use it. A carpet shampoo should have a pH around 8 or 9, whereas an all-purpose wheel cleaner should be between 12 and 14. Try using a cleaner made for wheels on your car’s fabric and carpet will make a pretty big mess.
Now that you know the basics you can better understand why there are so many car cleaning products and auto detailing supplies. Your vehicle has many different surfaces and they have different cleaning requirements. You can avoid using harsh cleaners by using basic protection. Wax the exterior several times each year and protect the interior with appropriate products. For the ultimate in protection, use an outdoor car cover or a waterproof car cover when you park outside.