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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 properly.
Soil can be organic, non-organic or petroleum. That’s important to know. If you can identify the soil you are dealing with, you can use the correct cleaner. When you use the right cleaner, most stains come out easily.
Take organic soil as an example. Organic basically means it contains carbon. Stains in this group include proteins, animal fat, body oil, mold, yeast, insects, bacteria, and excrement. The classic example is the pile of hot chips your three-year-old spilled on the back seat. That is an organic soil stain.
Non-organic soil has no carbon molecules. Most often we find these stains on the exterior of the vehicle. A good example that frustrates most of us from time to time is water stains from minerals. Acid rain drops also fall into this category.
Finally we come to oil. 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 ground.
Now that you are aware of the three types of stains, we can start discussing cleaners. Let me tell you, there are a lot of them. Unfortunately, no one has invented a true all-purpose car cleaner. Because of the many different surfaces and soils, car cleaners are complex mixtures of chemicals mixed 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 with surfactant. It is an agent that has two compounds. One molecule is attracted to the soil itself, while the other loves water. The compound that is attracted to water is hydrophilic. Its job is to surround the soil. The soil attractive agent is hydrophobic. Its purpose is to break up the soil so the hydrophilic can reach it and make it float away.
All cleaners need a solvent of one kind or another to dissolve dirt and carry it away. Some solvents, including mineral spirits, work on oil-based soils and may be necessary on water-damaged surfaces. 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 simply a measurement of the relationship between hydrogen ions and hydroxyl ions. When you have more hydrogen ions than hydroxyl ions, it is an acid. Likewise, if you have more hydroxyl ions than hydrogen ions, it is an alkali. Knowing this is important because any cleanser that falls on 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 may have guessed, water is neutral and has a pH of 7.0.
If you know the pH of a cleanser, you will know where you can use it. Carpet shampoo should have a pH of around 8 or 9, while 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 out there. 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 a year and protect the interior with appropriate products. For the best protection, use an outdoor car cover or a waterproof car cover when you park outside.
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