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Do you use these wash bay chemicals?

In the wash bay you would use several different chemicals falling into the following various categories.

April 16, 2014
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In the wash bay you would use several different chemicals falling into the following various categories.

  • Engine degreasers

There are basically two types of degreasers: Solvent-based and water-based ones.

The solvent base ones can be a liquid or gel. They are quite effective in dissolving engine grease. The gel type tends to adhere to the engine surfaces for a more effective cleaning.

The water-based products contain caustics (sodium hydroxide), and surfactants with a few other secondary components. These must be used with caution if you plan to use them for something other than engine cleaning. For example, many operators will use a water-based degreaser as an all purpose cleaner, as a pre-soak; as a vinyl top shampoo; and as an upholstery and carpet cleaner. But, take caution as I do not recommend this approach. It opens you up too many potential serious damage claims because of the caustic, high pH nature of the engine degreaser.

  • All purpose cleaners

For many, an all purpose cleaner is another name for a water-based degreaser. It is my recommendation that if you want an all purpose cleaner in the wash bay, you use it only for:

  1. Vinyl tops
  2. Tires
  3. Loosening heavy dirt concentrations in the engine compartment and the front and rear areas of the vehicle.
  • Wheel cleaner

There are two basic types: Acid based products and non-acid based.

The acid based, while more effective in cleaning quickly, pose many serious health risks for the detailer. They are losing popularity because of these health hazards.

The non-acid based products are generally a combination of gycol ether (solvent) and surfactants plus other secondary ingredients.

  • Tar and grease remover

Whatever they may be called, these products are usually some type of petroleum distillate. They are not lacquer thinner.

  • Carwash shampoo

Many detailers like to use a water-based degreaser or all purpose cleaner for shampoo. However, the possibility for paint damage is too great. Use only a carwash shampoo and measure it out to be about 1-2 ounces per 5 gallons of water.

  • Miscellaneous chemicals

Wood oil: Used to oil real wood trim in cars, RVs, motor homes, etc. Any such product will provide satisfactory results.

Black paint: Usually a quick-dry lacquer used for engine compartments and wheel wells. Most paint manufacturers can supply you with this type of paint.

Bumper black and grey: A latex paint designed to renew faded black or grey plastic and rubber bumpers and trim. This specialty product is only available from a few suppliers, so you might have to do a little research to find it.

Vinyl paint: Used to renew or dye vinyl tops and upholstery. Again, this is a specialty product.

Paint overspray removers

  • Chemical: Used to remove paint overspray from vehicles. Such a product should not in any way damage the paint finish. However it may not remove all types of paint overspray. In some cases a simple cleaning solvent or thinner can work as well. Be sure to use caution when considering straight lacquer thinners to remove overspray. They can seriously damage some paint finishes.
  • Clay: Body clay has become the product of choice to remove paint overspray as well as industrial fallout (IFO) on paint finishes with no resultant damage. There are numerous clays available on the market. Find one that works for you.
  • Mag or aluminum polish: A variety of such products are available in liquids, creams, or pastes. All are designed to polish and/or remove stains from magnesium and aluminum wheels.
  • Adhesive remover: As the name conveys, a special cleaner designed to quickly remove pin striping and side molding adhesive as well as decals, etc. 3M offers a very good product.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems of Portland, OR, and is a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is a founding member and the first executive director of the International Detailing Association and a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors. Abraham can be reached at

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