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Full steam ahead

March 08, 2011
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Though light in weight and practically transparent, steam actually packs a powerful punch when it comes to cleaning a car’s interior. But how, where and when does it work and why are detailers choosing to use it? We turned to professionals from across the country to find the answers.

There are many reasons to use steam, according to Nathan Alhades of Texas Shine Auto Detailing.

“It slashes cleaning time in half, and yields a more professional looking result than the spray and scrub method,” Alhades explained. It has also kept him from having to hire another detailer, or, he added, another “future ex-detailer.”

A major draw, he said, is you effectively use just one product (water) to clean every surface. “When you apply heat to a chemical, the effectiveness of the chemical doubles for every 17 or 18 degrees in heat it increases,” Alhades stated. “That’s pretty hot and pretty effective.”

Mark Ellis, president of Southland Auto Wash of Grand Rapids, MI, agreed, adding that the primary advantage is that steam works quickly and it doesn’t get the vehicle’s fabric too wet.

Alhades said another benefit is being able to use it with chemicals. “When used with a compatible cleaner (preferably one that is non-heat sensitive, and is able to dry without staining the surface), steam cleaning can literally turn a two-hour interior detailing job into a 45-minute task,” Alhades said.

Alhades added that steam can simplify the glass and headliner cleaning process.

“It literally pulls out the dirt and smoke tars and smells from the headliner onto your towel,” he explained. “The material dries in a matter of minutes, which means no mildew and no sagging headliners.”

Glen Wilson, vice president of sales and marketing for the floor care company Century 400, said there are five key elements to correctly using steam. The first element is to properly vacuum the surface to be cleaned. He said you will want to remove as much loose soil before starting the steam cleaning process.

The remaining four are known as the acronym TACT: Time, agitation, chemistry and temperature.

• Time: Allow proper dwell time for the chemistry to work and take your time doing the job.

• Agitation: Utilize the proper cleaning tools to agitate the chemistry into the stain to assist the removal of the soil.

• Chemistry: Utilize the proper cleaning solutions for the job you are trying to accomplish. Specialty products have been developed to work effectively with various fibers and specific stains. Make sure you are using the right product for the right job.

• Temperature: Heat assists in the cleaning process. If the steam cleaner you are using does not have a heater, at least fill the machine with hot water from the tap.

When and where
As Wilson mentioned above, it is important to vacuum out the car before applying any steam. Alhades said that his technicians only use steam cleaners after a car has been completely washed and detailed.

He also said that they can be used on any surface, but some surfaces are more sensitive than others, so be sure to use extreme caution.

Areas that Alhades said to target include:
• The vinyl, plastics, and carpet surfaces;
• The headliner (using a cloth bonnet over the steam head);
• The leather seats (use caution);
• The cloth seats (which only need light soiling removal);
• Where gum and candy has stuck to the interior;
• The seatbelts and the seatbelt buttons;
• The pillars where the seat belts retract;
• The steering wheel (to melt away hand grease);
• The interior glass (to help breakdown and remove film);
• The air vents (to remove germs)
• The console area and cup holders;
• The door pockets; and
• The floor mats that do not require traditional shampooing.

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