Chemicals Used To Clean Metal Parts

Information provided in response to a conversation with members of the International Ponton Owners Group (IPOG)

Todd Knutson / / May 18, 2005

I clean for a living, and will again offer some thoughts on what the basic chemicals are which are marketed under various commercial names.

1) "Oxyclean" Any type of product that you see "Oxy" or "Oxygen" is a modified Hydrogen Peroxide, similar to what you buy at a drug store for ear infections, or dying hair blond. In Janitorial supply stores, a popular product called "H2O2" is marketed with various strengths. The higher the active ingredient, the better the value. You can find the active ingredient of any chemical by getting its full correct name and looking its Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) from the company. The MSDS is a mandatory information brochure, and will list all active ingredients by percentage. H202 is extremely effective in killing mold and germs. In a 1% dilution (99% water, 1% modified Hydrogen Peroxide) it will kill over 99% of bacteria in 30 seconds. It will kill the HIV virus in 5 minutes. It has an added iron molecule to make it hyper oxidizing, which can also make it bleach out some dyes if used in a heavier concentration than about 3% active ingredients. I use this product for cleaning grout at 7% active ingredients.

2) Purple Stuff. Very generic product that has the word "purple" in it. This is almost always a butyl based cleaning product. Butyl is a very good degreaser, and perfectly suited for removing very heavy soils and grease. Great care must be used around paint as it will dull/destroy the finish if it is too concentrated and left on for a while. Most of these products are used in an active concentration of between 10% for light cleaning to 50/50 for very heavy grease removal. Butyl will destroy most rubber products by swelling and softening the material, so always use this cleaner on bare metal parts only. Hard plastics should be okay.

3) Citrus. This is a wide category which include the word "citrus" or "lemon" or "orange" in the product name. The active ingredient is delimonene. Delimonene is the oil extract from orange, lemon, and probably some other types of citrus peels. It is a very effective degreaser. It shares much of the same qualities as butyl, meaning that while it is a great degreaser, it will harm rubber products. This product also has a working concentration of between 1% and 50% active ingredients.

There are quite a few others. A number of cleaners that smell like pine oil, are exactly that. Pinesol is a popular cleaner, or Murphy's Oil Soap. I think "Simple Green" is a pine based product too. These types of cleaners are generally best for light cleaning of wood areas that would be sensitive to harsh products.

The key to using any of the cleaners in the 1, 2, or 3 category is to follow up with a neutral pH cleaner. This is important to do, as you want to leave the surface of what you were cleaning with a non acid/non alkaline treatment. Neutral cleaners are commonly sold as "Neutral No-Film Cleaner" for floors which works just fine for all around cleaning. If you are prepping anything for paint, a neutral cleaning is essential to prevent primer problems. In all cases of using 1, 2, or 3, you must wear gloves to prevent skin contact with the chemicals. Generally neutral cleaners are very mild, and should not cause any irritation or problems on bare skin.

When you are posed with a cleaning task, don't immediately assume that the 1, 2 or 3 type chemicals are your best bet. A good quality (janitorial supply store) neutral cleaner will do most degreasing jobs as well as work as a carpet spotter and other medium duty type things very well. I use neutral cleaners in 90% of what I do for everyday cleaning. It's the safest route. For light soils, a 1% chemical to 99% water works well. You can use it up to 50% if needed. In my business, it's the cheapest product to use in dilution, costing just cents per gallon. A case of 4 gallons of concentrate costs me less than $25.00.

One of the biggest errors that people do when cleaning is to use very hot water. The cleaning industry has changed a lot in the past 20 years, with a huge reduction in volatile chemicals. Many years ago, you used to put your chemicals in a bucket of very hot water. A percentage of volatile chemicals were released into the air (that SMELL). There was such a high percentage of volatile chemicals (ultimately, volatile chemicals are what is known as "active ingredients") that it didn't matter what was in the air. Now, releasing these chemicals means that you may be left with something little better than water.

Remember this:
For all cleaning tasks, using today's commercially available cleaning products, use lukewarm or cool water for cleaning. I strip the wax off of floors, clean floor tile, and hundreds of other jobs using cold water. The only time I may use hot water is for kitchens that need to have extremely heavy grease removed. Then, the primary cleaner is just hot water in a high pressure sprayer.

Sorry to bore you folks to death, but the cleaning chemicals of today are mostly a mix of only a few basic ingredients. Good neutral cleaners are always the best bet, as they will do the least harm to most surfaces. Harsher chemicals should always be followed up by neutral cleaning to eliminate residue that would foul other products or burn skin after it's dry through accidental contact. Most of the brands today are a percentage of concentration that can be easily found out by asking for the MSDS, or looking it up online.

Best regards,


Created: May 18, 2005 / Jeff Miller

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