Understanding Chemicals

May 23, 2019


Tips & Applications For Your Best Car Care

This blog covers the specific applications of chemicals towards providing the best results for all your car detailing needs! We address the individual parts of your vehicle to provide sound, unbiased advice on car care. We also debunk some car detailing nomenclature which often confuse the end-user.


Let’s begin with chemical products you may have heard of but are not too sure how or where to apply them on the surface of your vehicle.


·       You would use a degreaser on interior surfaces that come into contact with skin, steering wheels, arm rests. Never spray directly onto a surface, spray onto microfiber towel and the clean the interior surface. For the exterior they would be confined to engine bays and door jambs.

·       You can get great results with water soluble multi-use degreasers that contain Butyl and d’limonene. If you ever peeled an orange and your hand turned white, that is because the d’limonene stripped the oils from your hand, it is a naturally occurring solvent that is derived from orange peel.

·       Note, if you have a hot surface, as we get in the summertime in Gibraltar, solvents are going to evaporate so quickly that you will get drip marks/staining. This is where diluting the product accordingly is important, if the manufacturer recommends a 10:1 dilution, you want to raise it to 12 to 15:1, to give yourself a little more dwell time to wipe it down.



They have two aspects to them, they have a hydrophilic (attract water) or a hydrophobic (repel water) action. They are listed in four different types:

·       Anionic surfactants – most commonly used in carpet cleaning chemistry, they are negatively charged, as are vehicles, and they help ‘lift’ the dirt so it can be rinsed free. Anionic surfactants can be identified under the following ingredient names, sodium, ammonium, magnesium, sulphate, sulfonate and gluconate.

·       Nonionic surfactants – most commonly used as oil and soil emulsifiers, they have no charge. They are typically thicker and sticky to touch. Examples include: Ethoxylates, Alkoxylates and Cocamide.

·       Cationic surfactants – most commonly used in products that adhere to the surface, e.g. ‘cheater waxes’, they are positively charged, hydrophobic and have anti-static properties.

·       Amphoteric surfactants – are an aid in the cleaning process, often used as a coupling agent. They have a net charge of zero.


The most common application of cationic surfactants has been in wax and coating products used in the detailing industry:

Waxes come in two forms synthetic and natural:

·       Synthetic waxes are manmade, their advantage comes with their use in hot climates where they do not ‘bake’ onto the surface like a natural wax does.

·       Natural waxes are most commonly derived from the underside of the palm on the Carnauba tree.

Coatings are essentially something that are not going to wash away as quickly as polymers. They are described as:

·       Nano - a chain-link or reinforced surface at the molecular scale.

·       Ceramic – additives which strengthen bonds, does not mean they will last forever.

·       They cannot be removed chemically, they usually have to be removed with an abrasive compound and machine polisher.


Next we cover some examples of more specific exterior surface applications for car detailing products.


Wheel Cleaning:

Fun fact; most modern wheels are actually clear coated to prevent oxidation.

·       If you used an acid on paint you could possibly damage it. Thus, an alkaline cleaner is the preferred option for wheels, it sequesters the iron oxide chemically and creates a bubble around it so that it becomes water-soluble.

·       Although it takes a bit longer than using an acid would, you are not damaging the surface that brake dust (iron oxide) is on. With an alkaline cleaner it requires a slightly longer dwell time and some more agitation but it is the safest option for a painted wheel. At Shine Easy we use a phosphate and solvent-free alkaline cleaner.

·       Wheel-acids do have their place, and they are for uncoated wheels or bare metal wheels. If you do use them, you have to neutralise the surface afterwards with an alkaline cleaner – otherwise you are going to harm the surface. In a wheel acid, hydrofluoric acid is usually the least expensive additive, it is also the most dangerous – it has no scent and does not burn skin immediately. It is used more due to the fluorine molecule being more effective than the chlorine molecule in hydrochloric acid*.

*Warning! if you get hydrofluoric acid on you, it travels until it finds calcium, i.e. it will eat through your flesh until it gets to bone!

·       As mentioned, if you leave acid on a painted wheel and you do not neutralise it, it will cause clear coat failure. This is also true for tree sap, bugs, leaves etc... they are all acidic and eat away your paint.


Mineral deposits (water spots):

·       A lower-grade acid is what you want to use to break-down mineral deposits, also known as hard water spots. These form when water evaporates from a surface and leaves behind a mineral deposit which can bake onto paint. Low-grade acids are safe to use on paint, when used correctly. Remember you want to balance the pH with an alkaline cleaner after to protect your paint.

·       If you have a mineral deposit such as concrete, you would use a Muriatic Acid to remove it/ break it down.


Now we move to interior cleaning terms you may have heard of but are not sure what uses they have.

Interior cleaners:

Enzyme cleaners -

·       They eat bacteria.

·       React with biological molecules, proteins and pet stains and remove odour stains.

Oxy cleaners

·       Peroxide based products, great for removing tannin stains or any stain derived from a plant, e.g. coffee or wine.

·       Generally they are anti-viral/anti-bacterial but they need time to dwell to be effective.


Centre Console and Dashboard Tips:

·       Stay neutral for the Centre Console, all the lettering can be removed by All-Purpose Cleaners (APC), which are highly alkaline. This includes touch screens and plastics around the centre console.

·       Another reason you want to stay pH neutral? You do not want to remove the polycarbonate, if you spray an APC on the dashboard, the plastics will turn white.


Lastly, we look into the ‘final touch’; what is the chemical make-up of the products that are used in the last step of exterior and interior detailing?


They come in two types:


·       A blend of silicone and water. Different levels of silicones create differing levels of shine, a high-shine finish is less durable while a matte finish will last longer.

·       In general, you want a low-shine for dashboards for safety (sunlight reflection) and a semi-matte finish for tyres for a balance of durability and shine.


·       These products are highly flammable and usually come under the name ‘Trim Coatings’. They act like a paint you can layer on your plastics but should only be applied to a dry surface as water acts as a barrier on the surface.

·       Please note, these products should never be used in engine bays.


To conclude, we hope that some confusing terms used in car detailing have become clearer after reading this blog and you have found some useful, practical, tips. As you can see, there are many different aspects to the car care process and having the right chemicals for the job is paramount to doing it right. At Shine Easy we take pride in using only the highest quality chemical formulas, with no compromise on price, to provide the best results for our clients.


See you next time! For more information on Shine Easy's services, please visit our website at https://www.shineeasy.com/index.php 

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