This article is written by Prentice St. Clair, CD-SV, RT Director of Training, P&S Detail Products.
I had the opportunity to talk with P&S Detail Products, in-house chemist, Dave Phillips about Enviro Clean, which he developed in the early 2000s as a response to then-recent changes in the philosophy of blending chemistry for degreasers. Up to that point, all degreasers contained more toxic active ingredients, that, while effective, were more dangerous for the user as well as vehicle surfaces. While these degreasers have their place to this day, Dave endeavored to create an “all-purpose cleaner” that was relatively safe while at the same time equally effective in cleaning and degreasing vehicle surfaces.
Taking cues from cleaners that were being used in the daily cleaning of public transit vehicles in Europe at the time, Dave was able to research and assemble a unique set of active ingredients. Working “deep into the night”, Dave found the right balance of these ingredients, creating an all-purpose cleaner-degreaser that offers low toxicity and higher biodegradability while maintaining effectiveness. In fact, all of the ingredients in Enviro-Clean can be found on the list of “safer choice” chemicals provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.
What follows is information about the make-up and use of Enviro-Clean, compiled from my conversation with “Chemist-on-the-Loose” Dave, my own experiences in using Enviro-Clean for over a decade, and the experiences of other detail technicians with whom I’ve spoken.
How is Enviro Clean Different?
Traditional degreasers use old-fashioned surfactants like butyls, sulfates, and phosphates, which are the more caustic choices that allow these degreasers to work by emulsifying the contaminants so that they can be wiped or rinsed away. Emulsification is the process by which a liquid cleaner breaks down or dissolves a substance (like food fat), thus creating a suspension of the “disintegrated” substance within the cleaning liquid. For a chemical to be able to emulsify oil, grease, and fats requires strong and toxic surfactants that often have a pH of 13-14. Chemicals with this extreme alkalinity can damage automotive surfaces like leather, vinyl, and automotive paint.
In contrast, the more environmentally friendly active ingredients in Enviro-Clean penetrate and encapsulate contaminants, thus loosening them from the material to which they are attached. This makes it easier to pull the contaminants away from the surface by scrubbing, wiping, or rinsing. The surfactants used in Enviro-Clean make the product particularly effective at removing petroleum-based contaminants like oil and grease. Moreover, Enviro-Clean has a pH of about 10, which makes it much less caustic than strong degreasers.
Dave admits that Enviro-Clean is not going to work as well on food fats. But the unique blend of surfactants in Enviro-Clean allows it to stand side-by-side in effectiveness to traditional strong degreasers in removing petroleum-based products like oil and grease, as well as all kinds of soils and dirt. And when you think of it, when we are talking about cleaning cars, that’s really all we need—we’re not cleaning oven hoods and grease traps in restaurants!
So, what we end up with is a general-purpose cleaner-degreaser that is highly effective on the types of soil that we encounter while cleaning vehicles, yet is much safer for the types of surfaces that automotive detailers need to clean. Not to mention Enviro-Clean is safer for the detailing technician!
(Although Enviro Clean is a relatively safe chemical, we always recommend that gloves and eye protection be worn while using it. Any cleaning chemical can have a negative impact if allowed to be absorbed into the skin repeatedly or for extended periods. And any chemical can be harmful if ingested or accidentally splashed in the eyes.)
It is important to realize that Enviro Clean is a concentrate. That means it must be properly diluted with water before using. Dilution can be varied to create a range of strengths of the product out of the same concentrate. The label recommends diluting anywhere from 4:1 up to 20:1. (Reminder: with dilution ratios, the larger number is always the water portion! Thus, a dilution ratio of 4:1 means 4 parts water to 1 part Enviro-Clean—5 parts total.)
Shipping is expensive these days. It’s nice to know that with Enviro-Clean, you are not paying to ship unnecessary amounts of water, which is a very heavy liquid! Instead, you can use your own water, (which costs fractions of a penny per gallon) to dilute Enviro-Clean into “ready-to-use” formulations. And P&S makes the process even simpler by offering pre-labeled bottles into which you can pour your diluted Enviro-Clean.
Whether you call it all-purpose, APC, multi-purpose, general-purpose, or GP cleaner, the whole point of a multi-purpose cleaner-degreaser is to have a product that can be used on multiple surfaces while cleaning a vehicle. To that end, Enviro-Clean fully delivers. Let’s talk about some of the ways that this product can be used for detailing.
In general, Enviro-Clean is to be diluted before use. Also, as with any cleaner-degreaser, it is best to follow with a rinse of the surface that it is applied to, as any remaining product will continue to “work” on the surface. Although Enviro Clean is a very safe cleaner-degreaser, in rare cases, it can cause etching or discoloration if left on the surface for an extended time, especially to the point of drying.
For carpets, Enviro-Clean is an excellent carpet cleaning chemical. Pre-treating carpets with a 10:1 dilution of Enviro-Clean, along with some scrubbing, will loosen dirt and soil so that it can be more easily extracted away with your favorite steam machine or hot water extractor. Be aware, however, that Enviro-Clean is not really a stain remover. (Although it will help reduce the appearance of stains by removing some of the dirt that the stain has attracted, it is recommended that stains be treated with P&S’ Terminator Enzyme Spot and Stain Remover before using Enviro-Clean.)
As an interior cleaner for such surfaces as leather, vinyl, and plastic panels, dilute Enviro-Clean at least 6:1. Enviro-Clean is very effective at removing soil and grime from these surfaces, but it must be used with care. First, never let it dry on the surface. Instead, spray evenly across the surface, allow it to dwell for a moment to let that penetration-encapsulation process happen. Then scrub the area with the appropriate brush or sponge. Follow with a clean microfiber to remove the loosened soil and excess Enviro-Clean. Finally, wipe the area with another microfiber that is damp with only water.
(Some detailing technicians find the requirement of a final “rinsing wipe” to be overly onerous while cleaning leather and vinyl surfaces. For these folks, we recommend using P&S’ Xpress Interior cleaner, which is perfect for plastic, leather, and vinyl, and requires no rinsing!)
On the outside of the vehicle, Enviro-Clean is great for engines, wheels and tires, and door jambs.
As an engine degreaser, technicians will find that Enviro-Clean is effective and easy to use. For normally dirty engines or door jambs, a 4:1 dilution will work just fine. (Some may prefer a stronger solution of 3:1 for heavier grease and oil cleaning, although we do not recommend this dilution strength for everyday use.) Spray the diluted Enviro-Clean across the area and allow to dwell for several minutes (without drying, of course!). Then scrub as necessary and fully rinse with a pressure washer.
For cleaning the “dirty” parts of the vehicle exterior, like door jambs, wheels, tires, and wheel wells, use the same 4:1 dilution ratio and process that is used to clean the engine compartment.
Enviro-Clean is also an excellent bug remover. Spray the 4:1 solution across the front of the car, fully coating the buggy area. If possible, let it dwell for several minutes, re-misting occasionally to prevent the chemical from drying! You will find that, with the right scrubbing sponge, most bugs will come right off. Of course, follow-up with a full rinsing of the area.
Readers will note that I am particularly fond of the 4:1 dilution setting for Enviro-Clean. So, I typically have a pre-labeled spray bottle in my wash bucket that is also marked “4:1” with a Sharpie. Feel free to experiment with higher dilutions (e.g., 5:1 on up to 8:1), which may work just fine for the typical dirty car that comes into your shop. And you’ll save some money!
As you can see, Enviro-Clean is a perfect all-purpose cleaner for use in automotive detailing. Not only is it effective, but it is also safe for the vehicle surfaces and for the technician.
And with P&S, you always know you consistently get the best product available. Arguably, Enviro-Clean needs no improvement yet Dave continues to look for ways to improve Enviro Clean. It will only get better!