As commonplace as cars are now in society, they’re difficult to take for granted. They’re such large and expensive pieces of equipment and we spend so much time in them every day, it’s not difficult to understand why car owners want to take good care of their vehicles. Car wash businesses are common, but thrifty individuals often find much better success just cleaning their cars themselves. That way, they save money on expensive and often overpriced car washes and can ensure they can target problem spots. However, it’s important to understand how to actually compare the quality of cleaners they use, as some may pose safety risks to individuals who come into contact with it or they may be too harsh or ineffective against the dirt and debris the cleaner targets.
A Warning Against Ammonia
It is critically important that you do not confuse household glass cleaner with auto glass cleaner. Whatever glass cleaner you choose should not have any ammonia in its formulation such as Ethos Car Window Cleaner, since ammonia can vaporize and break down into gases that are dangerous to inhale and which may severely irritate the nose and eyes. They can also break down some of the materials and compounds on your car’s body, such as window tint, so they have the potential to damage your car.
Why use a Glass Cleaner Specifically?
Many believe that just water is enough to clean auto glass, but this is simply not true. Think about it: it’s not just caked-on dust and dirt, but you might encounter debris such as dead bugs, whose remains contain organic compounds. Think about it: you wouldn’t expect a dish that held chicken or beef fat to be clean after washing it with just water. The same is true for automobile glass.
You may think that all soap is just soap, but as technology has improved, so have cleaning formulas. They were first developed during World War 2 when the United States Air Force branch of the military discovered that typical cleaners were ineffective for cleaning gunsights and it posed a safety risk. They’ve become a common household cleaner since, though they are often only used in the house—many car owners fail to understand glass cleaner’s importance for their cars. Cleaners used to clean the body may not all be suited to glass and leave streaks or even a difficult-to-remove film, which over time compounds into a serious safety risk for the driver and any passengers.
If you want further proof that different soaps differ in their performances, look to their chemistry. Saponification is the process of making soap from fatty acids. You may be familiar with cold-process soap, which refers to soap which was made from oils and lye, which is the common name for sodium hydroxide. These oils are made up of triglycerides, which, according to this publication from the National Library of Medicine, upon contact with the sodium hydroxide react into different saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, depending upon the combined chemical makeup of the triglycerides in the oils used. The ratios of these saturated and unsaturated fatty acids determine the chemical properties of the resultant soap.
Types of Glass Cleaner
As mentioned previously, ammonia-based glass cleaners make up an entire subtype of glass cleaners, and they are commonly used in household glass cleaners. These types of cleaners are inappropriate for use on auto glass because doing so can pose health risks. Windex, for example, is an ammonia-based glass cleaner, and its blue formulation has become iconic for glass cleaners. Their specific product uses a variation of ammonia that they have a legal right to.
Most assume that glass cleaners, like Windex, come in spray-bottle form, but this is not entirely true. There are also glass cleaners that come in paste form, which comprise a solvent and a carrying agent. The carrying agent aids the spreading ability of the paste, and the solvent performs the actual cleaning action of the product. They are buffed into the glass with a soft cloth, wiped away with water, and then dried with a clean dry cloth. These types of glass cleaners may also be inappropriate for auto glass when temperatures are high since they can dry quickly.
Glass cleaners can also come in foam formulations, which use surfactants to create a foam-like texture by helping the overall formula maintain countless bubbles in a suspension. These formulas can provide an advantage over spray-bottle form cleaners because sometimes the spray-bottle form cleaners leak cleaner out of the cap, which, according to cdc.gov, can cause irritation if it comes into contact with bare skin. However, these cleaners can be ammonia and non-ammonia-based, so it is important to check the label for what exact chemicals are used. These are often found under the active ingredient section of the product information.
There is a final category of glass cleaners called IPA-based cleaners, where IPA stands for isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol (these names are equivalent to each other according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, which dictates the nomenclature of organic molecules). Like ammonia, isopropyl alcohol has the ability to dissolve grease well, and it can even be used as a multipurpose cleaner. However, it is highly flammable, so that is an important consideration for anyone who chooses to use it. It also dries very quickly because it, like many other alcohols, vaporizes easily–this is what causes its odor.