How Exactly Do Aqueous Cleaners Work?

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Earlier on in The Aqueous Cleaning Blog we took a general look at the different aqueous cleaning chemistriesthat are out there today, as well as the types of soils they can remove.

Now let’s take an inside look at how aqueous cleaners remove petrochemical, plant and animal-based hydrocarbon soils that stick to the surface of your parts and don’t mix very well with water. These are otherwise known as those slimy greases and oils you’ve encountered on your machinery parts.

Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage, “they go together like oil and water,” meaning they don’t mix. These two substances don’t go together at all. So, by definition, if the term aqueous refers to something that’s water-based, and you’re dealing with an oil or grease, how exactly can you make these non-mixable components compatible so the aqueous solution is effective at removing the soil from the part?

This is where cleaners get help from substances called surfactants. A surfactant is an ingredient that tends to reduce the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved. So, by adding a surfactant to a cleaner, chemists are able to break down the boundaries between water and oils or greases.

To make better sense of this, let’s look at a quick chemistry lesson.

Surfactants contain both hydrophilic, water-loving components, and hydrophobic, or water hating, components that work together to help place oils in suspension, allowing them to be pulled away from the part and into the solution. The water molecules are attracted to the hydrophilic components of the surfactant. The insoluble materials, the oils & greases, are attracted to the hydrophobic components of the surfactant. So as the hydrophobic end attaches to the soils, the hydrophilic end is being pulled by the water which causes the tension necessary to ultimately pull the soil off of the surface of the part Click here to read entire article