What's In Your Prespray?

This article was originally published in Cleanfax.

There are a variety of prespray products, and all have multiple components. This article will analyze some of the leading ingredients used in presprays, what those ingredients deliver and how they can fall short.

Much has been written about this class of molecule and most cleaners are familiar with surfactants and surfactant types: Anionic, cationic, amphoteric and nonionic. Surfactant molecules provide the following services: Foaming, surface tension lowering, wetting, soil suspension and emulsification. The industry uses hundreds of different surfactant types.

What can go wrong with surfactants? Some are mutually incompatible, some foam when you don’t want foam, some biodegrade very slowly and some are irritating to skin, eyes and lungs — even the ones used in cosmetics and toothpaste. Of course, the worst characteristic for cleaners is that some leave sticky residues that lead to the dreaded customer complaint about resoiling.

Some tips when using surfactant containing products:

  • Use no more than the recommended label concentration. Surfactants don’t always work better at higher concentrations. Sometimes the performance actually declines.
  • If you get creative and think you have an additive that works great in a surfactant containing product, check with the manufacturer first. You might indeed have a great idea, but there might be a compatibility problem.
  • Low foaming surfactants are becoming ever more popular and they actually work pretty well. If you are accustomed to seeing foam during a preconditioning, for example, and you don’t see it when testing a new product, fear not. If it cleans, the lack of foam will make the extraction process much easier.

The story on solvents is similar to that of surfactants: Hundreds of types, multiple functions and multiple downsides. Water is actually a very unique molecule and is very important in cleaning. The major function of a solvent is, of course, to dissolve something. That “something” is intended to be the soil but, hopefully, will not include the fabric, the shiny coating on the surface or a textile dye.

Polar solvents tend to dissolve in water, and non-polar solvents tend to dissolve in oil. Solvent polarity crosses the entire spectrum so that a product formulator can dial in virtually any solubility that he or she wants. It is very common to use a blend of solvents in a prespray in order to attack specific soil types. We often describe water soluble and solvent soluble soils, so an intelligent selection of solvents goes a long way toward removing such diverse materials as petroleum based soils, cosmetics stains, dried fruit juice and so forth.

Solvents have received more than their share of attention over the years. Volatile types can, but do not always, cause bad odor, health issues, air pollution and fire hazards. Because of these problems, solvents have received a lot of regulatory attention, so cleaners continue to see dramatic changes in product design. California, for example, updated their volatile solvent regulations once again as of December 31, 2012.

Your customers also tend to be somewhat concerned about solvents for fear of odor and/or health impact. The trend therefore is to use solvents that will not evaporate but are very water soluble and easily biodegraded.

Most cleaners have seen and used enzymes in the form of spotters, presprays and odor control agents at one time or another. Perhaps the best way of describing an enzyme, at least the types used in cleaning products, is that they are a pair of chemical scissors. They find something to cut, cut it and then move along to the next thing. Just as a pair of literal scissors is not changed or destroyed when properly used to cut paper, so too an enzyme molecule reacts to break down a soil type but isn’t changed or destroyed in the process.
Enzymes have become popular for several reasons. They are viewed as relatively safe because they are not corrosive and don’t generate ozone such as would a solvent. They are also naturally derived, which is a very popular catch phrase these days.

As with surfactants, we can offer a few tips on proper use:

  • Enzymes tend to be pretty fussy about their environment. They usually work better when warm, but not too warm. They become ineffective if temperatures are too hot. They also work best in a specific pH range, so don’t get creative with acidic or alkaline additives unless the manufacturer specifies their use.
  • Enzymes like to do their work in a fairly leisurely manner. They don’t have a schedule to keep. You have to be patient and allow enough contact time for them to be effective.
  • Enzymes can be pretty irritating to the lungs, so avoid breathing dusts or aerosols generated during normal application. After all, the enzyme can’t tell the difference between the protein soil in the carpet and the lining of your lungs.

Cyclone Technology LLC

1845 W 1st Street, Tempe, AZ 85281
Phone. 800-335-9695
Phone. 480-345-7733
Email: info@cycloneclean.com

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