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Chemicals 101

How to Clean Practically Any Surface

What Kind of Stain Is It?


Before picking any cleaning chemical, you first need to identify the type of stain you're trying to lift. 

Is the stain organic (algae, bacteria, lichen, moss, gloeocapsa magma, mildew, etc.)?

If the answer is yes, you'll need to use a sanitizer. Sodium hypochlorite (SH) and alcohol-based solutions are the most common and least expensive to use.

Is the stain greasy, oily or just an accumulation of dirty residue left behind from years of neglect (oils spilled under a grill or cooktop, road filth, foot traffic staining, dust, tire markings, spills and contaminants from restaurants, etc.)?
 
If the answer is yes, you will need to use a degreaser. In this industry, most degreasers are going to be high PH and have either sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, or sodium metasilicate as their base. There are tons of other active ingredients like butenyl, base surfactants, and solvents that play a role here. 

Our showroom has tons of options in this category. Most people start with the following:

The Boss

The Boss (1 gallon5 gallons55 gallons) – An eco-friendly, water-based degreaser. A very mild cleaner, safe for almost every surface. Great on glass.

Big Green Bruce

Big Green Bruce (1 gallon5 gallons55 gallons) – Often called "Simple Green on steroids", this eco-friendly cleaner is very effective for all sorts of surface stains.

Hell Bender

Hell Bender (1 gallon, 5 gallons, 55 gallons– A slightly more aggressive hydroxide-based cleaner. Safe for most outdoor surfaces, its uses range from deck stripping to house washing (depending on the concentration).

Nastee

Nastee (1 gallon, 5 gallons, 55 gallonsThe most aggressive degreaser we sell. If this doesn’t lift the stain, it's not going to budge. Originally intended for cleaning trashed concrete and for areas that have been neglected for years, this product has grown to be a little more versatile and is now used by contractors to strip decks, clean trains, clean trash trucks, for construction site cleanup, and of course for kitchen hood and duct cleaning. 

Is the stain mineral-based (rust, efflorescence, calcium, water stains, etc.)?
These stains require acid-based products to restore the surface. In this case, instead of lifting the stain you are actually relying on the acid to "eat away" at the mineral until it is no longer present. The trick is picking the right acid and dilution to safely remove the mineral deposits and not cause damage to the surrounding area from the acidic properties of the cleaning products you use.

Our show room has tons of options here as well. We typically recommend the following:

One Restore

One Restore (1 gallon5 gallons– This popular acid-based product can do just about anything. It is strong enough to pull mineral stains (rust, calcium, efflorescence, etc.) out of stone and masonry, yet is mild enough to use directly on glass for restoration purposes. 

Diedrich 101

Diedrich 101 (1 gallon, 5 gallons– Our personal favorite acid-based product. Attacks rust, efflorescence and lighter calcium deposits.

Ruster Buster

Ruster Buster (1 gallon, 5 gallons, 55 gallons– Our dedicated rust removal formula.

Alumanati

Alumanati (5 gallons55 gallons) – Great for restoring aluminum. Also good for rust removal.

What Kind of Surface Is It?


After going through the above question of, "What kind of stain is it?" you then need to identify the type of surface from which you are lifting the stain.

Is it metal (aluminum siding, trucks, tractor trailers, dumpster, etc.)?

These metal surfaces can all typically take a more aggressive chemical mixture onto the surface, allowing you to be a little more free in how you attack a stain. The biggest concern with all of these is going so aggressive that you strip paint from the surface. Despite what any painter says, every contractor will tell you that metal is the most difficult surface to keep paint bonded to. Typically, metal oxidizes faster than any other surface, making it easy to strip. In some cases with severe oxidation, it's easy to manipulate.

Is it plastic (vinyl siding, vinyl fencing, tarps, awning, commercial signage, etc.)?

These "plastic" type surfaces are typically the easiest to clean. You can use weaker mixtures for your cleaning solution than anywhere else in the industry. There's not much of a problem going too aggressive here, other than you will waste soap going too "hot" with a solution.

Is it asphalt?

Asphalt shingles and asphalt driveways are typically the only surfaces that fall under this category. This gets its own category because asphalt is oil-based and your average degreaser cannot be used here. This is especially true when it comes to shingles because most degreasers will begin to break them down, drastically shortening the life of the shingle itself. If the stain on this surface is oil-based, you want to use an industrial solvent instead of a degreaser. Work fast, don’t let the solvent dry, and keep everything moving for best results. 

Is it stone (concrete, building foundations, block retaining walls, stone walkways, brick, etc.)?

All of these surfaces are a nice niche to get into cleaning because they typically require a dedicated "hot" solution to clean them. When it comes to stone, this is one of the few scenarios where typically there is more soap then water in a mix. You can go as "hot" as you need to in order to lift a stain from stone, because even if chemical damage occurs you can use acid-based products to pull color from the stone itself and blend in the work you are doing. 

Is it glass?

Glass is likely the most delicate surface to clean in the industry. All glass requires the mildest of detergents to properly clean. Even with that, you need to work in small sections and never allow any soap to dry. This sometimes means rinsing glass before the rest of an area you are cleaning.

Finding the Right Mix Recipe


After determining the type of stain and the surface, you can begin to make your recipe for washing. 90% of the time your recipe will remain the same. Once you get a feel for what most of the houses in your area are like, you will easily be able to make a generic "go-to formula" for the common surfaces you will encounter. After that, it's only the oddball jobs where you will have to restart your process. To give you a generic rundown, let's work with the common stuff you will likely see as you get your business started. The reason you need to identify the stain and the surface is that, within reason, you want to use as little chemical as possible to lift the stain. Starting too "hot" will only lead to wasted product and a greater possibility of damaging surrounding surfaces (such as plants or vehicles) in the way of your cleaning. 

House Washing


Vinyl – Most vinyl homes need to be cleaned every 2-3 years. In that timeframe, you will see plenty of organic growth on a house. In addition, you'll have an accumulation of common dust, dirt, pollen, and other particulates in the air. You will want to experiment with a few different soaps to see which one you prefer, but for your average vinyl house your dedicated mix will be something like this:
5 gallons of sodium hypochlorite (SH)
½ gallon of detergent
45 gallons of water

Mix it up, direct apply to the surface, and then flood rinse until it's clean. 

Stucco – Most stucco homes need to be cleaned every 3-5 years. Just like with vinyl, you'll have a lot of buildup during that timespan. Your average stucco cleaning mix will look something like this:
10 gallons of sodium hypochlorite (SH)
1 gallon of detergent
39 gallons of water

Mix it up, direct apply to the surface, and double the amount of time rinsing it clean. Stucco has a lot of pores in the surface that attract dirt, hence the added detergent usage. Let the soap do its job and lift the stains, then just rinse until its completely gone. 

Brick – Brick homes are kind of all over the place as far as the frequency of cleaning goes. Typically, these fall in the 3-7 year range between cleanings. Brick is much like stucco, with even more pores. It often requires increased soap usage. To start, use the same mix as stucco and increase the soap volume as needed.

Roof Cleaning 


Shingle roof – 99% of the roofs in our area are asphalt shingles. These are super easy to clean and are usually super profitable. Your average mix should be the following:
20 gallons of sodium hypochlorite (SH)
1 gallon of surfactant only (not mentioned above, but Maximus Foam is intended for this use)
29 gallons of water

Mix this up thoroughly, clear the roof and gutter of any debris, then apply the mix to the surface laying a light, controlled mist all over everything. The heavier you lay a mix down in this application the more likely you are to cause damage from the runoff. Many contractors will take preventive measures such as bagging the gutters to collect runoff, or using a garden hose in the gutter to water down the mix the entire time while cleaning. You will also find that there is usually no need to rinse a roof. As the solution is sprayed onto the surface it often dries and is absorbed into the shingle. This allows the solution to keep working even after you leave, giving you a more thorough and detailed cleaning. Your results for this type of job will be best seen after 2 or 3 heavy rains. You should instantly see everything organic change color, indicating it has been treated, but it will take time to release and fall from the roof. 

Concrete Cleaning 


Residential concrete – Typically, residential concrete consists of mostly organic staining. As long as your runoff is not going into a garden or flower bed, you can easily treat this aggressively -- saving you a ton of time on the surface cleaner. Your mix can be as "hot" as the following:
20 gallons of sodium hypochlorite (SH) 
1-2 gallons of degreaser (the amount depends on how many oil stains are on the surface)
28-29 gallons of water

Mix this up thoroughly, apply evenly to the concrete, and let sit for as long as possible. Rewet as needed to reactivate the soap and allow enough time for the solution to really treat the surface. Surface clean evenly and rinse away any suds. 

Commercial concrete – Commercial concrete is typically the exact opposite of residential concrete. It's rare to see organic staining on this surface but you will see tons of grease stains, foot traffic stains, and oil-based stains all over. Your mix here can be as aggressive as you like, but typically will consist of the following:
5 gallons of degreaser 
1-2 gallons of sodium hypochlorite (SH)
43-44 gallons of water

Mix this up thoroughly and apply to the surface. Allow at least 15 minutes of dwell time, then surface clean everything away. Flood rinse upon completion and push everything as far away from the curb as possible. Most of the time, debris and trash will be present; pushing it to an opposing curb will give you an easy way to clean up anything that remains after the water dries. 

Mineral Staining 


All mineral stains are lifted in a similar manner. First, clean the surface using the appropriate process as described above. After the surface has completely dried and is not wet to the touch, you can begin to treat the mineral stains.

Pick your acid based on the type of mineral. Then using a pump-up sprayer and the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), directly apply the acidic solution to the surface. The more porous the surface, the more aggressively you will need to spray the acidic solution. Under normal circumstances, you will want to premix small batches (using 10 parts water to 1 part acid). It important to note that you should always mix the acid to the water, not the water to the acid. Mixing in the reverse order can cause an unnatural chemical reaction and create toxic fumes. After starting a mix at a 10:1 ratio, see how it reacts with the surface. If it makes easy work of restoring the surface, you are good to go; but on surfaces that have been neglected for years, it is not uncommon to go as strong as a 1:1 mixture (basing the strength on the depth of the stain and how aggressive the acid is that you are using to clean).