John’s thoughts on decontamination…

August 20th, 2010

Aquartz Iron Cut in action, dissolving bonded iron-based contaminants...

Moving on from my previous post about safe washing, the next natural step in the detailing process is decontamination, which is a somewhat narrower topic but one that is often misunderstood. Prior to discussing decontamination with Rich I had an understanding of what decontamination does and how to do it, but didn’t know how it actually works…

To be honest, I was a little worried about being blinded by science when Rich started talking about organic and inorganic particles, electrolysis, charges and so on; he’s got a PHD in hydrochemistry whereas I scraped my way to a Standard Grade in Chemistry! However, I needn’t have worried as the basic principles are just that – basic.

After washing your car, there is every chance that the paint will still be contaminated with particles which can’t be removed by shampoo alone and these fall into two categories: organic (carbon-based and generally more ‘natural’ like honeydew and pollen) and inorganic (sometimes still carbon-based but in a highly processed form, or everything else that doesn’t fall into the organic category).

It seems logical to make this post follow the detailing process so the first step, after assessing that the imaginary car in question is contaminated with all manner of nastiness, would be to remove any bonded organic contaminants. Autosmart Tardis is the product of choice here and this liquid solvent is simply sprayed onto affected panels, left to dwell for around a minute, wiped with a work towel and then rinsed off thoroughly with clean water. Result; tar spots, honeydew, bug remains, etc, all removed (obviously heavier deposits may require repeated applications).

The next stage, and a relatively new addition to the process at PB headquarters, is the removal of inorganic bonded iron-based particles. Iron-based particles tend to come from brake components (heavily iron-based and filled with lovely sticky binding materials – great for holding pads together, but also great at bonding the dust to paint), from industrial sources such as processing plants and factories, and especially from railway lines.

One of the newest additions to the PB store is Aquartz Iron Cut which, as its name suggests, removes inorganic iron-based deposits. Once applied, Iron Cut quickly dissolves bonded iron-based particles and turns purple as the chemical reaction takes place, making it easy to see the cleaning process in action. Iron Cut can also penetrate the pore structure of paint systems and remove iron compounds stuck below the surface of the paint. Sounds like the perfect product? It pretty much is, although the only downside is that it has a particularly pungent odour which tends to cling to your clothes – cue many jokes in the PB studio…

In many cases, after these two stages the paint will require no further decontamination, but with our virtual car we’ll assume that it’s still plagued by non iron-based inorganic contaminants. To remove these, we need to clay the paint. I was a little confused when Rich told me to think of a clay bar as an applicator pad. This is actually true, because clay bars contain loads of abrasive particles that abrade away bonded contaminants from the paint surface. As a meerkat would say, simples!

However, if we merely rubbed the clay over the paint it wouldn’t glide smoothly and would probably leave clay deposits all over the paint. Also, the abrasive particles would mar and actually scratch the paint – in some cases quite badly. To avoid this, a layer of lubricant is needed; this essentially acts as a barrier between the clay and the paint but allows the contaminants, which sit proud of the paint, to be cut away. Lack of lubricant equals scratched paint, so beware.

By gently rubbing the clay over an area of paint, with lots of lubricant between the paint and the bar, the contaminants will be removed leaving a smooth paint finish. Whilst it is true that a clay bar will effectively remove tar, therefore negating the use of a solvent such as Tardis, one should always bear in mind that this carries a highly increased risk of causing paint marring. This is because removed tar sticks to the face of the clay and is then moved around over the paint surface.

In addition, tar deposits will also very quickly contaminate and ‘fill up’ the clay bar, requiring it to be replaced. Using a tar remover instead results in an almost touchless removal procedure, and is thus safer and much preferred. Our full guide to using a clay bar and decontaminating paint can be found on this link for those wanting to learn more – Decontaminating Paint.

So, decontamination of paint; basic principles, lots of highly technical aspects we don’t really need to know about (yet) and the result being perfectly clean, ultra smooth paint ready for the next stage in the detailing process – polishing. As probably the largest and most complex topic of all, it could be a little while ‘til the polishing post appears!

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4 Responses to “John’s thoughts on decontamination…”

  1. Matt says:

    Decontamination of a vehicles exterior surfaces is something that too many detailers and refinishers (those who detail at the highest standards), usually don’t do enough of. A pre wash soak (where tardis would come into the picture for many) then a dewaxing and clay blocking is simply not enough preparation before beginning any type of treatment to paintwork, rubber trim, plastic and glass surfaces.

    Aquartz Iron cut, which I thoroughly tested earlier this year is just one of many products that will make paint correction aka rectification and other types of polishing, far easier and with superior results. My routine at the moment involves Finish Kare’s system, Iron cut, dewaxer and lastly, special solvent based chemicals from the big paint companies including one product each from De Beer, Standox, Chem Spec and Glasurit. These are silicone removers, prepsol aka wax and grease remover and special IPA alcohol. Depending on the service offered, I’ll do some or all of these steps and actually have the paint glossy and ultra smooth even before I begin flattening orange peel without sanding and the four ways of polishing and thickening that we offer.

    If there is any silicone and natural wax on the car, upon machine polishing (more likely with a rotary) you could have issues with polish working time (dries too quickly and dusts up, the product gumming up, sticky paint, more product required and longer time to get the work done. Once this is done, I flush the paint pores clean with our favourite deep cleaning non abrasive product which restores the true colour and clarity of the paint. From there, its a quick IPA/water wipedown and time to machine polish with one or all of our three sub micron non-diminishing american and australian made single polish systems we use.

    Prep is everything, whether painting or detailing a vehicle. Hopefully as the years go by, we will see even more impressive decontamination products being produced. Until then, Finish Kare and Aquartz Iron Cut have the seal of approval from yours truly! Happy polishing!

  2. davenycity says:

    Great blog, thank you.

  3. William says:

    Having tried everything after my wife tried to remove bird droppings from the boot lid of my car one day and left what I would describe as a spiders web of scratches. Can you suggest what I can do to restore the paintwork to its former state?

  4. Hi William, I would recommend using Menzerna 203S and a Lake Country Hydro-Tech Hand Polishing Pad to remove the etching and sub-surface scratches. The polish residue should then be removed using a PB Super Buffing Towel. This is the strongest combination that can be worked by hand but it will still refine down perfectly on all paint types. I hope this helps! Regards, John.

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