Thursday, 5 December 2013

Bursting The Bubble - Window Cleaning Soaps

Henry bursts the bubble behind window cleaning soaps.
Window Cleaning Soaps (written by Henry Grover Jr) - Back at the turn of the 19th century Window Cleaners used TSP or trisodium phosphate. Some still do. Today however, for a variety of different reasons, the greater majority have moved away from chemicals like this and are now using what most simply call ‘soaps’. These are technically known as synthetic detergents. I call them syn-dets. Dishwashing soaps are made from different blends of different syn-dets. The syn-dets have been grouped into five large families. These are the nonionics, anionics, cationics, amphoterics, and zwitterionics. Most are based on hydrocarbon chains. Yet there are very specialized ones that are based on fluorine and silicon. Hence we have Teflon and silicone soaps. Which are also placed in one of the five families depending on the electrical characteristics of each. I have played with them all. But at around two hundred to seven hundred bux per gallon, I highly doubt any will ever creep into our industry.

Macrophoto of  the surface of a soap bubble.
Although most Window Cleaners just go to the local supermarket for their favorite dish soap, we do have specialized window cleaning products sold by distributors. These products usually carry a higher price and have other properties that people like. Such as low suds and low ‘bleed out’. There are other more esoteric reasons for why they are favored. Yet the bottom line is whether or not it works for you. Personally I have truly enjoyed playing with pure syn-dets from four of the five families. The zwitterionics usually start at around a hundred bux a gallon so I haven’t done much with them. Of the other four I have only found two to be very practical. That would be the nonionics and amphoterics. The nonionics for cleaning ability and ease of use in water with altered pH values. They also give adequate slip and enough suds. The amphoterics usually give a little more suds and more slip but don’t clean as well. They are however more kind to your skin. Such as a 35% active cocamidopropylbetaine. This is an amphoteric made from coconut oil. There are even a nonionics made from fatty acids of certain other plants. So they are eco-friendly syn-dets! They have excellent slip and suds. One commercial product called Ecover is based on a blend of a couple of different syn-dets like this. Many years ago I discovered the straight chain linear alcohol ethoxylates. These are nonionic. The shorter chains worked best as they wouldn’t gel up in the bottle on cold days. They also wouldn’t streak as much on the glass. One simple trick if you want to reduce suds and increase slip is to add a chemical such as ammonia to reduce the surface tension of your water. The downside of doing this is on damp days you will get more bleed out from the edges of the window.

As I am now once again involved in product development I am taking a greater interest in this subject. Although I still believe that in the end the only thing that matters is whether the product is favored by the end user. In other words there isn’t any magical window cleaning product. There are some in my opinion that are incredibly lousy. For different reasons. So I stay away from similar formulations. Currently I have discovered a line of scents that can be added directly to the cleaning solution. The purpose being to add a sweet smell to the bucket. There is nothing like the smell of lilac or lavender to lighten up the day. It promotes good feelings between you and your customers. Call it aromatherapy for window cleaners. 

Henry Grover Jr is currently involved in R&D writing. He writes a column for the Window Cleaning Business Owner magazine called SURFACES, and manages a sub-forum for the Window Cleaning Resource with the same title SURFACES. He is also working in developing what he calls custom products for both the Window Cleaning Industry and others involved in the maintenance, restoration, and preservation of window glass. He has given seminars in the past on glass stain removal/identification techniques, wrote tech articles for the American Window Cleaner Magazine, traveled for consulting work on several famous buildings, and worked in the capacity of a consultant for many window cleaning companies in different parts of the US. 

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