by Dick Coffey
There are literally hundreds of cleaners and degreasers on the shelves of automotive stores and mega-marts and most aviation catalogs seem to devote a page or two to cleaning products. Picking one that works is a shot in the dark. Most will do the job in some fashion but its fair to ask if some work better than others. And are some better suited for aircraft use?
Frankly, much of this falls into the realm of personal preference. If youve always used Stoddard solvent or even avgas to degrease, why bother with a commercial product? On the other hand, if you want to buy a friendly product off the shelf, which one is the best choice?
The field is so vast that we saw no point in testing everything out there so we selected what appear to be the more popular aviation-only products, along with a smattering of off-the-shelf automotive products. We did not include a specialty cleaner called TR-1000, which performed well in our last degreaser/cleaner trials five years ago. The company didnt provide a sample to meet our deadline.
For a test case, we used a 1960 Bonanza with decent paint but a belly in need of degreasing. In our tests, we aimed to find out how easy the products were to use, how effective they were and, given the costs, which seemed to represent the best values.
The usual hangar dust lightly covered the test airplane and the leading edges were bug splattered with week-old carcasses. The belly hadnt been cleaned for a month and there were accumulations of oil embedded with dirt and grime. There were fuel stains that had streamed back from the sumps and there were exhaust stains aft of the stacks.
We applied the products to dusty top surfaces, blasted the bugs and gave each cleaner a crack at the grime on the belly. Here are our findings:AeroShell Flight Jacket Oil and Exhaust Remover; 16 ounces; $10.00 -Aero Shells latest offering to their Flight Jacket series of aircraft care products comes ready to use in a handy spray bottle. We applied the product to an area aft of the cowl flaps and waited two minutes before we wiped away any residue.
The loose oil drippings and dirt wiped clean but a film of grime remained. We reapplied the product and waited, wiped and much of the film remained. Flight Jackets Oil and Exhaust Remover had little effect on fuel stains. We werent impressed.
PPC Belly Wash; 18.1 ounces; $8.95 – Belly Wash was sprayed aft of a cowl flap and after a minute or so the loose grime and much of the underlying film wiped away with a damp cloth. Belly Wash left a smooth almost waxed surface.
We tried Belly Wash on fuel stains without much success. Exhaust stains remained as well, but loose grime and oil floated off the surface with no rubbing.
Wash Wax All; quart; $9.95 and Wash Wax All Regular; quart, $8.95 – The Wash Wax All products are available as regular or heavy duty cleaners. We used Wash Wax All Regular on the top surfaces with excellent results. The product cleans and lightly waxes the painted surfaces. Bugs came off after a heavy dose of cleaner that was allowed to soak for a few minutes.
We used Heavy Duty Wash Wax All on the belly with results that were similar to the other cleaners. The loose, oily grime, floated off, but fuel and exhaust stains remained for the most part. Heavy Duty Wash Wax All that was applied to recent deposits of oil cleaned beautifully and left a smooth waxy surface.
CRC Super Degreaser; 20 ounce-aerosol can; $15.00; LPS HDX Heavy Duty Degreaser, 19-ounce aerosol can; $6.70 – The CRC and LPS degreasers are parts cleaners that so effectively remove grease and lubricant that you may want to consult with an A&P about using the product on aircraft parts that are supposed to be lubricated, particularly when cleaning around retractable gear hardware.
We applied both products to the fuel and exhaust stains and both performed well. However, these are chemicals that you dont want to slop around near plastic, nor would you want to waste their strength on light-duty, loose oil, grease and grime.
Arrow Magnolia Carbon X, Fleet Wash and Mach III, one gallon; $15.95 and $19.95 – The Arrow Magnolia lineup comes in gallon size bottles and permits 20-to-1 dilutions, which is a lot of cleaner/degreaser for the money. Quite a few airplanes can get cleaned and degreased with a gallon of these products.
We started with a 20-to-1 dilution of the degreaser Carbon X, which performed well on loose oil and grime and attacked fuel and exhaust stains with some effect. The greasy insides of gear doors were no problem for Carbon X, but baked-on exhaust stains remained.
We rinsed off the Carbon X and applied a 20-to-1 dilution of Fleet Wash, which left the surfaces clean with a light waxy coat. Fleet Wash performed well on topside bugs, dirt and dust. After letting the product soak for a few minutes, the residue simply slides off the wing.
Arrow Magnolias Mach III gave us the same results as Fleet Wash with a 20-to-1 dilution. Mach III is a degreaser as well and it performed like the others by removing loose oil, dirt, and general grime, but didnt attack deep fuel or exhaust stains.
Sprayway Inc.; Crazy Clean; $3.47 – While we were running the tests, a local pilot came by, watched for a moment and then asked if weve tried a foaming aerosol cleaner called Crazy Clean. He produced a can, saying that hes used the stuff on his Cessna 210 for the last year or so with great results.
Nothing on the label indicated a danger to aluminum so we sprayed Crazy Clean on the worst fuel stain and it came off. We tried the stuff on an exhaust stain, and it too floated away in the foam. Deep exhaust stains remained. Bugs floated away in single spray of Crazy Clean and the combination of old bugs, grease and grime found behind a propeller floated away and left a clean-not waxy-surface.
Warm water and dishwashing detergent will remove dust, dirt and bugs and its safe to use on any airplane surface. However, warm water is not often available in a hangar and dishwashing detergent wont touch oil, grease, exhaust and fuel stains.
Inevitably, the aircraft owner will buy a cleaning product and unless its a degreaser, hell be disappointed. Cleaners and degreasers can be had at any mega-mart. The label ought to indicate that there arent any ingredients like chlorides or hydroxides, which can be corrosive to aluminum and other metals over time and owners ought to try the stuff on something inexpensive first.
But aviation cleaning products have been tested and are claimed to be safe for aluminum if you follow the directions and rinse the residue from the surface. Cirrus Design tells us that composites can stand about anything except cleaners that contain silicones.
We liked the idea of cleaning the airplane with Arrow Magnolia Fleet Wash and degreasing with Carbon X. Both come as one-gallon concentrates that will work well at 20 to-1 dilution. If we wanted just one bottle of concentrate and our cleaning mission was principally degreasing, wed buy a gallon of Arrow Magnolia Mach III and dilute it heavily for light dust, bugs and dirt and use it at 20-to-1 for the belly.
Wash Wax All, regular and heavy duty, would be our second choice as would PPCs Belly Wash if we wanted a combination cleaner-wax. Belly Wash may also be diluted for light jobs.
The oil and exhaust removers are the nuclear weapons of a pilots cleaning arsenal and should be applied carefully, with eye protection. Most of the other cleaners we tried performed as well on stubborn fuel and exhaust stains. LPS and CRC are professional shop products and seemed to us a bit too aggressive to be considered a casual cleaning product.
The over-all do-everything winner in our opinion is Crazy Clean. A $3.50 15-ounce can of aerosol cleaner isnt an economical way to clean the whole airplane, but the stuff will remove fuel and exhaust stains, bugs, mud, grime and the environmental slime that coats airplane surfaces.
To avoid periodic week-ends under an airplane, lying in a cesspool of chemicals, we would wash the airplane once with Carbon X and Fleet Wash or Mach III and then touch up the drips and globs after every flight with any of the spray products. We plan to keep Crazy Clean in the airplane and use it on the road, at fuel stops, debugging the leading edges and spot cleaning oil and fuel drips.
Aircraft Spruce and Specialty
CRC Super Degreaser
LPS/HDX Heavy Duty Degreaser
AeroShell Flight Jacket Oil & Exhaust Remover
Sportys Pilot Shop
Arrow Magnolia Products
Mach III Aircraft Wash
Cat #: 6200A
Cat # 7542A
Cat # 8147A
Wash Wax All, Heavy Duty
Wash Wax All, Regular
Ace hardware stores or 800-262-0090
-Dick Coffey is editor of Aviation Consumers sister magazine, IFR Refresher.