University of Minnesota
Minnesota Technical Assistance Program
http://www.mntap.umn.edu
612.624.1300

Degreasing: Finding Safer Products That Work

Industrial cleaners and degreasers contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to smog and air pollution, as well as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) known to cause a variety of health issues in the people who work with them. Small degreasing operations, such as those carried out in automotive and industrial cleaning, are estimated to add 14% of all industrial VOC air pollution in Minnesota.

MnTAP is working to improve Minnesota’s air quality and reduce employee health risk, with grant support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. One effort is helping businesses reduce solvents used for degreasing while maintaining effectiveness without increasing costs.

What’s in this stuff?
Many common products used in automotive and industrial degreasing operations also contain hazardous air pollutants, chemicals that can cause cancer, respiratory, eye and skin sensitivities and reproductive deficiencies, to name a few issues. Xylene, toluene, ethyl benzene or methanol are some of the most common hazardous air pollutants found in industrial cleaners and degreasers and should be avoided.

Initial companies that were chosen to participate in this program were located in Duluth and throughout the Twin Cities Metro Area. In 2017 the work will continue with focus on targeted neighborhoods in the city of Minneapolis, MN.

MnTAP has worked with over 40 businesses to replace high VOC and HAP cleaning and degreasing products including auto shops, industrial plants, a county facility and a technical college.

21st Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference Presentations

Here are a few recent successes!

 

What to Look for When Buying Cleaners & Degreasers

When it comes to cleaning and degreasing products, the goal should be to eliminate hazardous air pollutants and Minnesota Chemicals of Concern, as well as minimize emissions of volatile organic compounds and decrease the ozone-producing potential of the product.

General Cleaners

Product

Active Ingredient

VOC %

Lbs Ozone/Lbs Product

Simple Green MAX Automotive

Alcohol

10

0.02

Zep Tuff Green Concentrate

Glycol Ether

7.5

0.14

Dubois Treo General Purpose Cleaner Concentrate

Sodium Carbonate

0

0

Oil Eater

Glycol Ether

0.42

0.12

  • Effective products are available with relatively low VOCs and HAPs
  • Avoid citrus cleaners, as they have high ozone-producing potential

 

Brake Cleaners

Product

Active Ingredient

VOC %

Lbs Ozone/Lbs Product

O'Reilly Ulta Low VOC 46580

ACetone

7.5

0.377

CRC Brakleen 05050

Acetone

9.2

0.435

Mag1 MG750579

Acetone/Heptane

38

0.59

  • When looking at brake cleaners, look for non-chlorinated, low VOC, California- or 50 State-Compliant products (non-chlorinated means NO Perc or TCE, which are HAPs)
  • Avoid products where SDS lists xylene, methanol, toluene or ethylbenzene as ingredients
  • Consider non-aerosol, water-based cleaners and refillable containers

 

Penetrants

Product

Active Ingredient

VOC %

Lbs Ozone/Lbs Product

WD - 40

Hydrocarbon

49.5

0.32

Liquid Wrench (best in impact test)

Hydrocarbon

0

0.78

Zep Dual Force

Hydrocarbon

0.19

0.94

  • The best practice with penetrants is to use heat whenever possible; induction heaters can rapidly heat bolts, but these may not be used in highly flammable areas
  • Avoid penetrants containing naphtha, naphthalene and xylene

 

Parts Washers

Product

Active Ingredient

VOC %

Lbs Ozone/Lbs Product

SafetyKleen Armakleen 4 in 1

Aqeuous detergents

0.45

0.008

Smartwasher/OzzyJuice Degreasing Solutions

Microbes

<0.1

0

Cuda Super Clean AP - 1000

Aqeuous detergents

2

0.06

  • Companies that have aqueous parts washers consistently expressed above average satisfaction
  • Automatic aqueous washers require less labor

Clearing the Cloud of Consumer Confusion

One of the challenges to finding greener brake cleaners is that many containers that look the same contain surprisingly different chemicals. In most cases, the only way to differentiate between hazardous and environmentally friendly brake cleaners is by looking up the product part number on the Safety Data Sheet, available from the manufacturer.

The MnTAP degreasing team found that O’Reilly Ultra Low VOC brake cleaner was a better alternative to the one Lake Elmo had been using. Shop manager Lance Vandalinde reported that the new product takes a little longer to dry but “doesn’t slow them down or affect work time.”

Penetrants are another product used in auto repair shops that emit VOCs. Taking MnTAP’s advice, Lake Elmo switched to Liquid Wrench, which is VOC-free. Used with heat, Vandelinde says they didn't’t see any reduction in performance.

Two other low-VOC cleaning products were already in place at Lake Elmo Repair before the MnTAP degreasing project began: Oil Eater for washing the floors and built-in equipment, and a Cuda aqueous parts washer. Vandelinde said the Oil Eater cleans the shop equipment extremely well without damaging the paint, and the Cuda cleans better with soap and water than chemical solvents — without the messy cleanup.

Degreasing Resources

When is the best time to evaluate your cleaning and degreasing operations? Now! In late 2015 the EPA strengthened ozone standards from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. Minnesota’s air is well under the limit in most parts of the state; however in more densely populated areas such as the Twin Cities, ozone levels are nearing the limit.

Video case studies are available for several of our projects www.mntap.umn.edu/Webinar/past_projects.html.

More information about VOCs and HAPs can be found on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website: www.pca.state.mn.us/air/ozone.

MnTAP continues to give no-cost assessments in small- to medium-size Minnesota businesses. Give a call today! (800) 247 - 0015

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