Green Detailing 101

Finding the right eco-friendly products for your detailing business

In the past, ‘green’ products garnered a reputation for not cleaning as well as traditional products. However, advances in chemistry have allowed companies to formulate products that work just as effectively as their chemical-laden counterparts. As a result, the industry is seeing both plant and polymer-based formulas gaining ground.  

Among plant-based formulas, blends of coconut, palm, citrus, corn and soy are emerging as powerful cleaning agents and solvents. These replace the traditional petroleum-based components that have been heavily relied on for many years. Another popular form of green chemistry relies on polymer technology which cross-links molecules to enable effective cleaning power and surface protection. Both forms of chemistry do an excellent job of blending cleaning power with environmental safety.  

Healthy detailing

The easiest way to choose the right green product for you, your business, and your customer is to consider the product’s health and safety risks. A simple check of the MSDS sheet can quickly reveal potential health hazards a product poses.

Unfortunately manufacturers are not required to list hazardous components of less than 1%, the normal cut off point for public declaration on a MSDS. To be certain that a product is free of all hazardous ingredients, look for products that fully disclose all materials on their packaging and MSDS.

Other health considerations are your customers’ allergies and sensitivities. Manufacturers routinely mask the smell of their products’ ingredients by adding synthetic fragrances. However, with chemical sensitivities on the rise, consumers are demanding fragrance free products so consider looking for products that are free of added fragrances or dyes. By showing that you’re aware of your customers’ health needs, you’ll receive their appreciation and loyalty along with word-of-mouth referrals.

The awareness of VOC (volatile organic compound) content in automotive car care products is also on the rise among consumers, partly due to the proactive stance California and other states have implemented around VOC content in consumer products. It is a fact that VOCs contribute significantly to both indoor and outdoor air pollution and pose serious health concerns. Americans spend 10 work weeks a year inside their cars. The VOCs from traditional tire shines, dashboard cleaners, carpet cleaners, quick detailers, and more add to the burden of an individual’s toxic exposure. Again, a simple check on a product’s MSDS will reveal its VOC content.

Health concerns are not limited to what’s inside a product but also extend to its packaging, particularly the container. PVC (polyvinyl chloride), for instance, is a type of plastic that poses serious health threats throughout its life cycle, from manufacturing to disposal.

During the production of PVC, toxic dioxins are created such as ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride. These have been proven to lead to cancer, birth defects, and reproduction/immune system damage. At the end of its life cycle, PVC is sadly one of the least recycled products. According to Healthy Building Network, of an estimated 7 billion pounds of PVC thrown away in the US, less than .005 percent is recycled. In 1998, The Association of Post Consumer Plastic Recyclers declared efforts to recycle PVC a failure and labeled it a contaminant.

Simply checking the bottom of a bottle can reveal whether or not it is PVC. If it’s a #3 on the underside, it’s PVC. So instead, choose products packaged in #1 (PET) or #2 (HDPE) containers.

Environmental impact

Biodegradability is another important consideration when looking for green detailing supplies. With biodegradation, the product can be broken down into smaller pieces by microorganisms and thus return into nature. The common belief held by manufacturers is that components in their formulation will eventually biodegrade, whether that is in 1 year or 500 years. Unfortunately, when a chemical does not readily biodegrade, its presence in nature begins to accumulate over time. This is referred to as bioaccumulation. As these chemicals pile up in nature, so does their toxicity within the environment and our own bodies. A typical benign chemical can quickly accumulate to toxic levels if it does not break down. Instead, consider products that are defined as “readily biodegradable.” That means that the material can be broken down by at least 60 to 70% within ten days.

So what’s a detailer to do?

Fortunately, the automotive car care industry now offers exterior and interior products that are free of VOCs, NPEs (nonphenolethoxolates), fragrances and dyes. Prominent among the choices for exterior cleaning are ‘waterless’ and ‘no-rinse’ car wash products that work by using limited amounts of water to wash the exterior of vehicles. These products also significantly reduce water consumption and polluted runoff.

Interior green cleaners are now available for carpet, upholstery, dashboards, vinyl, and windows. While many of these products are new to the marketplace, they are nonetheless proving that they can do the job just as effectively as their predecessors.

Americans everywhere are actively searching for green products and businesses—and car care is no exception. Taking the initiative can only help to enhance the image of your business in the mind of your customer. Sooner or later the demand will be replaced with expectation, and you’ll be positioned to capitalize on and benefit from what is not a passing phase but a mega trend. And perhaps more importantly, so will your customers and the environment.