What To Know When Switching Soak Cleaners

When selecting “the best” cleaner for your operation, it is important to look at many factors. Each type offers their own benefits and disadvantages. I’ve listed some of the important things to consider when making your selection, but it will come down to working with a trusted vendor to work and test through your options before making your final selection. The simple answer is that all or one of the types of cleaners may be the best choice for your operation.
Consider these three categories to narrow your search: substrate (the surface or type of metal you are cleaning), the soils you need to remove, and how many stations do you have to remove the soils?


It is important, regardless of the type of cleaner, you consider the substrate. If you are cleaning steel parts only, your options are greatest when considering a type of cleaner, any of three may be viable options. However, as you move to the non-ferrous substrates, like copper or aluminum, you begin to reduce your possible options or reduce the operating ranges in which you can control the cleaner – keeping in mind the alkalinity of the cleaner and the ingredients built in to protect the substrate. A simple powder cleaner with high alkalinity that may work great for steel surfaces will destroy aluminum parts if not formulated correctly. As a rule of thumb, high alkaline cleaners work for primarily steel substrates – so any of the three may be the best option for your application; moderately alkaline cleaners to acid based cleaners will work for non-ferrous substrates like aluminum – this may limit your selection process of which cleaner type to choose. Copper falls in the middle and many varieties of cleaners will work on copper based on the amount of attack the finished good may allow on the copper surface. High alkaline cleaners can attack or dull the copper surface. Zinc substrates generally have specially formulated cleaners, and again high alkaline cleaners may not be the best choice for your process so a borax based powder cleaner, or low alkaline liquid cleaner may be the best option.


What kind of soil or soils are you removing? Heavy weld scale? Animal fat based oil or synthetic? Laser cutting dust or shop dust? The soil you are removing is a critical question to answer prior to selecting the type of cleaner. High alkaline cleaners as mentioned above may work great for a steel substrate, but if you are trying to remove a synthetic oil or water based oil, this is not the best choice. If you are removing multiple soil sources, the two-part liquid may be the best option, one where you can control the alkalinity content of the solution or a one part cleaner with a multiple range of surfactants (or soaps) may be the best option. If heavy weld scale or oxidized surfaces are the primary soil, a high alkaline cleaner, powder or liquid will work. The liquid two part cleaner again allows you to increase the alkalinity but the proprietary surfactant package needs to be designed to attack the scale.

Number of stations

Based on your line and production flow, you may have options for removal. Ideal situations have a spray cleaner, followed by a low alkaline stage, followed by a high alkaline stage – with rinses between the low and high alkaline stages. This combination will offer the most diversity when attacking the soils; in which case you can use all three types of cleaners as well. If stuck with one tank, a liquid cleaner may offer the best combination of surfactants and ingredients to handle today’s modern soils. A powder cleaner option may also be excellent for a one station operation if it fits the substrate and soil requirements – keep in mind the time and method to mix the powder cleaner into solution and if the process is rack or barrel, these are key, especially if only one tank is available for use to soak clean.

There are several other factors to consider when selecting the type of cleaner (emulsify or float soils, costs, temperatures, safety, etc.) but these are three of the top things to consider when determining “the best” option.