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What is IPA

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IPA stands for IsoPropyl Alcohol, and is a chemical compound often used in the world of detailing to remove polish residue. The liquid is colorless with a strong odor. Caution is required for this liquid is very highly flammable!

Why use IPA

After polishing a surface, you normally wipe off the polish residue. Although the surface might look clean, there can be a very thin film of oils left on the surface. If there are any microscopic imperfections left in the surface, the polish residue might have filled these. This is a similar effect as a glaze would give. To fully understand if you are ready with polishing, or if the surface needs to be perfectly clean before applying a coating, the panel needs to be “wiped down”. IPA mixes with water at any volume, and it will dissolve ethyl, cellulose, polyvinyl butyral, many oils, alkaloids, gums and natural resins (tree sap). A wipe down with IPA will remove any residue that hides any surface imperfections still left. Giving you a clear impression of how much polishing is required to finish the surface. It can also be used to prepare a surface before applying a coating. Many of the high performance protective products require a perfectly clean surface.

Common uses for IPA

IPA has a few common uses in the world of detailing:

  • Removing oily residue (polish residue, oily marks, glaze, oily dirt)
  • It dissolves many non-polar substances, such as the crud found inside exhaust tips
  • Used as a solvent in certain products
  • Safe for cleaning electronics
  • Cleaning skin
  • De-icing windshields
  • Removing brake fluid
  • Cleaning brakes and brake components
  • Remove polish/wax residue from trims and rubbers

Common misconceptions

There are many misconceptions about the use of IPA, some of which have lead top big discussions on many detailing fora and/or social media.

Removing wax with IPA

When wax is fully cured (more then 24 hours after applying) IPA will not remove wax. The layer left behind is not just wax (hydrocarbon) but also contains several other components that do not interact with IPA. Wiping down with IPA will not do more then superficial damage to upper most layer of the wax. However, when wax is still fresh and hasn’t fully cured, the solvents and oils in the product will be susceptible to IPA, and IPA will be able to destabilize the layer of wax. It will not fully remove it, but damage it enough to make it easy removable.

IPA removes sealants

IPA has an effect on many things, but not all. Sealants are mostly made up out of synthetic polymers (silicones, siloxane), many of these are combined with carbon and/or hydrogen. IPA does not react with all of these. A fully cured layer of sealant will also be more difficult to negatively affect then a fresh layer of sealant that hasn’t fully cured.

IPA is a glass cleaner

Although IPA can be used as a glass cleaner with good effect, it is not the same as a glass cleaner. If a glass cleaner is IPA based, it will also contain several other components to increase its cleaning ability, helping it to dissolve more dirt. This does not make a glass cleaner better then IPA, or vice versa. Both are designed to interact with contamination that is most common on those specific surfaces. IPA could be used as a glass cleaner if your dedicated glass cleaner is empty.

IPA can be used to dilute polish

This is partly true. IPA can be used to dilute dried out polish that won’t come out of the bottle. But it will evaporate during the polishing process. A combination of oils and IPA would have a better effect.

IPA will retain its effectiveness regardless if the dilution ratio

Not true at all. Although IPA dissolves into water very easily, diluting it to much will minimize the effect it has on the surface you want to clean. Water is added to IPA to make it more economical and to keep it from evaporating too quickly.

IPA doesn’t leave any traces or residue

Although IPA works very well, and is commonly known as a good product to wipe down a surface with, it is not perfect. It can leave a very small percentage of residue. This residue can be a combination of the dirt it has loosened up, and some impurities inside the IPA itself. Best advice is to wipe down twice at least, and always wipe after with a dry and clean MF cloth.

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