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How to remove salt

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Salt is an unwelcome type of contamination on your vehicle. Salt can cause rapid corrosion and extreme dage to unprotected metals. It can also severely stain polished metals and create a matte look over the surface.

Why remove salt

Salt, or more purely: Sodium Chloride, is a chemical compound that is part of the salt-class. It is most commonly encountered when roads are sprayed with salt to melt snow or prevent ice from forming during winter periods. The salt used here is often a raw and unrefined version of the salt used in/on food. The salt used on roads contains more contaminants and trace elements of other minerals. When the roads have been covered with salt, your wheels will throw up the salt, and spray it over the underbody of the car. This spreads the salt over a large area of the car that is not often cleaned or rinsed. The salt mixes with the water, increasing its density and viscosity. This creates a liquid that will stick more to the surface it comes into contact with. It also acts as an emulsifier, making it easier for the water to mix with contaminants and chemicals that are already on the road surface. Essentially making the water on the road even more dirty. The spray of water from driving over this salty snow-and-dirt mixture is very rich in contaminants.

Aparts from covering the underbody of the vehicle in great amounts of dirt, salt also has a corrosive effect on metals. Meaning unprotected metals will oxidize very quick. Sprayed salt is a large factor in the rust that forms in the underbody of the vehicle. Because this isn’t cleaned off often, or checked, the rust can easily form without the owner noticing. To prevent the damage caused by salt, it is recommended to remove the salt as quick as possible. Wheels with polished metal parts, or unprotected metal surface can be affected by cause and start showing corrosion or even oxidation. In some cases, the damage is irreversible or very expensive to repair.

Salt can also have a detrimental effect on the surface of paintwork. The mineral allows contaminants and moisture to stay in contact with the surface for a longer periode of time then usual. This results in a higher level of contaminants that are stuck to the paintwork. More contaminants means also more time for certain chemicals to have an effect on the surface once they get absorbed by the contaminants. Eventually this can lead to a very matte looking finish and a higher level of surface oxidation.

Methods to remove salt

Although salt is known to mix very easily with water, it doesn’t dissolve completely. Especially cold water has a lower capacity to mix with water then warm water. Salt also has the property to spread out over the water mixture, meaning that any drops left behind on the surface still hold salt. If these dry up, the salt is left behind.

Removing the salt completely is important. Any salt left behind can still have a negative effect on the surface. Chemicals might be a very good tool to remove as much of the material as possible. In other cases it can be recommended to use a mechanical cleaning approach.

Some methods of removing salt from a vehicle are:

Using snowfoam

Snowfoam is designed to loosen up dirt before mechanical washing. Using this during the winter period will increase the amount of dirt that is removed during the normal washing routine. Using snowfoam alone, without washing afterwards is unlikely to remove all of the salt.

using a TFR

Using a TFR will often mean you will remove your protective product, or damaging its outer surface. But it will have a great result on removing the salt. Very thorough rinsing is required afterwards. A mechanical wash afterwards will remove even more contaminants.

Pre-applying a strong layer of protection


A very strong form of protection is capable of protecting against the problems caused by salt. However, it can be very difficult to protect the underside of a vehicle, even though this is the area that could need the most maintenance after being covered in salt. Other panels can be covered in a good form of protection to keep them from being affected by salt.

It is important to note that just rinsing will not remove all the salt. It will only rinse off the excess of salt on the surface layer. There will still be a large amount of salt present on the surface that might be very difficult to see with the naked eye.
In the case of the underbody, only rinsing will not clean the underbody completely.

Methods that will not be sufficient

Rinsing with warm water

Not only will warm water be able to crack glass (if the temperature difference rapidly exceeds an average of 60 to 90 degrees celsius), it will also not be enough. Although warm water is capable of removing more salt then cold water, it will not remove all of the salt. And it will still need another process. Seeing the risk warm water brings with it, it is often advised to skip warm water and use more effective processes with less risk.

Wiping off (even with rinseless/waterless wash)

Salt crystals can be very jagged, similar to sand particles. If these are rubbed about be a MF towel, they are very likely to cause surface imperfections such as swirls. Even the use of rinseless or waterless washes can pose a risk as the lack of water might not cope with the vast amount of salt crystals that have covered a panel. Using plenty of water is often recommended

Using nothing but snowfoam or TFR

Not washing after using snowfoam or TFR is never recommended. TFR or snowfoam are not strong enough to remove all contaminants. Once you start to dry the surface, you will still rub around most of the contaminants that are left on the surface. This is one of the leading causes for swirls and other imperfections.

Problems caused by salt

There are many problems that be related to salt. Some of these problems are:

  • Corrosion of surfaces
  • Oxidation of metals
  • Surface imperfections thanks to chemical reactions
  • Damage to unpainted wheels
  • Dried out rubbers and or wire-insulation
  • Increased degradation of insulation (even in glass-wool type of fabrics)
  • Prolonged exposure of moisture in electric components and connectors
  • Plants and aquatic life can be harmed
  • Once it has covered the windscreen, it can be difficult to clean off. Impairing your view, creating a dangerous situation
  • Once it has gotten into small nooks and crannies, it can cause damage to components that are not design to come into contact with moisture
  • The dirt can prevent you from seeing how the surface underneath it looks like, meaning you could miss an important rustspot

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