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Maintaining a vehicle is a necessary expense that most automobile owners trust to professionals for engine work, brakes, and more. The auto industry and many others now adapt to climate change policy that affects everything from machine work to new car buying decisions.

The global initiative to eliminate harmful greenhouse gases by 2050 catalyzed a planned phase-out of the internal combustion engine, whether hybrid or traditional. Many countries’ focus is now shifting to all-electric fleets, including the US government’s 600,000 vehicles.

Wide-sweeping top-down decisions will impact future consumer choices. In the meantime, traditional fossil fuels drive mobility with airplanes, trains, automobiles, boats, motorcycles, lawnmowers, and more.

For automobile service technicians and rebuilders, keeping engine parts clean can involve using highly toxic chemical solvents during the part cleaning process. Climate change policy improves user safety, catalyzing the innovation of cleaners and degreasers as safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.

Knowing how to clean engine parts with alternatives to traditional products can help repair facilities and home mechanics get the job done quicker and safer, considering the maintenance requirements of nearly 284 million vehicles in use in the US as of the later part of 2021.

Transportation accounts for the most significant portion of total US greenhouse gas emissions (29% in 2019). However, the end-use transportation sector – including cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, railroads, and more – impacts the environment through emissions and traditional chemical-based maintenance products. As a result, environmentally responsible choices evolved through transportation industry innovations.

Evolution of the Eco-Friendly Engine

The first internal combustion engine was invented in 1859 by French engineer J.J. Etienne Lenoir. German engine designer and automotive engineer, Karl Benz, introduced in 1885 what is considered the first practical automobile into production; the motorcar received its patent in 1886. Henry Ford conducted experiments on internal combustion engines in the US as Chief Engineer at Edison Illuminating Company. There he produced his first working gasoline engine by the end of 1893.

There are now approximately 200 parts in an internal combustion engine that can wear out over time. Oil-lubricated fossil fuel-burning engines transfer power to the transmission and onto the wheels.

Engine designs evolved to be more economical, powerful, reliable, quieter, and environmentally responsible. Electric vehicles emerged to boost fuel economy with emissions efficiencies. Today, hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and all-electric cars are on the road.

Ignite types of engines

A hybrid engine runs on electricity from a battery in addition to fossil fuels when needed. The hybrid engine contains an estimated 20 parts and requires synthetic motor oil.

Fewer parts power all-electric vehicles that transfer battery power from an electric motor to the wheels. Whether designed for light, industrial, or utility use, all-electric vehicles require fluids and lubricants throughout the system, including:

  • Batteries
  • Electronic motors
  • Electronic power
  • Powertrain
  • Transmissions

Coolants, gear oils, and greases are specially designed lubricants used in all-electric vehicles to protect critical components from corrosion, prevent short-circuiting, maintain safety, and extend vehicle lifetime.

Regardless of engine type, its parts use lubricating fluid that can be petroleum-based. And with environmental stewardship driving the shift from petroleum to clean energy sources, vehicles powered by fossil fuels are phasing out as 2050 approaches.

Yet, with nearly 78 million vehicles produced worldwide in 2020, there is an ongoing need for cleaners that remove grease and are safe for the surface of every part.

Engine Blocks Evolve

The metals used in today’s engine blocks include steel, aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber. Aluminum blocks are about half the weight of steel, equating to added fuel efficiencies and better road handling.

Compared to steel, aluminum is a softer metal that does not bode as well with heat. Many early versions of aluminum engine blocks resulted in warped cylinders. Since then, automotive engineers have continuously improved efficiencies. Now, lightweight parts are standard in modern vehicles.

There is a notable difference in how to clean an engine made from aluminum or steel. While steel and painted parts do not oxidize with chemical solvent cleaners, aluminum requires different cleaners that remove grease and do not cause damage.

Engine Cleaning Evolves

Most vehicle owners rely on professional mechanics for engine repair and maintenance. These shops have specialized machines for cleaning and degreasing the surface of a part.

Disassembling engine blocks reveal internal parts that can be larger, including the block, pistons, cylinder heads, and connecting rods. Smaller parts include fasteners and fittings. Each part requires attention to detail when cleaning to reveal where repairs or replacement parts are needed.

Engine repair shops must include equipment costs & maintenance, supplies, labor, and waste disposal costs in their operating budgets. Pass-through fees on a repair invoice can be pricey. Automotive maintenance customers may see lower pass-through fees as safer products reduce operating costs.

When it comes to automotive parts cleaning products and equipment, one size does not fit all. Today, various systems remove grease, oil, and built-up dirt and grime from the surface of simple to complex parts, whether individually or in bulk quantities.

Water-based, aqueous degreasers are gaining popularity as an alternative to traditional hazardous chemicals. Aqueous cleaners and degreasers improve user safety, create operational efficiencies, and reduce the number of harmful toxins that impact human health and damage the environment.

Aqueous Cleaning Solutions

Chemical-based solvents contain harsh chemicals that are dangerous, flammable, can explode, and increase risks to users. Some chemicals evaporate quickly, releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere, also known as greenhouse gases. Traditional products used for cleaning greasy auto parts contribute to smog and respiratory problems for users.

North America and Europe are trendsetting in the automotive industry by adopting low VOC green cleaners and degreasers as a safer choice. Many sectors can gain the benefits of a safe degreaser with advanced aqueous products.

An automated spray washer system that uses an aqueous solution allows users to load parts, start the cleaning cycle with the push of a button, and walk away, avoiding manual scrubbing. Walking away from the parts cleaner system frees up time to focus elsewhere, thus improving facility productivity and profitability.

A variety of aqueous parts washer systems provide cost-effective, efficiency-improving designs for use with metals found in an engine.

Compared to soaking parts in toxic chemicals for hours, an aqueous cleaning solution takes minutes to soak, cavitate, or spray built-up lubricants from parts.

How to Clean an Engine with Green Aqueous Systems

Part washers with simple sink and drum construction are common in automotive repair facilities. These manual parts cleaning systems filter aqueous cleaning degreasers at temperatures that range from 100° to 115° F, manually releasing dirt, lubricants, and gunk with brush action from the end of a hose.

A bioremediating system is an aqueous part cleaning machine with ecological advantages over a traditional solvent parts cleaning system. Although a slow process, the cleaning mechanism works through living organisms released from a mat at the bottom of the washer tank. When the system operates at approximately 105° F, the microbes convert hydrocarbons from petroleum-based lubricants into water and carbon dioxide, reducing solid waste and costly wastewater disposal fees.

Spray nozzles pressurize an aqueous cleaning solution at approximately 40-60 psi in jet or cabinet washers. Pressurized spray blasts the part with detergents rinsing away dirt and contaminants like a dishwasher. A drawback with a jet spray cleaning system may be its inability to clean intricate details like blind holes. For this reason, different types of cabinet washer designs are available.

Various front-loading cabinet parts washers with jets spray cleaners to remove oil and built-up grime from auto parts; some feature spray bars beneath a parts basket. Others feature internal jets that spray degreasers onto parts resting on a turntable or stationary platform; the jets spray in varying patterns for maximum coverage. Top-loading cabinet parts washers accommodate overhead cranes for large, heavy parts.

High-pressure spray systems using 400-600 psi and an aqueous cleaning solution further increase cabinet cleaning accuracy for parts with intricate designs.

Also used with complex parts are immersion cleaning systems that suffice as a soak tank. In it is an agitating platform with a mechanical action that forces the aqueous cleaning solution in a circular motion to pass through tubes, holes, and crevices, leaving the part clean.

The vibration generated from ultrasonic parts washers can remove burnt oils, carbon, and dirty material from complex parts. The sound waves generated from these aqueous parts cleaning systems are not detectable by people.

Ultrasonic baths or washers feature a cleaning tank, a generator that transforms AC electrical energy into an ultrasonic frequency, and a transducer that converts the ultrasonic signal into mechanical energy.

The cleaning process called cavitation creates microscopic bubbles that implode with force, releasing dirt and contaminants from the part’s surface. Ultrasonic cleaning systems are used in various industries to clean ceramics, electronics, glass, metal, some hard plastics, rubber, and more.

A traditional chemical solvent or an aqueous solution can be used in ultrasonic parts washers, although an advanced aqueous product is an environmentally friendlier choice.

With various aqueous parts cleaning systems available, the choice of system design depends on the size of the part and if its intricate shape is better cleaned with manual brushing, spray nozzles, ultrasonic sound waves, or other methods. Other considerations are cleaning production volume and if the water-based cleaning solution provides operational advantages.

Automotive parts cleaning is a dirty job that generates large quantities of sludge. The residue from cleaning a greasy engine in a repair facility or machine shop is waste that requires special handling.

Generators of Hazardous Materials

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines solid waste as “solid, liquid, or contained gases”. Expanding on the definition:

  • Discarded materials include inherently waste-like materials
  • Abandoned materials include burned, disposed, or discarded materials
  • Recycled materials include accumulated, stored, or treated materials

The sludge collected from parts cleaning machines contains metal shavings, oil, grease, and used cleaning solution, including toxic chemicals.

Hazardous debris found in engine repair and restoration shops can originate from:

  • Aluminum chemical conversion coating wastewater treatment sludge
  • Electroplating wastewater treatment sludge
  • Used cyanide plating bath solutions
  • Materials from the cyanide plating process
  • Solvents

Characteristics of hazardous materials can include:

  • Combustible solvents
  • Corrosive acid, caustic baths
  • Reactive materials such as cyanide reacting to low or high pH

Toxic materials that can leach into the environment include:

  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Selenium
  • Silver

Types of wastes generated at metal finishing facilities include:

  • Used acids or bases
  • Used anodes
  • Spent batteries
  • Chemicals that are off-specification or have exceeded their shelf life
  • Grinding and polishing dust
  • Etching solution wastes
  • Used filters
  • Used fluorescent lamps
  • Maintenance tools
  • Used Oil
  • Paint-related materials, waste, and solvents
  • Used personal protective equipment
  • Used plating baths
  • Plating bath sludges
  • Rinse water
  • Spill residue
  • Spent solvents and paints
  • Used stripping bath solutions
  • Wastewater treatment filter cake
  • Wastewater

Identifying, documenting, treating, storing, transporting, and properly managing all hazardous materials is a requirement. Violations can include failing to determine hazardous waste or not having documentation proving waste determination.

Auto repair shops, service stations, quick oil change facilities, and metalworking establishments are common hazardous material generators.

Each must determine its volume of hazardous materials generated every month to establish the business’ classification as a generator. According to the EPA, the categories are:

Ignite Large Quantity Generator-

Large Quantity Generator – If a facility generates 1,000 kg or more of hazardous materials or more than 1 kg of acutely hazardous materials in a month, it is a Large Quantity Generator. This volume is approximately more than five 55-gallon drums of toxic byproducts per month.

Ignite Small Quantity Generator

Small Quantity Generator – If a facility generates less than 1,000 kg per month of hazardous materials and accumulates no more than 6,000 kg of hazardous byproducts at any time, it is a Small Quantity Generator.

Hazardous materials inspection violations reportedly can include:

  • Containers in poor condition
  • Dented or rusted containers
  • Failing to clean up releases or drippage
  • Failure to close containers
  • Failure to conduct hazardous material determination
  • Failure to conduct weekly inspections of the storage area
  • Failure to label and date containers
  • Failure to notify EPA of hazardous material generation or obtain an EPA ID number
  • Failure to train employees in hazardous materials management and keep training records
  • Failure to minimize the possibility of a release
  • Illegal disposal
  • Inadequate aisle space
  • Incompatible storage (storing acids next to solvent wastes)
  • Manifests – Incomplete information on forms or failure to use manifests
  • Storage over allowable time limits
  • Taking waste from one facility to another offsite facility without a manifest
  • Using a transporter that does not have an EPA ID Number

Hazardous material storage labeling can differ from state to state, so it is important to check the EPA website and state and local authorities for respective material storage and disposal guidelines.

With all the behind-the-scenes regulations, it is not a surprise why automotive repair and maintenance is a costly procedure. However, there are even more regulations for generators to contend with.


Using water is part of the process with industrial applications that include:

  • Cooling
  • Diluting
  • Fabricating
  • Incorporating water into a product
  • Manufacturing needs
  • Processing
  • Sanitation
  • Transporting a product
  • Washing

Wastewater treatment removes suspended solids before releasing clean water back to the environment. Parts cleaning machines can have filters or skimmers to prolong the viability of a cleaning solution. When the cleaner is no longer usable, waste material is disposed of by following regulatory guidelines.

The water used in parts cleaning machinery may contain heavy metals and toxic solvents. If released into the environment, metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic can have severe and long-lasting harmful effects on field crops, animals, aquatic species, and people’s health.

To avoid leaching the heavy metals found in automotive bearings and plated parts into wastewater, removing them before part cleaning can reduce hazardous materials entering the process.

Wastewater testing can determine if materials are waste or a hazard to the environment. Wastewater treatment and disposal is a substantial cost to a business.

Environmental Protection Catalyzes Solvent Changes

A recent policy update reveals the EPA’s addition of N-Propyl Bromide to the hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) list; this is the first new chemical added since 1990.

This regulatory change affects solvents traditionally used in various applications, including cleaning engines and brakes. Product types that are affected include:

  • Aerosol spray cleaners and degreasers
  • Automotive degreasers
  • Cold cleaners
  • Industrial and consumer use for cleaning and degreasing
  • Vapor degreasers – open-top and inline

Choosing the right aqueous parts cleaner makes a world of difference for user safety, environmental protection, and reducing operating costs.

Safe degreasing is no accident: cleaning and degreasing for people and the planet.

Advanced Aqueous Solution for Regulatory Compliance

Aqueous cleaners remove grease from parts. However, some advanced aqueous solutions do much more.

Traditional solvent degreasers are harsh chemicals that will not damage steel; they oxidize aluminum. Repair and restoration facilities must invest in multiple machines to support the parts cleaning process and accommodate different metals.

Cleaning newer lightweight metal parts requires an aqueous solution and a low-temperature, low-pressure spray washer. An oven can bake off petroleum-based lubricants for traditional steel blocks and heads that sustain higher temperatures. After machining, spray washers rinse away materials that remain on parts.

Ignite Engine Cleaning

Some cleaning degreasers are designed for aluminum and cast-iron use, while others are not. Using too harsh a cleaning solution can damage the part surface. Some parts cleaners may require a lower temperature to avoid damage for aluminum cleaning in spray, immersion, or manual applications. Checking the manufacturer use guidelines is the best way to determine what type of solution applies to various metals that compose automobile parts. Most equipment suppliers provide a list of recommended products.

Parts washers are an investment. Spray washers and power washers come in various sizes and configurations costing $50,000 or more; some aqueous parts washers cost up to a million dollars.

Protecting an aqueous parts washer with regular maintenance avoids contaminant build-up that can block the spray flow of aqueous cleaners.

Aqueous parts cleaner equipment maintenance can include:

  • Additives (detergents, rust inhibitors)
  • Replacing filters
  • Cleaning filters
  • Cleaning oil skimmers
  • Removing sludge
  • Removing solid matter

Equipment maintenance is a time-consuming, necessary process for automotive repair and restoration.

Maintaining clean water is vital to cleaning parts with an aqueous spray solution. Water filled with dirt and contaminant particles can block the effectiveness of the spray pattern and impede the efficiency of the business. Products that are designed for regulatory compliance do not affect the water treatment process, which is a considerable cost factor for industrial manufacturing and other industries.

Advanced aqueous cleaning degreaser products can help industries and businesses prove wastewater treatment compliance and supply chain transparency & accountability with ongoing environmental regulations. For more information on advanced cleaning degreasers designed for regulatory compliance, visit

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