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Clean Language. Aqueous Cleaning Terminology for Remanufacturing

Technological advancement and changing customer demands have left their mark on industrial cleaning processes in every industry, including remanufacturing. Paint stripping and cleaning processes using highly caustic chemicals are being replaced by safer, more advanced formulations. Methods requiring expensive disposal are being replaced by technologies more friendly to the environment. Innovation continues to increase capability and expand option

As we introduce you to these remarkable advances during this blog series, we’ll need to share some definitions.

General Terms

Let’s start with some of the general terms used in the remanufacturing cleaning process.


The dirt and contaminants you’re removing from the items you’re working with.


A catch-all for a substance on which a process occurs. In cleaning, that means the items you’re removing soils from, usually metal parts being cleaned during the remanufacture process.


Coined from “surface acting,” this describes chemicals which reduce the surface tension of liquids. This includes everything from soaps to emulsifiers and wetting agents. In our discussions, we’ll usually be referring to surfactants that work directly on soils on the substrate and remove them.


Why define this very non-technical term? In the context of industrial cleaning, agitation refers to any process where movement helps remove soil. This includes anything from passing bubbles through a soaking tank to manually spraying items with high pressure hoses.

Surfactant Terms

When we talk about cleaning substances, we’ll sometimes need additional terms to differentiate their chemistry. Knowing these will help you design better cleaning processes for your facility.


Literally “water loving.” Attracted to water molecules and (not surprisingly) tend to be easily dissolved in water.


Literally “water fearing.” These don’t actually repel water, but instead tend have no interaction with it at all. They tend to be attracted to similar molecules, such as oils.


Many hydrophobic substances can be classified by this term, which literally means “oil loving.” This makes them ideal for bonding to and lifting greasy soils common on drivetrains and other industrial components.


These surfactants have a negatively charged ion (hydrophilic and usually organic) and a positively charged ion, which is usually hydrophobic and metallic.


These are composed of oxygen-rich hydrophilic sections and hydrophobic organic sections. They tend to foam less than anionic surfactants and are therefore a superior choice for hard water applications.


These usually contain nitrogen and are positively charged. They tend to bond to hard surfaces and also are incompatible with any solution containing negatively charged anionic surfactants. They have excellent antiseptic properties.

Cleaning Actions

Our last few terms cover processes that either directly clean soils (such as saponification) or make the cleaning process more effective such as emulsification.


Wetting agents lower the surface tension of water and pull it into otherwise hydrophobic surfaces. This allows the solution to contact every bit of the soil, even in deep crevices and under soil layers.


This process uses alkaline chemicals to turn fatty substances into water-soluble soaps.


The breaking up of fats and oils into very small particles which are uniformly mixed into the water. This creates micelles, which are aggregates with hydrophilic atoms on the outside and hydrophobic atoms on the inside, isolating the soil from the solution.


Breaking up the soils removed from the surface into even smaller individual particles which are more easily suspended in solution.

That should get us speaking the same language.

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