Once, our idea of cleaning revolved around a bucket of water, a mop, and some detergent. Today, we are more likely to be focused on taking advantage of breakthroughs in material sciences and nanotechnology to explore ways of preventing a buildup of dirt and grime in the first place.
So, what makes a hydrophobic cleaner work? How much chemistry really is involved in removing road grime from car duco, grease from a kitchen top surface, or accumulated grit from a window?
The answer to these and other questions lies within words like hydrophobic cleaners, water phobicity, and nano-cleaners. Understanding the basic elements of a cleaner’s effectiveness against different types of grime is essential to the “Chemistry of Cleaning.”
The Rise of Self-Cleaning Coating Technologies
The growing interest towards self-cleaning coating technologies is due to the significant advantages they offer in commercial cleaning environments, particularly their ability to reduce cleaning labour costs. These coatings have a wide variety of applications such as window glasses, cement, automotive, textiles, and paints.
In the case of textile applications, a fabric with embedded self-cleaning properties saves cost in fabric cleaning while extending the lifetime of the textile.
Our current generation of super-hydrophobic coatings is available for both consumer and industrial applications. These coatings completely repel water and heavy oils. Any object coated with one of these products is literally liquid-proofed. A liquid dropped on this coating is repelled and simply rolls off without touching the underlying surface. Not only is this amazing to watch, but it solves a host of problems.
Hydrophobic Properties Defined
In chemistry, hydrophobicity is defined as the physical property of a molecule (known as a hydrophobe) that is seemingly repelled from a mass of water. (Another way of viewing this effect is it relies on an absence of attraction between the molecule and the water.
Examples of hydrophobic applications are self-cleaning car duco, water proofing metals, wood and fabrics, corrosion proof coatings, and removing oil from water and managing oil spills.
Advantages Of Hydrophobic Cleaners
- SuperHydrophobic glass coating are now available in the market that prevent glass from accumulating dirt, scale, algae, and acid rain while offering protection from the harmful effects of an ultraviolet light.
- SuperHydrophobic coatings are optically neutral rendering them invisible to the naked eye.
- SuperHydrophobic properties mean any surface treated with them actively repels water, which is excellent in applications where water phobicity is required such as car windshields and water condensation systems.
- Coating for metal and wood are now available, increasing the designed life beneath the coating to up to 10+ years.
Concentrated Cleaning Agents
Concentrated hydrophobic cleaning agents are nano-cleaners incorporating an active protection layer. These types of cleaners are perfect for all non-porous and smooth surfaces.
Their concentrated cleaning agent formula contains a nanopolymer, which is water and dirt repellent, and contains anti-static properties enabling it to clean with a deep shine. Once treated, surfaces can be cleaned using no more than a damp cloth or water. This significantly decreases the need for expensive and often abrasive detergents while speeding up the cleaning process itself.
Cleaning frequency and cleaning time are also significantly reduced after application due to its anti-static and non-sticking properties, which allows less dirt and grime to adhere to the surface.
Inspired By Nature
In nature, the high levels of hydrophobicity on the surface of a lotus leaf produces the “lotus effect” where water droplets can be seen with the naked eye.
Hydrophobic coatings mimic nature and display high water contact angles (above 90 degrees). These self-cleaning coatings are usually superhydrophobic as their water contact angle is often greater than 150°.
These surfaces are highly water repellent, as water tends to form perfectly spherical droplets that roll readily away from the surface, carrying dirt away with them. An effective superhydrophobic surface can be obtained only if the hydrophobic surface is roughened on the micro and nanometer scales.
Therefore, the efficiency of a self-cleaning coating is dependent on the roughness and chemical composition of the surface and the level of dirt particle adhesion to water droplets. These surface properties can be assessed using an optical tensiometer.
The hydrophilic self-cleaning coatings are based on photocatalysis: when exposed to light, they are able to break down impurities. Self-cleaning windows using this coating material are already commercially available. These types of window coatings act in two ways to clean its surface. The organic dirt absorbed on the window is broken down chemically by photocatalysis while water washes the accumulated dirt and grime away by forming sheets due to the low contact angles.
Wood & Stone Solvent
Wood and stone super-hydrophobic applications are a water and oil repellent impregnation product.
As a solvent-based microemulsion of fluoropolymers with emulsion stabilizers, they are uniquely designed for wood and porous natural stones such as limestone, sandstone, and terrazzo.
Their wood and stone formula contains additional nano-scale additives with anti-algae, anti-fungi, antibacterial and UV-blocking properties which do not dissolve in water. This provides long-term protection against the build-up of mold, algae, and water sensitive bacteria in outdoor environments.
Clean Liquid Shields
Liquid shields are water-based nano-coatings that bond to smooth, non-absorbent surfaces providing long-lasting protection from dirt, oil, and minor scratches. Due to their high water-repellent properties, the treated surface is protected against corrosion and enjoys an active self-cleaning property.
A liquid shield is free of silicones and chemical solvents. All components are safe for humans, biodegradable, and environmentally friendly.
These unique formulas represent the leading edge of commercialized nano-coatings, providing advanced self-cleaning and anti-corrosion results with little labour required and zero risks.
By applying a liquid shield, a surface becomes water repellent, forcing water droplets to form high water contact angles allowing droplets to easily roll off the surface, collecting dirt and grime from the surface as they are shed, while also preventing water from penetrating the surface itself.
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We have come a long way from viewing cleaning through the lens of a bucket of water, a mop, and some detergent. Increasingly, cleaning is tapping into breakthroughs in material sciences and nanotechnology to explore ways of preventing build-ups of dirt and grime.
Hydrophobic cleaners are being adopted in a range of industrial applications to improve the usability and functionality of surface materials. Modern, advanced self-cleaning coatings leverage hydrophobic cleaners and deliver superior performance with savings in labour costs, and extended durations between cleaning cycles.