Before we begin, here’s a little detailing secret you should know about.
There may not be a more versatile detailing product than degreaser.
Few products can remove all the oil, grease, and grime that clings to your vehicle quite degreaser can. AND, degreasers are super-affordable; 1-gallon containers retail from $5-15.
Some degreasers are designed to foam, others smell good (like Citrus degreasers). Some degreasers are pretty strong and fall in the commercial cleaning category; always use those with care.
But automotive degreasers do have their place and shouldn’t scare you. Here are 3 different and safe ways to use them.
1. Stripping off old wax from your paint
Degreasers will strip wax or coatings from the paint, which is sometimes desirable if you are planning to re-wax or clay your car.
A product like Clean Slate by Chemical Guys is specifically formulated to remove everything old wax. After all, sometimes you need to remove old wax prior to scratch removal and paint correction.
Are all degreasers safe for paint?
Many degreasers are perfectly safe to use on paint, but not all. Always check the label first. Purple Power, for example, is a degreaser not recommended for painted surfaces or wheels but great for carpet and cleaning cloth. I’ve admittedly used Purple Power on wheels in the early days…but there are better degreasers for painted and metal surfaces I now use.
You can also use degreaser to remove wax from trim. For example, I’ll use a degreaser if I need to remove stuck-on wax from trim pieces because degreasers remove organic substances like carnauba wax easily.
Although rare, beware of degreasers with bleach. Some products labeled in the kitchen aisle contain bleach and will stain cloth upholstery.
2. Cleaning extremely dirty car carpets and interior surfaces
Aside from paint, almost all degreasers for automotive use can be used on rubber, trim, vinyl, and carpeted surfaces when diluted appropriately.
Degreasers are generally stronger than all-purpose cleaners, so use them only when tackling tough stains. You can remove or fade organic stains like bacon grease easily with a diluted spray-on degreaser, but an all-purpose cleaner is generally better for maintenance cleaning.
Degreasers are great on oil or grease, but some may leave behind a film or residue; this is typical of alkaline cleaners with a high pH.
However, so long as you dilute these products in an empty spray bottle, the pros of using degreasers outweigh the cons if you have a grease or oil stain.
Some degreasers like Purple Power are quite strong, especially undiluted. Always use them in well-ventilated areas to avoid irritation.
3. Engine bay and door jamb cleaning
Degreasers—specifically foaming degreasers are best at cleaning dirty areas like door jambs and under the hood; at the molecular level, foam penetrates and encapsulates dirt and grime better than liquid.
Foaming degreasers are ideal for dirty areas because they can lift a lot of dirt without agitation. Agitation is always ideal, but you can wipe up the majority of the dissolved grim with a towel if you simply let the foam dissolve the grime for a few minutes.
Traditional liquid degreasers are equally as effective, but they require more agitation with a brush to dissolve contaminants. That’s why I prefer a foam degreaser for engine bays…less scrubbing for me!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best degreaser for a beginner?
As a beginner, my advice is to use Super Clean—an industry-standard degreaser just about every detailer has used at one time. It’s cheap, proven, and you can find it just about anywhere. You can find it in 1-gallon containers, aerosol cans, and in spray form.
Super Clean Degreaser
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.
It’s wise to follow dilution charts for degreasers based on what you are cleaning. For concentrated degreasers, I typically prefer to dilute these products at a 3:1 to 5:1 degreaser-to-water ratio depending on the surface.
Detergents vs degreasers: what’s the difference?
For automotive use, degreasers are recommended for grease as opposed to detergents like dish soap. That said, dish liquid is sometimes used as a wax-stripping agent.
Detergents are a category separate from degreasers, although both are one of the 4 cleaning agents. Detergents like dish liquid basically surround and lift away grease, while degreasers use solvents that dissolve the grease. But detergent is very hard to rinse off, so I very rarely use them.
Can I use a degreaser on rubber or plastic trim?
Yes. Many automotive degreasers are safe for interior and exterior plastic trim especially, especially when diluted. But always refer to the label of any product you use. For normal trim cleaning, I recommend a dedicated trim cleaner or all-purpose cleaner because they’re often pH neutral and less aggressive on plastic, rubber, or vinyl.
Again, degreasers are great…just not always needed.
Should I use a degreaser or all-purpose cleaner?
Degreasers are more aggressive cleaners compared to all-purpose cleaners. Most automotive degreasers fall on the right side of the pH scale (10 to 13), while All-purpose cleaners generally are either pH neutral or have a pH of 9 to 11. This makes an APC safer for routine carpet cleaning and interior cleaning, but sometimes not enough for tough grease stains.
Can I use degreaser on leather interior?
Many degreasers like Super Clean can be used to remove oily substances from leather when diluted 8:1 or 10:1. Most modern vehicle leather contains a thin protective coating to protect the leather from staining, so simply apply the degreaser and wipe up with a microfiber towel.
Learn the basics of washing and detailing
Now that you know how to use degreasers, be sure to download our Car Wash and Detailing Cheat Sheet. You’ll learn about the products and techniques you need to see great results any time you wash.