Three Way Hand Cleaner Shootout
One of the most important tools in my shop–something I use almost every time I work on a car–really isn't a tool. It's hand cleaner. I've used hand cleaners as long as I've been working on cars. If I tell you how many years that is, I'll have to kill you. Suffice to say it's been a long time.
So why don't I wear gloves? There are those mechanic's nitril gloves and there are the mechanic's gloves the race team crews use, but there are aspects of the way I do things which are decidedly oldskool. Unless I'm working with toxic or hazardous materials or objects which are hot, I usually will not put on gloves
Back in my days in the automotive service trade, most places I worked bought commercial hand cleaners in 2.5 gallon pails from service station supply houses. This stuff was sometimes detergent-based and usually had fine pumice mixed in it. Those products always got my hands clean with no discomfort or damage to my skin. When I quit the service trade and went to work as a technical writer, I was still working on cars but access to that good hand cleaner became difficult and out of frustration, I started using the various hand cleaners available to hobbyists and DIYs. Some of the ones I used had solvents in them and could be used with or without water other had to be used with water. In the few years I have used three brands of hand cleaners and I've tested each extensively in my shop so, I decided to write-up a sort of hand-cleaner shootout.
Finishing in third place is Sunshine Makers' "Simple Green Hand Cleaner Gel". The Simple Green web site says it is, "...the solution for heavy-duty hand cleaning plus the powerful cleaning ability of Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner." but in several years of using this product in the gallon size (PN 42128), I found it to be a "medium-duty" hand cleaner at best. Indeed, it has some of the same active ingredients that are in "Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner", it has lanolin for skin protection and it smells pleasant. I found it inadequate when my hands and forearms were really dirty, like after disassembling and cleaning brake or suspension parts. Yes, it would eventually get my hands clean, but only after two or sometimes even three applications and sometimes it required use of a scrub brush. That this hand cleaner is not that aggressive means you have to use more of it, so, even thought it's priced competitively, it's not as good a value as some other, similar products. Simple Green Hand Cleaner is mainly for cleaning up when your hands are not that dirty.
Finishing second is Permatex's "Fast Orange Fine Pumice Lotion Hand Cleaner". This brand has been around a long time, is popular with DIYs and is priced about the same as the Simple Green product. Where Fast Orange edges out Simple Green is cleaning hands after mainstream automotive shop work. Not only is it better at cleaning really greasy hands, but you don't have to use nearly as much Fast Orange as you do Simple Green Hand Cleaner for the same hand cleaning task. That makes Fast Orange a better value, by a good margin.
Permatex labels all the Fast Orange line as containing "MicroGel" Technology. Wondering what that is, after some research, we find that "Microgel" is a synthetic solvent. It replaces that citrus or petroleum-based hand cleaner solvents traditionally used in hand cleaners but are now so regulated by Feds their use has become impractical. It has Fast Orange Hand Cleaner meeting the EPA's new volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations which went into force in 2013 and which restrict use of citrus-based solvents. Microgel technology enables Fast Orange to continue to deliver the cleaning power which has made it popular with professionals and consumers. It is still good at removing the nasty stuff we get on our hands when working on cars. MicroGel also makes hand cleaner feel smoother. Its gel-like consistency adheres better to the hands, which reduces the amount which may drip off between when you apply it and when you start actual cleaning. We used Fast Orange for a month and found it pretty darn good used in a small shop environment typical of what advanced automotive DIY encounter. We found only two negatives with Fast Orange. In our test, if the hands are really dirty/greasy, like...black, after working on an older car with a dirty chassis and worn front suspension parts, we needed a lot of Fast Orange. Secondly, we tried two different sizes, the small 7.5-oz. squeeze bottle (PN 25108) and the gallon pump (PN 25219) If you are even a half-serious DIY, don't waste your money on small bottles. They won't last long, the flip top breaks off before the bottle is empty and it's hard to get the last of the cleaner out. Go with the one gallon pump. They last a while and, once the pump sucks air, you can but the top off the bottle making it a "bucket" and scoop the last of the cleaner out.
There are four varieties of Fast Orange. The "standard" Fast Orange we tested, along with a version without pumice which is, otherwise, the same formulation as the standard product. There is a "Dry Skin Pumice Hand Cleaner" which has a higher level of skin conditioners blended in to sooth cracked skin due to multiple washings per day common in the automotive service trade. The fourth is Fast Orange Professional Heavy Duty Hand Cleaner which has a somewhat different formulation and is marketed to service professionals. When we requested a sample to test, Permatex refused saying the product is intended for professional technicians and not consumers.
The winner of the Corvette Action Center Hand Cleaner Shootout, by a slight margin, is "Super Tough Hand Scrub". One morning, while nursing my first cup of coffee, on a whim, I keyed "best hand cleaner" into Google. The first hit which was a web site run by Southwest Commercial Products which markets only one product–"Super Tough Hand Scrub".
The homepage was a bit dramatic, having audio with a deep, intense voice asking, "Have you tried other hand cleaners that just didn't get the job done? Or they left your hands cracked, dry and damaged? Are you embarrassed to show your hands? Join the thousands who use Super Tough...blah, blah, blah."
Initially, the hype was a turn-off, but, after reading some of the text content and noting Southwest Commercial Products has a 100% money-back guarantee, I decided Super Tough, with it's distinctive yellow color, detergent-based formula and soft, polymer "scrubber" particles–rather than the more abrasive pumice of Simple Green Hand Cleaner Gel–was worth a try. I emailed Southwest Commercial Products, which typically sells this product to professionals in industry and the service trade, and asked them to ship me some samples.
I tested Super Tough for over a year. I used it to clean my hands after all kinds of automotive work, including the most dirty, nasty job I've done in the last few years, repacking a set of C5 CV joints. Super Tough Hand Scrub is the best hand cleaner I've ever used. It cleans better and it's easier on my hands. While Super Tough is more costly, it's a good value when used as directed because, compared to the other two cleaners I tested, I used less of it to do the same amount of hand cleaning.
So–I've found the perfect hand cleaner for really dirty, nasty hands: Super Tough Hand Scrub and I use Fast Orange for the everyday hand cleaning. With either product, my hands are clean and their skin is healthy. Life is good.
For more information on Southwest Commercial Products Super Tough Hand Scrub, visit: www.handscrub.com.
For more information on Permatex Fast Orange, visit: http://www.permatex.com/products/our-brands/fast-orange
For more information on Simple Green Hand Cleaner Gel, visit: http://simplegreen.com/products/hand-cleaner-gel