Expert home DIY advice

Date:8 October 2018 Author: Brendon Petersen Tags:, ,

Home DIYers, listen up – this is the number one lubrication mistake most of us make, and it’s time to change our habits.

As far as household appliances go, there are few products that have saved consumers more time and energy than the automatic washing machine. But before automation came on the scene, the recipe for effective clothes cleaning required four things: warm water, soap, elbow grease and time.

Interestingly, these principles hold true for all areas of maintenance and cleaning. Whether you’re scrubbing shirts or servicing a fleet of earth-moving equipment, the four elements of cleaning are universal:

1. Temperature

2. Chemicals

3. Mechanical energy or agitation

4. Time (dwell time or contact time)

You probably didn’t give it much thought at the time, but even when faced with a pile of dirty clothes, you would’ve known that these elements are all relative to one another. For example: A highly potent chemical cleaner can reduce both time and energy, but may still require some degree of temperature. Similarly, if the detergent you’re using is relatively mild, then the cleaning process may require more time (soaking), or a higher temperature, in order to offset the added energy expense.

Surprisingly, despite how obvious these principles (or elements) may seem in this context, they’re largely ignored in the way of everyday maintenance of machines and components.

Let’s take the application of a multiple-purpose lube, for example. How many of us are guilty of spraying a ‘top up’ on to a component without bothering to clean and remove the old lube first?

The trouble with this practice is that the new lube is invariably contaminated by the old lube; so, instead of lifting the properties of the one to match the other, we’ve effectively reduced the properties of the new lube to make it closely match the failing properties of the old lube.

This raises a rather important topic: Clean before you lube.

Sadly, South Africa has largely fallen a bit behind in this area of industrial, commercial and DIY maintenance. In many developed countries, the sale of cleaning products is roughly on par with the purchase of lubricants. In other words, maintenance engineers and DIY enthusiasts seldom purchase a lubricant without including a cleaning agent, too.

In the South African mechanical-maintenance area, the lubrication products are sold more easily than cleaning agents. Yet, as mentioned before, the one cannot be correctly applied without the intervention of the other.

Interestingly, the mining sector in SA is still (mostly) devoted to rigorous maintenance and cleaning practices, and, as far as case studies go, no other industry faces quite such extremes within its working environment. That said, there’s a lot we can learn from mining engineers that applies to all areas of mechanical and electrical work, starting with how to choose the right cleaning product.

Dust, grime, moisture and heat are all common contributors to machine – and component failure; of course, within the mining industry, these influencers are amplified in their intensity and exposure, or both.

If we consider our previous four-point list of cleaning principles, it’s clear that a heavy-duty cleaner can potentially save both time and energy, and will thus incur fewer maintenance costs and less downtime. But the drawbacks of using a high-solvent cleaner may include damage to plastic components or sensitive electrical equipment. Not to mention the fact that, in some cases, a highly flammable solvent may not be the best choice in certain environments. So, what is the best cleaning agent?

Naturally, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this question, as different components will require very different features. For example, how you clean a camera or a laptop will differ vastly to how you clean an axle bearing. But, no matter the application, before you select any old cleaner off the shelf, certain questions should be asked:

1. Is ‘non-flammable’ a requirement?

2. Does the product need to be plastic safe?

3. Do you need rapid evaporation to reduce downtime?

4. Would an environmentally safe product be better?

5. Does the product need to be residue-free?

6. Do you need a precision cleaner or a heavy-duty one?


Generally speaking, high-solvent products are more affordable than those that have additional cleaning requirements, such as being plastic- and electronic-safe. As far as the mining sector is concerned, few products enjoy as much recognition as QD Contact Cleaner. The applications of QD range from major mechanical maintenance, right down to CCTV camera servicing.

Phone 011 452 7048 for more info, or to find a retailer near you.


Next time we’ll look at how the common kauri tree in New Zealand determined the solvency strength of all cleaning products on the market today, and also how to choose a cleaning agent that won’t damage sensitive equipment. Until then, remember: Clean before you lube!

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