At its core, all washing is about chemical reactions. From the degreasers present in washing up liquid, designed to break down leftover food, to the acidic white vinegar used to clean and sanitise just about everything.
Car cleaning is just the same; a series of chemical reactions to remove contaminants without damaging the paintwork of a car. Think of why so many brands will boast a pH neutral shampoo that's gentle on clearcoats. It's also why arguably the most effective pre-cleaner, traffic-film removers (TFR), aren't recommended for consumer vehicles, owing to the heavy reliance on caustic acids that ruin the finish of paintwork.
The most visually obvious cleaner you may have seen is the colour-changing chemical magic of fallout removers. When sprayed onto a surface rich with iron particles, fallout remover lifts them and lets you know it's complete with the purple or red colour change. If you're after the best fallout removers or want to know all about them, we have the perfect guide right here.
The best fallout removers
The best fallout remover
A brilliantly effective fallout remover from 26JPN, Fallout impressed us when we tested it last year. It remains our top pick for shifting fallout. We like the fact it's biodegradable without compromised cleaning power and that the pH is balanced in the bottle. It's supposedly non-toxic too, which is good news for Chris, who inhaled a lungful when the wind shifted.
It also features a gel-like consistency for better coverage and is stated as safe for bodywork and all-wheel finishes. It even tries to mask the horrible eggy smell with a sickly-sweet cherry scent, which is nice for the nasally sensitive.
Zirconite Fall-Out Remover And Wheel Cleaner
The best fallout remover and wheel cleaner
It's important to note that most fallout removers aren't wheel cleaners, and while they'll shift all of that nasty brake dust, they won't clean the wheels. You'll need to apply a dedicated wheel cleaner to properly make your wheels shine. This option from Zirconite combines the two, making wheel cleaning a much easier task.
Like the 26JPN option above, this fallout remover is more of a gel that coats the alloys easier and is designed to be used on bodywork as well as all alloy wheel types. It's great for saving time and is well worth considering.
Gtechniq W6 Iron & General Fallout Remover
The best fallout remover for adding protection
A clever option from Gtechniq, this fallout remover is packed with a rust inhibitor and additive to prevent acid rain from causing any damage. So not only will it shift the dust from brakes and industrial fallout with ease, but it'll also add a small layer of protection at the same time. It's also safe on existing coatings and sealants and will cling to the wheel face thanks to a gel-based consistency.
What is fallout and why is it so hard to remove from a car?
Fallout is the name given to tiny metal particles (often iron), that get embedded in a car’s paintwork and wheels. These particles come from several places, but all will manage to embed themselves in a car’s exterior. So, whether it’s from brake discs (brake dust), train lines or industrial areas (industrial fallout), the fallout will find a way of embedding itself in your car. The reason it’s so hard to shift is that these particles are very small but very jagged and can quickly cut through paintwork and plastics and become stuck.
How does a fallout remover work?
Owing to the particularly jagged nature of fallout, using a wash mitt and simple shampoo will either not dislodge the particles or drag it across your paintwork causing small scratches. A fallout remover helps dislodge the fallout by chemically reacting with the iron particles to oxidise them, which in turn helps loosen them from the surface they’re embedded in. This reaction is slightly exothermic and is also why the fallout remover changes colour as it comes into contact with the fallout.
Fallout removers will often be slightly acidic when applied to the paintwork and will make use of thioglycolic acid (dust off the GCSE chemistry book for this) to react with the iron particles. Don't worry though, the acid is very localised and won't do any damage to your car. In the bottle, however, most will be pH neutral (or balanced as many bottles claim) thanks to the inclusion of alkalines.
Can it be used for other contaminants?
No, fallout removers won't do anything to help shift tree sap, former insects or any stubborn contaminant that isn't metallic. Removing these contaminants is can be done with some other specialised cleaner, or a clay bar if you're planning to polish your paintwork afterwards.
Please note that bird plop shouldn't be clay barred or tackled with anything that's not a bird poo remover, not only will it ruin the clay bar, but bird poo is particularly nasty to deal with without a specialist cleaner.