Are degreasers toxic? Some certainly are. Before using or purchasing, examine the ingredients list or datasheet carefully to ensure safe handling, especially if you plan to use the product for manual cleaning.
Some varieties do contain flammable solvents and alcohols - for example, isopropyl alcohol (IPA). These blends create effective and inexpensive industrial cleaners but should not be used without decent ventilation to disperse the fumes - nor should they be used on hot surfaces, near flames, or in the vicinity of any process that generates sparks (such as welding or metal cutting). The packaging should contain information on the flammability of the product.
Non-flammable degreasants typically cost more, and while they do not present the above hazards, they still frequently contain highly toxic solvents or similar substances. Prominent examples include:
- Perchloroethylene (Perc)
- Trichloroethylene (TCE)
- N-propyl bromide (nPB)
These deliver cleaning power but exposure to high levels of toxicity can lead to various health problems. Manual cleaning clearly presents a high risk of exposure, so do proceed with caution if the product contains toxic substances.
If you plan to use the cleaner on live electrical equipment, check its dielectric strength. This is a measure of the degreaser’s resistance to electricity. Always look for a higher strength as a lower rating means that electric current will quickly flow through the liquid and short out the machinery.
You should also consider the types of material you plan to apply degreaser to as some can attack the material you are using them on. You need to make sure that the degreaser is compatible with the surface in question. For example, some solvent-type heavy-duty degreasers may attack plastics. This would make them weak and tacky, leading to premature failure. If unsure, test before use.
Degreasers can have a negative environmental impact. Some emit polluting particles known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or contain toxic chemicals or solvents. In most countries, these are subject to strict regulations. By contrast, water-based solvents do not contain harsh chemicals and so are much kinder to the environment, biodegradable and of course, non-flammable.