Processes and Materials Used in Corrosion Control – Part Seven

in Aircraft Cleaning and Corrosion Control

Emulsion Cleaners

Solvent and water emulsion compounds are used in general aircraft cleaning. Solvent emulsions are particularly useful in the removal of heavy deposits, such as carbon, grease, oil, or tar. When used in accordance with instructions, these solvent emulsions do not affect good paint coatings or organic finishes.


Water Emulsion Cleaner

Material available under Specification MIL-C-22543A is a water emulsion cleaning compound intended for use on both painted and unpainted aircraft surfaces. This material is also acceptable for cleaning fluorescent painted surfaces and is safe for use on acrylics. However, these properties will vary with the material available, and a sample application should be checked carefully before general uncontrolled use.

Solvent Emulsion Cleaners

One type of solvent emulsion cleaner is nonphenolic and can be safely used on painted surfaces without softening the base paint. Repeated use may soften acrylic nitrocellulose lacquers. It is effective, however, in softening and lifting heavy preservative coatings. Persistent materials should be given a second or third treatment as necessary.

Another type of solvent emulsion cleaner has a phenolic base that is more effective for heavy duty application, but it also tends to soften paint coatings. It must be used with care around rubber, plastics, or other nonmetallic materials. Wear rubber gloves and goggles for protection when working with phenolic base cleaners.

Soaps and Detergent Cleaners

A number of materials are available for mild cleaning use. In this section, some of the more common materials are discussed.

Cleaning Compound, Aircraft Surfaces

Specification MIL-C-5410 Type I and II materials are used in general cleaning of painted and unpainted aircraft surfaces for the removal of light to medium soils, operational films, oils, or greases. They are safe to use on all surfaces, including fabrics, leather, and transparent plastics. Nonglare (flat) finishes should not be cleaned more than necessary and should never be scrubbed with stiff brushes.

Nonionic Detergent Cleaners

These materials may be either water soluble or oil soluble. The oil-soluble detergent cleaner is effective in a 3 to 5 percent solution in dry cleaning solvent for softening and removing heavy preservative coatings. This mixture’s performance is similar to the emulsion cleaners mentioned previously.

Mechanical Cleaning Materials

Mechanical cleaning materials must be used with care and in accordance with directions given, if damage to finishes and surfaces is to be avoided.

Mild Abrasive Materials

No attempt is made in this section to furnish detailed instructions for using various materials listed. Some do’s and don’ts are included as an aid in selecting materials for specific cleaning jobs.

The introduction of various grades of nonwoven abrasive pads (a common brand name produced by the 3M company is Scotch-Brite™) has given the aircraft maintenance technician a clean, inexpensive material for the removal of corrosion products and for other light abrasive needs. The pads can be used on most metals (although the same pad should not be used on different metals) and are generally the first choice when the situation arises. A very open form of this pad is also available for paint stripping, when used in conjunction with wet strippers.

Powdered pumice can be used for cleaning corroded aluminum surfaces. Similar mild abrasives may also be used.

Impregnated cotton wadding material is used for removal of exhaust gas stains and polishing corroded aluminum surfaces. It may also be used on other metal surfaces to produce a high reflectance.

Aluminum metal polish is used to produce a high luster, long lasting polish on unpainted aluminum clad surfaces. It should not be used on anodized surfaces because it will remove the oxide coat.

Three grades of aluminum wool, coarse, medium, and fine, are used for general cleaning of aluminum surfaces. Impregnated nylon webbing material is preferred over aluminum wool for the removal of corrosion products and stubborn paint films and for the scuffing of existing paint finishes prior to touchup.

Lacquer rubbing compound material can be used to remove engine exhaust residues and minor oxidation. Avoid heavy rubbing over rivet heads or edges where protective coatings may be worn thin.

Abrasive Papers

Abrasive papers used on aircraft surfaces should not contain sharp or needlelike abrasives which can imbed themselves in the base metal being cleaned or in the protective coating being maintained. The abrasives used should not corrode the material being cleaned. Aluminum oxide paper, 300 grit or finer, is available in several forms and is safe to use on most surfaces. Type I, Class 2 material under Federal Specification P-C-451 is available in 11⁄2 and 2 inch widths. Avoid the use of carborundum (silicon carbide) papers, particularly on aluminum or magnesium. The grain structure of carborundum is sharp, and the material is so hard that individual grains will penetrate and bury themselves even in steel surfaces. The use of emery paper or crocus cloth on aluminum or magnesium can cause serious corrosion of the metal by imbedded iron oxide.

Chemical Cleaners

Chemical cleaners must be used with great care in cleaning assembled aircraft. The danger of entrapping corrosive materials in faying surfaces and crevices counteracts any advantages in their speed and effectiveness. Any materials used must be relatively neutral and easy to remove. It is emphasized that all residues must be removed. Soluble salts from chemical surface treatments, such as chromic acid or dichromate treatment, will liquefy and promote blistering in the paint coatings.

Phosphoric-Citric Acid

A phosphoric-citric acid mixture (Type I) for cleaning aluminum surfaces is available and is ready to use as packaged. Type II is a concentrate that must be diluted with mineral spirits and water. Wear rubber gloves and goggles to avoid skin contact. Any acid burns may be neutralized by copious water washing, followed by treatment with a diluted solution of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

Baking Soda

Baking soda may be used to neutralize acid deposits in lead-acid battery compartments and to treat acid burns from chemical cleaners and inhibitors.