by Curtis Von Fange
Solvents play an important role in keeping our tractor clean and running efficiently. There are many different types that can be used for external and internal cleaning of the various tractor parts. Being aware of the different types of solvents will make any cleaning job go easier because one can select the correct cleaning agent for the task at hand. Let’s take a quick look at what is available and readily used in the solvent larder of our shop environment.
The most universal solvent in the world is that of water. It is plentiful, easy to use, safe, and gets rid of a lot of messes. A quick rinse with the water hose will remove the dust and debris often collected on the tractor after a day in the field. For the man who went out into the field after a rain and got stuck, a little bit of extra pressure on the hose will facilitate the mud removal. In fact, when water is put under high pressure like on a pressure washer, it will remove almost everything in its path: dirt, debris, grease, grime, or paint. A high pressure washer using water, especially hot water, can be the quickest and easiest way to clean up the accumulated stuff found on the tractor.
Water, though, is not always the ‘cleanest’ way to wash the tractor. Many times it will leave spots or dirt rings on the finish of sheet metal. A bucket of soap and a brush will do wonders to dissolve the dirt and hold it in suspension for rinsing. I find that Dawn detergent is great as a washing soap since it also has oil-dissolving additives for those stubborn dishpans that work just as well on oil residue found on engine cowls and covers. On prominent areas of show a soft rag to wipe off the excess water will leave a nice shine.
For those without a pressure washer there are alternative ways to remove the built up grease and grime. Take a quick trip to the local store and buy a can of engine degreaser. The spray on type that has foaming action works quite well as the foam tends to stay on the vertical surfaces better. Apply the cleaner and then use a small brush to scrub the extra tough areas of build up. A small toothbrush works well for those hard to reach areas. A parts cleaner brush works well for the more general and easier to reach spots. Let the cleaner soak for ten minutes or so and then hose it off with a spray attachment to your hose. The nice thing about these cleaners is they tend to be environmentally friendly as the ingredients biodegrade when mixed with water. They also do a good job of removing grease and oil residue so the item dries clean to the touch.
Let’s suppose that we want to replace the water pump on the tractor and need to clean the related parts. One of the best solvents for doing this is plain old mineral spirits. It is cheap, a couple of bucks on sale at the local hardware store, and convenient. Put a gallon of it in a bucket and use a parts brush for cleaning the part. When finished strain the solvent with a screen or a nylon stocking and store it in the original container for later use. Discard any unwanted solvent still in the original container at the local recycler. Many communities have special days set aside to recycle unwanted solvents and toxic wastes. These provide great opportunities take part in disposing unwanted and toxic solutions in an environmentally friendly way.
Another solvent that I like to use is alcohol. The nice thing about alcohol is that it dissolves many types of oils and evaporates without leaving a residue. When cleaning engine parts I might use mineral spirits for the bulk of the project and then final clean using alcohol. The alcohol will remove any residue that the prior cleaning agents leave. Especially use it on mating surfaces and those that require gaskets or seals. The alcohol will leave the surface squeaky clean and ready for sealing compounds or gaskets.
Sometimes adhesives and glues will show up on assorted tractor parts. Old labels on sheet metal that have been peeled off can leave a residue that seems almost impossible to get off. Soapy water, mineral spirits and even alcohol don’t seem to touch it. Depending on the surface it came off of one might try to use a lacquer thinner to dissolve the glue. Lacquer thinners are solvents used when painting, are extremely flammable, noxious in odor, and should only be used in well ventilated areas. They also remove paint quite quickly, hence the caution on what surfaces to use it on. A quick wipe with the thinner will usually take the glue off without damaging the paint surface. Use a clean rag and pour a little thinner out of the can rather than using a separate container. A little will do a lot in short order and one does not want to pour contaminated solution back into the original container. Lacquer thinners are expensive and need to be stored responsibly. Take care when using them.
These basic types of solvents, water, mineral spirits, alcohol and lacquer thinner can usually be found around the farm. In most cases they will be quite adequate in providing the cleaning solutions necessary for keeping the tractor and its related parts clean and happy.
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