Washing Fleet Graphics: Remember 3-11

By:  - Director of Marketing
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So, your company just invested in some beautiful graphics for its vehicle fleet and you're trusted with the very important job to maintain the integrity of the brand and maximize the life of the graphics. You want to be certain of the proper methods to wash the graphics. The wrong pH level in the wash solution - on either end of the scale - can wreak havoc on your graphics, most noticeably damaging the protective coating of the graphics, causing abrasion, premature fading, voiding the warranty and decreasing the life cycle of the graphics. Not on your watch.

There are several resources available to learn about the various methods to maintain your graphics, including washing methods like hand washing and power washing, removing difficult contaminants and ways to protect your graphics after they're clean. This article focuses specifically on the proper pH in the wash solution and recommended frequency of washing.

Let's start with an elementary reference to the pH Scale:

As this chart indicates, pH is the measurement of acid to alkaline, with 0 being the highest concentration of acidity and 14 being the highest concentration of alkaline. The neutral point is 7: pure water.

Common sense dictates not to use battery acid or other corrosives to wash your vinyl graphics. Conversely, on the other end of the scale, you would not want to use drain cleaner. Water is a safe bet in the neutral zone between the two extremes, but water alone may not contain enough chemical power to remove the dirt and grime. Furthermore, the water in your specific area may contain high levels of minerals, which will alter its pH level. Thus, a pH range of 3-11 has been determined by chemists at cleaning material manufacturers to be a safe range for wash solutions. This pH range is also compliant with cleaning products' warranties.

It's also important to understand that the difference between each number on the pH scale is a magnitude of 100 - not just 1. This means a pH of 4 is 100 times more acidic than a pH of 5. So, while it may seem insignificant to move just one number up or down on the pH scale, the difference is actually quite large.

Let's take a deeper dive into the specific material configurations for fleet graphics. You might wonder if there are specific pH levels required for cleaning graphics protected with liquid laminate (clear coat) or film laminate. The 3-11 ph range applies for both screen-printed and digitally printed graphics, as shown here:

Screen-Printed Graphics With Clear Coat Or Film Overlaminate Use a cleaner designed for high-quality painted surfaces. The cleaner must be wet, non-abrasive, without strong solvents, and have a pH between 3-11, as described before.

Digitally-Printed Grahpics with a Clear Coat Use a wet, non-abrasive solution, which must contain NO solvents and NO alcohol, and has a pH from 3-11.

*(Ref. 3M Bulletin 6.5 and Avery Dennison Bulletin 1.2 - rev. 7)

Wash FrequencyInfrequent or incorrect maintenance can lead to the vehicle graphics degrading prematurely and not lasting their expected lifetime. PVC films behave similar to automotive paint if left in constant contact with dirt, grime, or other contaminants. The film will eventually degrade if left unclean or exposed to UV light or heat.

It is recommended to clean vehicle graphics on a regular basis or whenever they appear dirty. This ensures that optimal visual appearance is maintained for the lifetime of the graphics.

Summary Your company's branding emblazoned on your vehicle fleet is likely seen by more people every day than any other marketing method. You want it to be clean. You want it to stay looking great for years. You don't want migraines caused by premature fading that could have been avoided with the proper pH in your washing solutions. To maximize the longevity of your vehicle graphics and steer clear of potentially voiding the manufacturer's warranty, it's important to wash your vehicles regularly with a wash solution that is aggressive enough to remove the dirt and grime and that stays within the 3-11 pH range. REMEMBER 3-11.

About Serving the world's largest fleets and most iconic brands with fleet branding solutions for over seven decades, Lowen Color Graphics brings simplicity and expertise to the most demanding fleet graphics projects. www.lowencg.com

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