An isopropyl alcohol (IPA) wipedown is a common method for decontaminating the surface of a vehicle’s finish prior to applying paint protection or paint correction.
You should dilute the isopropyl alcohol to ensure that it will not damage the clear coat of your car or truck. Isopropyl alcohol also isn’t the only choice of pre-wax cleaner. There are several great IPA alternatives available.
There is a lot of confusion around the best dilution ratio and how to dilute it, so we’re going to dive into proper dilution ratios and methods as well as IPA wipe alternatives in this article.
IPA Wipedown Dilution
The optimal dilution ratio for most paint decontamination needs is 10% isopropyl alcohol to 90% distilled water. This dilution has been proven strong enough to remove most water-based detailing products without compromising the clear coat
How to Dilute IPA: A Step-by-Step Process
How can you use IPA in your detailing? Below are a few dilution methods you can use to create a solution that fits your needs.
A Note on Distilled Water
Some may think tap water will work for diluting isopropyl alcohol but distilled water is the better choice. Tap water often contains a high level of minerals that can leave spots when the water and alcohol have evaporated away.
If you’re looking for the strongest mixture to deal with the most stubborn of contaminants, begin with 70% IPA. In a 32 ounce container, blend 16 ounces of alcohol with 16 ounces of distilled water. You will have effectively halved the concentration from 70% to 35%.
Pour 16 ounces of IPA into 16 ounces of distilled water. This mixture is a 1:2 ratio resulting in a 25% solution. This particular dilution ratio requires 50% IPA.
Using 70% IPA, mix 8 ounces with 24 ounces of distilled water. You may want to use this moderately strong dilution ratio for heavier cutting formulas that are tougher to remove.
Blend 1 part 50% IPA to 3 parts distilled water to create a 1:4 ratio for a 12.5% solution. In a 32 ounce bottle, pour 8 ounces of 50% alcohol. Fill up the remaining 24 ounces with distilled water to achieve a dilution ratio that should degrease paint well enough for paint correction.
To create this IPA mixture, use one of the strongest IPA concentrations available: 91%. Dilute 4 ounces of this solution into 28 ounces of distilled water. This mixture will give you a 1:8 dilution ratio that works well with most commercially available water-based correction compound formulas.
If you can find 99% iso, it’s possible to achieve a nearly 10% dilution ratio. This minimal strength mixture is necessary for most uses in cleaning and preparing automotive paint before correcting or applying paint protection.
Blend 1 part 99% isopropyl alcohol with 10 parts distilled water to create a 9.9% solution. A 33-ounce container translates to 3 ounces of 99% alcohol and 30 ounces of water.
Which Dilution Ratio Works Best
Optimizing your results with IPA often means achieving the appropriate dilution ratio. In other words, too little of a dilution can potentially harm the surface you’re prepping, while too much can be ineffective and a waste. It’s all about achieving a happy medium.
The optimal dilution ratio for most paint decontamination needs is around 10%. This dilution has been proven strong enough to remove most water-based detailing products without compromising the clear coat. As the saying goes, less is more in the case of isopropyl alcohol.
That being said, a stronger dilution isn’t necessarily a bad thing if used carefully. Stronger mixtures can create more effective results than a 10% dilution. A bit more punch for dealing with more difficult contaminants.
Just be aware of how much IPA you apply at a time and ensure it’s all evaporated from the clear coat before continuing. It’s important to not allow higher concentrations dwell on your clear coat too long as it can begin breaking it down.
IPA Wipedown Before Ceramic Coating, PPF, Sealant, or Wax
Acting as a surface prep tool, isopropyl alcohol removes any silicone products or oils that might be sitting on top of the clear coat. It’s important to remove silicones and oils before applying any type of paint protection to ensure the best bond between your paint protection of choice and the clear coat on your car or truck.
An IPA wipe is safe for your clear coat if you dilute it properly and apply it properly. If the solution sits in a particular spot and cannot dry, the clear coat will react negatively. The IPA wipe will soften clear coat and cause it to break down. This damage may or may not be repairable.
At the same time, IPA will not damage ceramic coatings. Isopropyl alcohol is often used before a ceramic coating is applied. IPA will clean the surface and ensure a better bond. Many detailers use IPA to eliminate any excess correction compounds, waxes, or sealants left behind during the correction process.
Removing Car Wax With Rubbing Alcohol
Here are the steps to properly perform an IPA wipe to remove old wax, sealants, polishes, and other oils and silicones:
- Begin with a wash. Wash your car or truck thoroughly, removing as much residue and contaminants as possible before performing your IPA wipe.
- After a good wash, dry your vehicle and park it in a cool, shaded area. Typically a garage works best.
- Pour your 10% IPA solution into a spray bottle and collect a few clean microfiber towels.
- Spray a small amount on your microfiber and start with a single panel, like the hood. Wipe the surface with a minimal amount of pressure. Ensure the IPA doesn’t leave a coating by allowing it to evaporate naturally. Use your spray bottle to remoisten your microfiber whenever necessary.
- As you work, ensure the surface appears perfectly clean. The more prep you do now, the better your results, especially if you apply a ceramic coating.
As you wipe your vehicle down, remember it typically takes quite a bit of time to do a good job, just like with polishing. The more clean the surface of your finish is, the better the bond your paint protection of choice will have with your clear coat.
Will IPA remove ceramic coating?
Isopropyl alcohol can’t break down a ceramic coating. They are much more durable than waxes and sealants. Ceramic coatings have very good resistance to chemicals.
While IPA is an excellent method of removing polishes and waxes prior to applying a ceramic coating, it is not strong enough to be effective at removing a ceramic coating. They same is true of IPA alternatives such as commercial pre wax cleaners or even mineral spirits.
The most effective means of removing a ceramic coating involves using a proper polishing compound to wear it away.
IPA Wipedown Alternatives
After reading about the dilution ratios of isopropyl alcohol, you might find yourself second-guessing using it in your work. That’s ok because there are a few different methods you can turn to instead.
You may have heard the term “panel wipe” before. Gtechniq Panel Wipe is a popular alternative to isopropyl alcohol. While it achieves the same thing as diluted isopropyl alcohol, it’s often a go-to wipe product for detailers who don’t have the desire to dilute isopropyl alcohol to meet their needs.
Compared to an IPA solution, panel wipe is simply another cleaning agent made from methoxy propanol and ethyl acetate. Methoxy propanol is a cleaning compound, while ethyl acetate can be found in nail polish removers, among other things. These two ingredients combine to create a wipedown mixture that removes surface contaminants for a better result during decontamination.
If you plan on using products like panel wipe in your detailing process, be sure to read the instructions before use. Panel wipe should only be used on paint; it’s not recommended for use on plastics, vinyl, or rubber components.
Believe it or not, isopropyl alcohol is found in most glass cleaners. Like cleaning paint, IPA is used to break down the various gritty contaminants found on your windows. The majority of contaminants found on your car can be found on your car windows as well.
That said, most window cleaners do not include a large amount of isopropyl alcohol. Since the percentage is so low, you’re less likely to run the risk of ruining your paint if the product sits on it for an extended period. Plus, you won’t have to play chemist and mix up an isopropyl alcohol solution—buy your favorite product, and the work’s done for you.
If removing surface contaminants is your primary goal, a clay bar will go a long way towards accomplishing that task. Clay bars are made from porous materials (including clay) that work to stick to the contaminants and remove them as they’re being used.
While clay bars aren’t the best at removing silicones, wax, or oils from the paint, they are an excellent paint cleaning habit to form. The smoother and cleaner a painted surface is, the easier it will be to correct the paint.
Using a clay bar prior to an IPA wipe is an extremely thorough method of decontaminating your finish to ensure the paintwork is as pristine as possible before applying paint protection.
Methylated and Mineral Spirits
Denatured alcohol, or methylated spirits, and mineral spirits help prep a painted surface. Made from ethanol, denatured alcohol works like isopropyl alcohol to remove surface contaminants. The same can be said for mineral spirits, which are petroleum-based.
Klean-Strip Prep-All and Klean-Strip Mineral Spirits are both products you can use instead of IPA for a wipe. They can be found locally as well as online for purchase. Many skilled workers use these chemicals in various industries, from woodworking settings to automotive environments.
Degreasers are good at obviously breaking down grease as well as oily films. Stronger degreasers are very versatile for removing all sorts of paint contaminants, such as tar and tree sap. Citrol 266 and Klean-Strip Panel-Prep are 2 excellent products to consider. Both are clear coat safe and very effective.
Pre Wax Cleaners
There are several commercial pre wax cleaners you could opt to use as an alternative to an IPA wipe. They essentially achieve the same goal. Some are better and stronger than others.
A ingredients of pre wax cleaners vary. Some will essentially be an isopropyl alcohol dilution while others may be different solutions of mineral spirits or other chemicals that will break down oils and silicones easily.
A commercial pre wax cleaner saves you the trouble of having to mix your own IPA solution.
When IPA Should Not Be Used
Restoring automotive paint requires a balance of processes. Wet sanding, correction compounds, and polishes can achieve impressive results. Sometimes, however, repainting panels or even the entire car is the best way to go.
If your car has been freshly repainted, do not use IPA for at least 30 days. Be sure to speak with the painter and discuss what the best care will be as the paint dries. If you spray the car down with IPA, it could penetrate the clear coat and cause damage the clear coat or paint layers underneath.
Isopropyl alcohol works very well for automotive detailing. It’s a great way to remove surface contaminants from paint before you attempt to correct fine swirls and scratches or apply a paint protection. When used in diluted form, IPA can safely remove silicones and oils as well as waxes and paint sealants.
We hope you’ve found this article on IPA wipedown dilution and alternatives valuable and applicable for your detailing needs. Try your hand at diluting IPA for your particular needs and see how it can help you achieve a cleaner environment.