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What should I wash my airplane off with? As a new aircraft owner, any help would be appreciated.

I am pretty sure using dish washing detergent is not the best here as we are told not to use the stuff on our cars.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you want this question the be generic, good—it might be more helpful for others that way. But if you want specific advice for your aircraft, it would be helpful to know what your aircraft is; manufacturers recommendations will vary. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Mar 15 '16 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ With already 8 positive votes for 56 views, we are obviously interested in the answer, but is there one which is not an opinion or a brand name? $\endgroup$ – mins Mar 16 '16 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't prop wash doing it for you? $\endgroup$ – Howard Miller Mar 18 '16 at 4:32
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You should wash your aircraft in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

We could all offer opinions and product recommendations in response to this question. However, the best answer is: in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Since you ask the question generically, without any information on what aircraft you might have, I will answer generically.

Your manufacturer's instructions can generally be found in at least two places: the owner's manual/AFM and the maintenance manual. For example, in the owners manual for a 1975 Cessna 172M, you will find Section V: Care of The Airplane containing instructions on how to wash painted surfaces, bare aluminum surfaces, interior surfaces, and the windscreen and windows. The maintenance manual for the same aircraft contains nearly—if not exactly—identical information in chapter 2.

Now, for that aircraft and others, Cessna recommends use of mild detergent in certain applications; you might not find that overly helpful in choosing what to use. Based on my research and experience, and time honored practice that I've observed, Dawn dish soap is widely used for cleaning painted Cessna aircraft with no apparent long term harmful effects. The airframe that I fly for work has tens of thousands of hours on it, and while I cannot vouch for how often it was washed in the past, I try to wash parts of it a few times a week. There is no apparent washing damage to the paint.

I will also highlight Cessna's instruction to use Stoddard solvent on areas of stubborn oil or grease; this can be especially helpful in cleaning the belly with it's typical collection of oil and dirt. My practice is typically to wipe down the belly with solvent first, and then follow with a water and detergent wash.

If the manufacturer's instructions are not clear, or are otherwise insufficient to answer your question regarding your specific aircraft, I would recommend asking your maintenance professional. He or she should have both the knowledge and experience to steer you in the right direction.

For more insight into the world of aircraft cleaning, and especially for the specific product recommendations you want, you might take a look at this AvWeb article by Kim Santerre: Aircraft Cleaning.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I have taken a look at the POH however that is what brought me to ask the question. I am not sure what the terms "mild soap" refer to? What out there in the market would be considered a "mild soap"? Should I throw on hand soap? Vehicle soap? Anyone have sucess with one soap aside from others? Stickers popping off while using one brand over another? Haze issues...ect. If it helps I have a 1978 Piper Warrior II PA-28-161. However it was repainted. Does that affect the type of method or soap used? $\endgroup$ – Yogwhatup Mar 16 '16 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ BTW - I really do appreciate the advice. Please don't take my last comment as a harsh one. I was merely trying to clarify the need/validity of the question. $\endgroup$ – Yogwhatup Mar 16 '16 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Yogwhatup Certainly no offense taken. You give a lot of information in that first comment that would really specify and improve your question. As I said in my answer, Dawn would be my recommendation; be sure to read my third paragraph. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Mar 16 '16 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ We'll go for it. Thanks again. $\endgroup$ – Yogwhatup Mar 16 '16 at 15:05
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Wash it just as you would your car. Soap and water. Of course, be sure not to clog up static ports with anything.

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  • $\begingroup$ What type of soap would you use? $\endgroup$ – Yogwhatup Mar 14 '16 at 23:53
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    $\begingroup$ Have a look at Extreme Simple Green. I have not used it myself, but apparently it is one of the best products you can use for cleaning a plane. Safe on aluminum. $\endgroup$ – Dan Priest Mar 15 '16 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget to wax it occasionally too, helps keep the bugs from sticking too hard to the leading edges. Take a lot of care with the windscreen, usually you want to use special aviation glass cleaner or just water and a soft cotton towel. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 15 '16 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ Alright - this is great info. As a simple add on what type of wax should I use? I really am trying to avoid harming the aircraft in any way. $\endgroup$ – Yogwhatup Mar 15 '16 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ Does the advice here also work with fabric aircraft? Our Piper Tri-pacer 135's fabric might not like the same cleaners as an aluminumininum one. :) $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Mar 16 '16 at 18:32
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Water and with little soap mixed in. Don't get crazy with cleaning solutions. I think I used just a little bit of Dawn.

DO NOT WASH YOUR PLANE TOO OFTEN AND AVOID PRESSURE WASHING!! Too-frequent washing will cause water will to work its way into the wheel bearings and accelerate corrosion.

I washed mine a few times a year but dusted it frequently. The only routine cleaning I did was bug removal.

I also gave the belly a once-over with Goop hand cleaner (no pumice, of course) and that worked magic on the exhaust, oil, grease, and hydraulic fluid stains. I had to make a few passes but it was worth the effort. The paint looked new! Spot cleaning was simple after that. Goop should be a staple on every hangar!

Use soap and water or plexiglass cleaner on windows and lense covers. Never use windex or other harsh cleaners. I used plexus to clean bugs from the wings as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you use / how do you clean bugs from the cowl/ leading edges? $\endgroup$ – Pugz Mar 18 '16 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ There are specialty products for bugs but I think they're a waste of money. I used plexus most of the time. Spray, soak for a minute, wipe with a soft cloth, and repeat as necessary. Water would have worked but using plexus was easier. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Mar 18 '16 at 8:54
  • $\begingroup$ Standard washing procedure should have no impact on the wheel bearings or other greased fittings. As you note, pressure washing is never an acceptable method. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Mar 18 '16 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Pugz I use water, Dawn, and a nylon brush or soft scrubber to remove bugs. In the past, at another company, I used Zep with good results. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Mar 18 '16 at 10:26

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