Cleaning Polycarbonate Sheet Before Vinyl Application

Polycarbonate is one tough plastic. Not even Dirty Harry with his .44 magnum could blast through a one-inch sheet. To use Harry’s words: “a man has to know his limitations”.

Even polycarbonate has limitations. As tough as this plastic is, it is not very solvent resistant. Exposure to some solvents can ultimately cause stress cracking or cloud the surface of the exposed plastic.

For this reason, use caution when using solvents to clean the surface of polycarbonate. The recommended procedure for cleaning polycarbonate is to wash it with warm water and a little non-abrasive detergent, such as 409 cleaner or either Joy or Palmolive dishwashing detergent. Then rinse the surface with clean water and dry with a soft cotton rag or chamois.

What if that doesn’t work? When polycarbonate overlaminate is used in retail environments, anything can happen. I had a service call from a bar-b-que restaurant in Charlotte, NC, which had used polycarbonate overlaminate to cover their tables. They were having a heck of a time cleaning the greasy BBQ and wing sauce from the surface. Grease, adhesives from tapes and labels and paint can pose a real cleaning challenge.

First try a non-abrasive detergent and warm water. If you have to use something stronger, start with the mildest solvents or cleaners, such as Isopropyl Alcohol and Naphtha. Then progress to the stronger solvents, such as Mineral Spirits or Turpentine. After cleaning with a solvent, immediately wash the surface with detergent and water and rinse thoroughly with clean water.

If you are concerned how a cleaner or solvent will react with the polycarbonate, the best advice is to “Test, Don’t Guess”. Clean a small piece of polycarbonate with the solvent and see how it reacts. Better still, immerse a piece in the solvent for an hour. From personal experience, I know that lacquer thinner with immediately cloud the surface of the plastic as it starts to dissolve the plastic. Some of these stronger solvents and cleaners should never be used to clean polycarbonate. This list includes:

  • Acetone
  • Ammonia
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Gasoline
  • Lacquer Thinner
  • MEK
  • Toluene
  • Xylene
© 2012 Jim Hingst

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