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Working Safely with Chemicals that Prevent Frozen Solutions

Tony Evans

Board of Director
Here in the Midwest we are getting ready to face another winter season and that means cold temperatures and window cleaning. No doubt many of you have come out to the vehicle one morning only to remember that you forgot to bring in the bucket and found a block of ice instead of a bucket of solution. Fortunately we have a variety of chemicals that will keep our solution liquid and flowing freely so we can do our job. Unfortunately they can cause other issues so this article will give you the options and precautions to keep you working safely this winter.

Our Chemical Options
When it comes to chemicals we have several to choose from but I’ve found a few that are the best when it comes to economy and performance. Some choose to go with windshield washer fluid (WWF) but I opted not to include it simply because one of the chemicals I use is the base component.
Methanol – this is the antifreeze chemical that is found in windshield washer fluid and the one I use the most of in my business. Around here I buy it from a local dirt track race team supplier as methanol is there fuel. It cost me about $3 -3.50 a gallon. Now you may say you can get a gallon of WWF cheaper but keep in mind about 75% of that gallon is water, cheap soap, and blue dye. That means you are getting (at best) 25% methanol per gallon. That actually makes it a far more expensive option and the blue dye looks horrible as it freezes up on the side of a home or storefront.
Ethanol – I’ve bought this as denatured alcohol at my local hardware store and it worked well. It was more expensive and the smell was closely akin to model airplane glue so ventilation is vital. I’d use it only if I had no other option.
Isopropyl – this is my second most used form of antifreeze. I add a few quarts of it to each 5 gallons of methanol to eliminate the smell of the fuel additive they use. I also include it in my pure water back pack when the temps will be below freezing for part of the day to keep me water fed poling as long as I can.
While there are other chemicals out there these are the most easily obtained and do the job efficiently.

There are several cautions to be aware of when dealing with these chemicals.
Colder temps – since we are trying to keep the water from freezing at 32F by adding a chemical, we are artificially reducing it freezing temperature and so if we were to expose our hands to the water the temp could be as low as -10F or more depending on our working conditions.
Chemical Exposure – while exposure to a small amount of any of these chemicals isn’t really dangerous we are working with them for hours every day. Make sure to completely limit skin exposure by wearing gloves (preferably chemically resistant) while mixing or working with these chemicals.
Flammability – all of these chemicals are flammable so you need to be aware of any ignition sources you may be working near. Remember the flame from alcohol burns a blue/white so the solution can be on fire and you won’t be able to see it.
Evaporation – while not necessarily a serious hazard one additional concern when working with these chemicals is that they will eventually evaporate from your solution. To reduce this I recommend that you buy and use a lid for your solution. There are several that can be purchased at any window cleaning supply house of your choice.
Final thoughts
As with any chemical you may use in your business, education and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) are the most important aspect. Make sure that whichever of these chemicals you are using you read and carry with you the MSDS sheet. This will make sure that if the worst happens you have the information needed to administer the proper first aid or other safety concerns.