Ford discovers how sun cream and hand sanitizer can ruin interiors

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Sun lotion and hand sanitizer may be good for human health but these products are bad for cars. Chemicals found in some such products can react with surfaces, causing them to wear prematurely unless they are protected by special finishes.

This is a challenge that Ford engineers deal with daily, as they continually test new products on materials to support the development of resistant coatings.

“From hand sanitisers to sun lotions to insect repellent – consumer trends are constantly changing, and new products are coming onto the market all the time,” said Mark Montgomery, senior materials engineer at the Materials Technology Centre, Dunton Technical Centre, UK, for Ford of Europe.

“Even the most innocuous seeming product can cause problems when it comes into contact with surfaces, hundreds and even thousands of times a year.”

The European market for hand sanitizer, including gel, foam and wipes, many of which contain ethanol, is expected to rise by 60%, from US$371.92m in 2018 to US$593.62m by 2024.

Higher factor lotions meanwhile, contain greater quantities of titanium oxide that can react with plastics and natural oils found in leather, especially when it is hot. Diethyltoluamide is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents.

“Sometimes what we do requires a bit of detective work. There were instances of particularly high wear in Turkey and we managed to trace it back to ethanol as a potential contributing factor, and most likely a popular hand sanitizer that contained 80% ethanol – far higher than anything we’d seen before. Once we knew what it was, we were able to do something about it,” explained Richard Kyle, a materials engineer who is also based in Dunton.

The Ford teams in Dunton, UK and Cologne, Germany, test materials at temperatures as high as 74°C – the temperature the inside of a car parked at the beach on a hot day might reach. In other tests they simulate long periods of exposure to the sun, where samples are soaked in ultraviolet light – equivalent to the brightest place on earth – for up to 1,152 hours (48 days).

They also test plastics for strength at temperatures as low as -30°C, which is when they become most brittle, repeatedly bouncing a rubber ball that is 10 times heavier than a regulation football to ensure the plastic doesn’t crack.

Based on the findings, the chemical constitution of protective coatings can then be reformulated so that interiors are protected. Storage accessories, such as boot liners and interior plastic covers, as also extensively analyzed.

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Rachel's career in journalism began around five years ago when she started working for UKi Media & Events, having recently graduated from Coventry University where she studied the subject. Her favourite aspect of the job is interviewing industry experts, including researchers, scientists, engineers and technicians, and learning more about the groundbreaking technologies and innovations that are shaping the future of the automotive and tire industries.

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