Almost every aggressive aluminum brightener contains acid, usually hydrofluoric acid (HF) and/or ammonium bifluoride (ABF). Both of these ingredients are very common in the fleet cleaning industry to brighten any non-polished aluminum, or as the 1st Step in a 2-Step fleet washing method. 

But how much do you know about these chemicals? Could they damage your fleet? Not if you use them the right way but you should be extra careful when using them. 

In this article, we’ll explain how they’re different and how to choose the right ingredients for your fleet.

What is the difference between ABF and HF?

Hydrofluoric Acid is a highly corrosive acid that is strong enough to eat through glass, rock, and metal. Many aluminum brighteners use concentrated amounts of HF because of how well they clean vehicles.

So here’s what you need to know about HF:

Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is labeled as toxic on both the packaging and Safety Data Sheet (SDS) as required by DOT regulations. HF is strong enough to etch glass and is one of, if not the only, acid that can do this. Hydrofluoric Acid (HF)  can etch glass, or what some will refer to as "hazing", "smoking", or "fogging" when allowed to dry on the glass, applied too strong, or without neutralizing it with an alkaline detergent or water. HF is the only acid that can hurt glass, no other acids do this.

If you use a 2-Step process, you will want to make sure to use a Step 1 pre-soak that contains as little HF as possible while still maintaining the level of clean desired. This will minimize the risk of etching glass and ruining your windshield. 

If you're using a Step 1 chemical with HF, you need to make sure to dilute it per the manufacturer's instructions. That is not just to make it very effective at cleaning and brightening, it’s also for your safety. One of our most popular acids is #1 Fleet Prep, containing HF -- it's used as a brightener and as a 1st Step in a 2-Step Process.

Is Ammonium Bifluoride safer than Hydrofluoric Acid?

Both HF and ABF are both hazardous, but ABF is not labeled as toxic in relation to DOT regulation. Ammonium Bifluoride is a less-toxic colorless salt and when added to water, ABF becomes a less aggressive version of hydrofluoric acid. That’s why it is very common in truck wash soaps and other cleaning products.  When you first learn the 2-Step truck washing process, using a 1st Step that contains ABF will allow you to mildly brighten any non-polished aluminum, while lowering your risks significantly of etching glass.

But even though many people consider ABF to be a safer alternative to HF, it’s still a hazardous chemical, so please handle it with care. 

Having said that, we are confident the small amounts we add to our soaps are safe when used correctly. Using a Step 1 chemical with ABF allows you to brighten any non-polished aluminum while lowering your risks of etching glass and reducing some safety risks that HF has.. 

Pro Tip: Our Supersonic Presoak contains mild amounts of ABF. It allows you to clean your fleet quickly and effectively and minimizes the risk of damage.

Which should you use for your fleet washing process?

There's one thing you need to understand if you’re trying to figure out if hydrofluoric acid is better than ammonium bifluoride - they can be different tools for different tasks.

When comparing the brightening capabilities of different acids or low pH detergents, it's important to be aware that a detergent that contains ABF will not have the same brightening or restoration ability on a fleet that has dingy or pitted aluminum rails, rims, or tanks compared to a low pH detergent that contains hydrofluoric acid. 

You might need multiple applications of an acid only containing ABF to get the desired look or results on the aluminum rails, rims, and tanks that may have taken a single application of an HF product.

Having said that, it's important to understand the risks of any product that contains HF or ABF and take the necessary precautions, including proper PPE. Always consult with the manufacturer of the detergent to understand how to blend, dilute, and use it. 

If you haven’t been made aware of the proper precautions ahead of purchasing a truck wash cleaning product with HF, then feel free to contact us. We would be happy to make sure the chemicals you have are used correctly, to help you get the clean you want while still keeping you (and your trucks) safe. 


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