How to clean polycarbonate plastic


goldwing windshield

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Whether it’s the face shield on your helmet or the windshield on your motorcycle both are essential to keeping you safe. Here’s a quick primer on how to clean polycarbonate plastic so you can enjoy all that great scenery you’re seeing.

Motorcycle windshields and helmet face shields are durable and can take a bit of a beating, but they can scratch easy by simply wiping the dust off of them or cleaning the bugs off.

If you scrub too hard it will of course make the situation worse.

Case in point;

I was cleaning my motorcycle up after a weekend trip to Mount Zion national park in Utah, where it seemed like I managed to hit every bug I could find.

I had a particular spot on the top corner of my plastic windshield that I was trying to clean that seemed like it wasn’t getting clean.

I did too good of a job.

I started rubbing the top layer of the polycarbonate off of the windshield in one spot.

Oops. Not the outcome I was looking for.

The only upside was at least it wasn’t in my field of vision. Lesson learned.

Why polycarbonate for motorcycle windshields?

Motorcycle windshields are commonly made from a polycarbonate which is designed to resist against high impacts. Not only is it impact resistant, but durable and strong.

Polycarbonate windshields can repel quite a bit of impact but aren’t unbreakable.

Years ago, I owned a 1995 Yamaha Venture Royale (top heavy motorcycle but handled great!) and I experienced a direct hit with a small bird dead center in my windshield at highway speed.

Although it didn’t do the windshield any favors, the polycarbonate windshield held up quite well. When it happened, it scared the crap out of me, and I just knew it was going to shatter.

Will every windshield hold up like that?

Probably not, every circumstance is different.

But the point here is, is that polycarbonate windshields are tough and can take a beating.

At the same time, they can scratch very easy while you’re trying to clean them up.

Tips on what NOT to do

We know the motorcycle windshield is tough, but scratches easy.

Before you start doing any cleaning of a polycarbonate plastic surface, here are a couple of tips of things that should be avoided:

Dot not clean a polycarbonate surface in the heat

Make sure that when your going to clean a polycarbonate motorcycle windscreen, that you’re not doing it in the heat and/or direct sunlight.

Remember the story I just told you about cleaning my windshield after the trip to Mount Zion?

Cleaning my windshield in direct sun and heat was the first mistake that I made.

Do not use Petroleum based cleaners

More specifically, do not use gasoline, diesel or some weird fuel concoction to clean your windshield. Petroleum and Petroleum based cleaner may cause the polycarbonate in the motorcycles windshield deteriorate.

Tolerances for polycarbonate plastic vs petroleum products with depend on the formula used in the plastic. Zexan is brand of polycarbonate plastic that can tolerate certain petroleum products.

See the Zexan section at the end of this article.

Stay away from alkaline cleaners

Same reason. Alkaline cleaners can damage polycarbonate.

Rinse your Windshield

Make sure that you rinse your motorcycle windshield thoroughly of any cleaning materials you may have used.

How to clean polycarbonate plastic

Years ago, I ruined the clear plastic in my work vehicle dashboard display by using the wrong chemical while cleaning.

Since then, I try to be very judicious when it comes to cleaning any polycarbonate plastic surface in anything that I own, specially my motorcycle.

Here’s what I do, and it’s worked well for me without any issues. Keep in mind that I’m doing a basic wash or cleaning of my windshield. I’m not trying repair anything or even trying to polish it, nothing crazy.

This is my post ride cleaning for my motorcycle.

What I do, part 1:

Get a bucket of warm water and either a smooth sponge or (if its too course), a car washing glove (this is what I use). No soap, water only.

Dowse the car wash glove (you can get them anywhere) and get it saturated with the lukewarm water and I gently wipe down the motorcycle windshield.

Don’t scrub! You may scratch the windshield!

Repeat as needed. The objective here is wash off surface dust, get off as much bug guts as I can.

Since my headlamps lens covers are also made of a polycarbonate plastic, I wash them as well.

Part 2:

After a nice warm water rinse down, I move on to actually washing my motorcycle starting with the windshield and front fairing.

A lot of times I cheat, because my bike is garaged. If the rest of my motorcycle is clean and just the front and fairing is covered in bug guts and road grime, I just wash the front. The rest I just wipe down with a dry cloth.

I have found a great cash wash/wax combo by ArmorAll that I use to wash my motorcycle with and I use it exclusively. Not only does it have the soap in it, but also waxes the bike at the same time.

It does a great job and I’ve never had an issue with any of the plastic (let alone clear polycarbonate plastic of the windshield, headlamp lens and gauge display) and leaves the motorcycle looking really nice.

It does a great job and smells nice to, Sorry to sound like a salesman.

When I’m all done, I wipe everything down with a micro fiber rag. They’re cheap and you can find them just about everywhere. I have a ton of them, so I use one specifically for my windscreen and headlamps (and other clear stuff) and a different micro fiber rag for everything else.

Why use a micro fiber rag on polycarbonate plastic? Simple, they work!

Micro fiber rags have that magical combination of being easy on the plastic but able to remove dust, road grime and at least the first layer or so of stuck bug guts. They’re super cheap to buy so there’s no reason not to not have them.

I recommend that you keep at least one or two micro fiber rags with you at all times to wipe your bike down with.

Cleaning a motorcycle windshield quickly

You’re either out on the road or you just don’t have the time to go through a whole wash like I just outlined.

Or maybe your just trying to clean the plastic face shield on your helmet and you don’t have anything else with you.

So now what?

Like I just stated, always keep a micro fiber towel or rag with you. I always have at least two in my trunk.

If I’m in the middle of nowhere and I REALLY have to clean my windshield (this is rare by the way, no matter how many bugs I hit) I’ll take my micro fiber towel into a restroom and wet it down with cool water.

I’ll take my dripping wet rag outside and wipe my windshield down to get the unwanted debris and bugs off.

To get the best results in cleaning a motorcycle windscreen, rinse your rag out and wipe the windshield down with either cold or lukewarm water and give it another wipe down.

Remember: Do not use gas station paper towels to do this! You will scratch the plastic.

I use this method more for my helmet face shield to clean off that one stray bug that manages to get me right in the face.

Other ways to clean polycarbonate plastic

If you’re looking for an even simpler way or more of a one and done solution, you can use a product called Plexus that is an all in one cleaner and polish. The product is a bit more spendy than a lot of other products but works great and is one of the best polycarbonate plastic cleaners available on the market

This is a product that a lot of motorcyclists use and is what I use as my solution in a can.

Another product that other rider that I know use to clean their plastic windscreens is called Novus #1. I can’t speak to Novus personally, but I know riders who use it and like it, and it comes recommended by some polycarbonate plastic manufacturers.

Remember: Micro fiber rags! Can’t say it enough.

Polycarbonate plastic cleaner alternatives

Here is a short list of plastic cleaner alternatives that you can check out. These are items I’ve either read about online or talked with people and they suggested them.

BIG caveat here:  I have not used any of these plastic cleaning methods, except any in this list that I comment specifically on. I’m listing them here so that you’re aware of available alternatives.

Here’s the list:

Windex

I have used this and it seems to work fine, but I’m also careful with it because it contains ammonia which may cause problems. Windex has caused my headaches in the past with plastics, so I’m always a bit cautious to use it.

409

I haven’t tried 409 yet, so I can’t comment one way or the other on how well it cleans and reacts with polycarbonate. I’ve heard both good and bad.

Joy, Palmolive or other household dish soap

Before I started using the ArmorAll wash/wax soap I used Joy or whatever common dish soap I had on hand. If I’m out of ArmorAll I still use it.

Since dish soap is highly concentrated just watch the soap to water ratio.

For example, When I’m whipping up a batch for a motorcycle wash, I use the equivalent of a couple of table spoons of soap to 3 or 4 gallons of water. Plenty of suds and soap rinses off easy.

I haven’t used Joy or Palmolive specifically (that I can remember) but whatever dish soap we have on hand. They’re all formulated about the same.

VM+P Grade Naptha

Naptha is a petroleum based product that has a wide variety of uses as a solvent, cleaner and using it to prep painting surfaces.

Using Naptha is akin to cleaning your windshield with gas or other solvent which I don’t personally recommend doing.

I’ve never used this product to clean anything with, and if you’re an everyday rider like me, this is a cleaner you may want to stay away from. I stay away from using any petroleum based products on plastics because it has the potential to break the plastic down or weaken it.

It may work just fine with no issues, but there are too many other alternatives out there to mess with Naptha.

Isopropyl Alcohol

I’ve never used isopropyl alcohol to clean any polycarbonate plastic surfaces. Theoretically it’s ok, but I have read warnings online that you do NOT use it for cleaning. It has the potential to react and cloud the plastic.

Because of what I’ve read both for and against, I would just stay away from using isopropyl alcohol to clean polycarbonate.

Can I use a power sprayer to clean polycarbonate plastic?

It’s not recommended that you use a high-pressure sprayer to clean polycarbonate with unless it has a setting that will allow you to apply a mist.

If you use the ‘jet’ setting or the high-power setting, you stand a good chance in causing damage to the plastic.

If you have an awesome high-pressure sprayer or power sprayer, just make sure you can turn it down.

Polycarbonate plastic cleaning quick tips

Whether it’s a motorcycle windscreen, a helmet shield or any other polycarbonate plastic surface, here are some general cleaning guidelines.

  1. Rinse off the polycarbonate
  2. Use a mild soap and water (lukewarm to warm) solution and apply that to the surface. Make sure to use either a brand new soft material cloth or one expressly used for this purpose. This keeps small particles from scratching the polycarbonate. Have I mentioned micro fiber lately?
  3. Do not clean in a circular or swirling motion (do not wax on, wax off Daniel-san!). Use an up and down motion with uniform strokes.
  4. Make sure to change the water and rinse your cloth off frequently. If you see small particles adhering to the cloth at any time, stop and rinse your cloth off.
  5. Rinse and repeat as necessary. Make sure you have another soft cloth on hand to dry the surface to prevent water spots.

Lexan polycarbonate cleaning recommendations

Lexan is a type or brand of polycarbonate plastic that’s manufactured by an international company called Sabic.

Lexan is used in all kinds of applications, one of which of course, are motorcycle windshields.

Here are some guidelines and procedures for cleaning Lexan polycarbonate plastic.

These procedures are taken directly from Lexan recommendations here.Opens in a new tab.

Lexan Cleaning procedure for small areas done manually:

  1. Gently wash sheet with a mild soap and water solution and lukewarm water, using a soft grid free cloth for sponge to loosen dirt or grime.
  2. Fresh paint splashes, dirt and grease and smeared glazing products/compounds can be removed easily before drying by rubbing lightly with a soft cloth with using petroleum ether (BP65), hexane or heptane. After, wash sheet with mild soap and lukewarm water.
  3. Scratches and minor abrasions can be minimized by using a mild automobile polish. It’s suggested that a small test be performed on a small area of Lexan with the polish and the polish manufacturer’s instructions followed prior to using polish for the entire sheet.
  4. Thoroughly rinse with clean water to remove any cleaner residue and dry the surface with a soft cloth to prevent water spotting.

As you can see, if your motorcycle windshield is made of Lexan specifically, the procedures are not dissimilar from what we’ve been talking about all along.

Wrapping it up…

How to clean polycarbonate plastic surface really isn’t all that complicated if you step back and take a common sense approach that we’ve talked about here.

Whenever I buy a new helmet, I always wind up replacing the stock face shield that comes with the helmet. I never use it, but what it’s good for is experimenting with new cleaners and polishes before I apply it to my motorcycle windshield.

Do you have a tip or trick?

I’d love to hear about it, leave it in the comments below.

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