Tag Archives: Ethanol

Homemade Washer Fluid Sucks

It’s 10:54 p.m. and I still haven’t written a post today. The weekend kinda threw me off to where instead of writing these before work I’ve been trying to force them out after work. It has that anxiety of deadlines that I haven’t known since college. Well, maybe a little bit with the Morrowind story I guess.

The stupid post yesterday about my Crisco candles had me thinking about all the other stupid projects I’ve done and since time is limited I think I’ll write about another one of those. It’s not the most riveting stuff but I need to get something out tonight.

One fun thing I’ve noticed with my stupid projects is how quickly things go off the rails where you run into issues. Tiny things you’ve overlooked come back to bite you in the ass, and even if you’ve thought about the issues before hand sometimes it’s simpler to start the project before worrying about tiny things that could dissuade you from continuing. I used to homebrew and would worry about what I’d bottle my wine in before I had brewed a single thing. Worry about stuff like that later is easy and smart to do, but eventually you need to face the problems as they arise.

So, car window washer fluid. Easy right? Yeah, mostly. My entire motivation behind this was my laziness. I hate discovering the our cars are out of window washer fluid which then requires an inconvenient trip to the store. The stuff isn’t expensive really, it’s just a pain to go buy. I should also state my obsession of very clean windows. I spray the window off daily everytime I drive. Even a single day leaves a slight layer of dirt or tree pollen on the car which bothers the hell out of me. Winter is even worse with salt water being sprayed on the car from other vehicles. The water quickly evaporates and leaves an ugly layer of salt dried to the window. The low winter sun usually makes one hell of a glare on it that is unbearable. In short, I clear my car windows daily and go through a ton of fluid in the process. It’d be easier to make it myself. And make it as cheaply as possible obviously.

Starting as simply as possible: water. But it can’t be any water because tap water is hard. It has dissolved minerals which can build up in lines or on the car. This is what murdered my last coffee pot and I was well aware of how shitty hard water was. I wasn’t going to put tap water into my vehicle and ruin the washer system. What about distilled water? That was a good idea but the only obvious source for distilled water was the store. If I had to go buy distilled water from the store it would defeat the convenience factor of not going to the store for washer fluid. If only I could make my own distilled water. Hmm…

That’s easy to do. Sort of. The easiest way I discovered was the dehumidifier; the waste water should be distilled (enough) and was easy to make for cheap. You plug in a dehumidifier, turn it on, and wait a day or two.

Distilled water, some dish soap, and some ammonia. Ammonia also, luckily, depresses the freezing point of water. This should keep me safe for the then upcoming winter. I made my first few bottles in late summer and had zero problems or regrets up until then. But then it went below freezing and things got complicated.

I went outside one chilly morning and tried to spray the window off. I heard the washer motor make its pathetic whine but no fluid came out. Uh oh. Eventually I realized that ammonia, while depressing the freezing point of water, needs to be very concentrated to do so. The stuff I purchased from the store was only like 3% ammonia, and since I had mixed a cup of this to a gallon of water, it wasn’t doing jack shit to the freezing point. And all the fluid in the car was frozen. How was I supposed to thaw that to even add new unfreezing fluid?

Luckily, it was still warm enough during the day to thaw the fluid out. My plan was to figure out something to keep the stuff liquid down to about -40 degrees or so. My first idea was to use antifreeze, but this is cost-prohibitive and I wasn’t sure if that stuff should be used in window fluid. A few internet searches suggested isopropyl alcohol — rubbing alcohol — and ethanol. Regular, good old ethanol. Moonshine. Booze. Vodka. Whatever you want to call it.

I knew rubbing alcohol was kinda expensive but I also knew I couldn’t find pure ethanol cheaply either. High proof booze from the store was way too expensive, and the cheapest way to get ethanol was maybe E85 fuel from a gasoline pump. I could grab an entire gallon of the stuff for only about $2, but was hesitant of putting 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline in my washer fluid reservoir. But now that I think about it, I would only need a small percentage of the stuff in the water, and maybe the tiny bit of gasoline wouldn’t be that bad? It still sounds like a bad idea though. Maybe I’ll test in a junker car later.

I even found some freezing diagrams for isopropyl alcohol and ethanol. Here’s the ethanol one, mostly because I’m running out of time.

As you can see, to reach -40 degrees I’d need a 50/50 mix of water and ethanol, which was really shitty to discover. Maybe I could shoot for a 25% mix of the stuff and have it freeze below -10 or 15 degrees — not the best but it should work for about 95% of the winter.

But where to find the supplies? Luckily we have a Farm and Fleet a half-mile away and they sell all sorts of random chemicals. One time I bought stump remover (potassium nitrate) to make fucking rocket fuel out of. I vaguely recalled seeing gallons of isopropyl alcohol there for sale (for farm animals I think) and sure enough they had it in stock. It was $16 a gallon if I remember correctly; this still isn’t cheap but I could make about 4 gallons of fluid with a 25% mix of the stuff. $4 a gallon isn’t too bad on average.

I was also able to find denatured alcohol at Farm and Fleet. This appeared to be a 50/50 mix of ethanol, the drinkable stuff, with methanol, a poison. This is to stop alcoholics from buying a cheap bottle of moonshine from Farm and Fleet and drinking it. I mean they still can drink it, but I think they’d go blind from it. Methanol is bad stuff. I think I picked up a quart of it for $5. Isopropyl and ethyl alcohol were about the same price overall for my project on a per gallon basis.

And my 25% mixes seemed to work. I took a bunch of rubbing alcohol and dumped it directly into the reservoir to prevent that shit from freezing and that worked nicely. It is entertaining to clean your windows and smell a strong alcohol smell, but hey it works.

To make this story even dumber, I recently tried to restock my supplies. I turned on the dehumidifier ready to get distilled water for my “summer blend,” meaning free of alcohol, but the humidity is so damn low the thing doesn’t even turn on. The lowest setting it has is 35% humidity and anything below that it simply doesn’t turn on. Well shit. I guess I’m waiting for those hot and humid summer days again.

I did have a random idea of turning on our fireplace to get some heat and humidity but this seems like a terrible idea. While methane does burn and make water vapor, it seems like a really roundabout way of making distilled water. Part of my motivation with this project was to cut down on endless plastic bottles and pollution in general, so burning natural gas to make water to then distill down into water sounds ass-backwards.

So while making your own car washer fluid isn’t as easy or as straightforward as making candles from Crisco, it also isn’t very hard. I highly recommend trying it especially if you live in a climate that doesn’t involve bitterly cold temperatures for a third of the year. If you do, stock up on rubbing alcohol in the fall. Or booze.