Heavy-Duty Hand Cleaners for Mechanics to Tackle Grease and Grime with Ease

Updated: Apr. 15, 2024

DIY projects are fun, but they can also be messy! Here's a roundup of some of the best hand cleaners for your workshop or garage.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

close up of hands using a spoon to apply handmade soapFAMILY HANDYMAN

When Soap Won’t Do

A little soap and water may get your hands clean most of the time. But if you’ve been working on your car or doing any kind of grimy home improvement work, it’s time to upgrade to a dedicated hand cleaner.

If you’ve ever tried to wash away grease with water alone, you know it doesn’t work. Water and oil don’t mix, so the water barely touches the oil bound to your skin. You need a cleaning agent that adheres to and breaks down the oil.

For oil and grease, the cleaning agent of choice is soap, while materials such as enamel require a chemical solvent. In either case, when you scrub your hands, that friction lets the cleaning agent pull grime off your skin. That’s great, but sometimes hand rubbing doesn’t provide enough force to remove caked-on grime.

For more effective friction, you need abrasives. The most popular abrasive is pumice (more on that later), but other options include sand, charcoal and crushed walnuts! Unfortunately, these abrasives can also leave your skin scratched and rough.

The final element to look for in a hand cleaner is a moisturizer. It may seem trivial, but frequent use of hand cleaners without skin care elements can lead to cracked skin and split nails. Moisturizers keep skin and nails healthy, even when exposed to high-test cleaning products.

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Grime Degreasing Hand Soap Ecomm Hivebrands.com
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Best Hand Cleaner for Removing Grease

If you’re working with grease and oils, Grime Hand Soap is a great way to get your hands clean.

Grime Hand Soap features a blend of activated charcoal and natural sand as abrasives, tempered by the moisturizing properties of coconut oil and the pleasant scent of fir needle essential oil. It’s formulated to cut through grease and oils that can withstand traditional soaps, but skin-friendly enough to avoid scratching or chafing.

Check out our full rundown on Grime Hand Soap for an in-depth look at its pros and cons.

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Paint Buster Hand Cleaner Ecomm Homedepot.com
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Best Hand Cleaner for Removing Paint

Unlike greases, materials like lacquers and enamels resist even abrasive-laden soaps. If you’re working with non-acrylic paints, consider 3M Paint Buster. According to the manufacturer, 3M Paint Buster Hand Cleaner “quickly removes lacquer, enamel and urethane paints, plastic filler, putty, automotive sealants, adhesives and more.”

It carries a higher price tag than most other options on this list and features a more aggressive combination of chemical cleaners than typical soap-based products. You wouldn’t use this every day, but it’s a good option to have on hand when needed.

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Permatex 25219 Fast Orange Pumice Lotion Hand Cleaner With Pump Ecomm Amazon.com
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Best Hand Cleaner to Buy in Bulk

Fast Orange Hand Cleaner is a well-known name in hand cleaners. If you like keeping a large container on hand for regular scrubbing, it’s a great choice. At $11 for a gallon jug, it’s economical and efficient.

As the name implies, it leaves your hands with a citrus smell, and the pumice-based cleaners strip away layers of dirt and grime with ease. It includes a blend of skin conditioners (aloe, lanolin and glycerin), which means it’s skin-friendly and can be used regularly.

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Lava Heavy Duty Hand Cleaner Bar Soap Ecomm Walmart.com
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Best Budget Hand Cleaner

If you lack space for a jumbo pump dispenser but still want an affordable hand cleaner, consider the one with the longest history: Lava hand soap (less than $4 for a two-pack).

Developed in 1893, Lava is coming up on its 130th birthday and still delivers dependable pumice-based hand cleaning. Pumice is a rock formed during volcanic eruptions. When finely ground, it makes a gentle abrasive, perfect for use in some of the best hand cleaners.

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Gojo Scrubbing Towels 72 Count Hand Soap Ecomm Lowes.com
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Best Towel Hand Cleaner

When you’re working at a site without running water, or you’ve gotten so filthy you can’t go into the house to clean up, turn to GoJo Scrubbing Towels. These are pre-moistened so you can get grime-free on the go. They’re a great addition to a garage workshop or anywhere running water isn’t available, like the back of your truck cab.

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Gojo Multi Green Eco Hand Cleaner Ecomm Napaonline.com
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Best Eco-Friendly Hand Cleaner

Most pumice-based hand soaps are already fairly eco-friendly, but Gojo Multi Green Eco Hand Cleaner raises the bar. The paste-style soap uses less water and is readily biodegradable. Multi Green Eco Hand Cleaner is USDA BioPreferred certified and UL EcoLogo certified, meaning it has a reduced environmental impact.

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Amco 8402 Rub A Way Bar Stainless Steel Odor Absorber Ecomm Amazon.com
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Best Hand Cleaner for Foul Odors

Sometimes your hands clean up easily but the odor remains. It might be a chemical odor from an insecticide, or a more friendly but still stinky food odor like garlic, fish, or onions. The best hand cleaner for these situations is an Amco Stainless Steel Scrubber.

After you’ve washed your hands with a traditional cleaner, rub the stainless odor scrubber in your hands. The stainless steel will help neutralize odors, especially those caused by sulfur (like garlic and fish). It’s why some people even have a stainless steel soap bar.

As far as we can tell, there’s been no serious scientific study on the efficacy of stainless steel to remove odors, but a lot of anecdotal evidence backs it up. And it certainly can’t hurt to try!

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close up of hands using a spoon to apply handmade soap

Best DIY Hand Cleaner

You know this list wouldn’t be complete without a DIY option! Here’s the formula for a classic hand degreaser: a teaspoon of dish soap and a teaspoon of sugar.

That spoonful of sugar isn’t just a Mary Poppins reference. The sugar granules act as an abrasive, working with the soap to break up and remove grease and oils.