Best workshop hand cleaners 2019

Which workshop hand cleaner shifts muck from your skin best after DIY work on your car?

Working on cars is inevitably a seriously messy task with oil; grease and road grime all finding their way onto your hands. To shift ground-in filth it’s best to invest in a specialist heavy-duty hand cleaner; relying on soap and lots of scrubbing with a nailbrush is hard on the skin, and often nowhere near as effective as a cleaner designed to tackle typical car grime.  So which is the one to clean your mitts when the job is done and tools are cleared away? We got down and dirty with eight to find out.

How we tested them 

Polymer microbeads, formerly a mainstay of heavy-duty hand cleaners, have now been outlawed on environmental grounds, so all of these products use natural abrasives. But cleaning power remains key, so we tested our contenders on hands stained in old engine oil, fireplace ash and garden dirt.  Each cleaner was rated on grime shifting, and we looked for those that did not leave our skin dry or sensitive after use. As always, a pleasant scent is appreciated, as is a handy dispenser, and we also took into account cost using makers’ prices and online sources.


Rozalex’s Zalpon Zorange holds onto its crown for a third time, thanks to its effective cleaning power, pleasant scent and skin-friendly formula. Newcomer Bonnymans put up a great show, though, and its seriously tough Red Gritted cleaner came in second. Swarfega’s Heavy finishes third.

  • 1. Rozalex Zalpon Zorange
  • 2. Bonnymans Red Gritted Hand Soap
  • 3. Swarfega Heavy
  • ReviewsRozalex Zalpon Zorange

    Price: around £18.99
    Rating:  5/5
    Size: 4,000ml 

    Rozalex fends off competition yet again to remain our favourite hand cleaner. Its orange scent smells brilliant, especially among the chemical whiffs of rivals, and the product is now available in smaller litre and 250ml sizes – ideal to use around the house, as well as the workshop. Most importantly, a tough soap formula and a gritty pumice abrasive mean it effortlessly cleaned stains off our hands, while our skin didn’t feel too dry or raw afterwards. Zalpon Zorange is still our Best Buy.

    Buy now from Amazon

    Bonnymans Red Gritted Hand Soap

    Price: around £22
    Rating: 4.5/5
    Size: 15kg 

    At just £22 for a huge 15kg tub, this looks a bargain – although a smaller five-litre bottle is also available, and should be compatible with third-party pump dispensers. It feels like a budget Swarfega Heavy, and even smells near-identical. We were most impressed by its cleaning ability, with plenty of walnut shell abrasive working grime out of every crevice – particularly effective on ingrained engine oil. It doesn’t smell great, but our skin felt good afterwards.

    Buy now from Bonnymans

    Swarfega Heavy

    Price: around £8.40
    Rating: 4/5
    Size: 500ml 

    Hard to argue with the cleaning power on offer here – Swarfega Heavy has shrugged off our test stains, as with most of the other products in the company’s range. It’s pretty expensive, however. The perlite abrasive didn’t feel as good as the walnut in Bonnymans Red, and wasn’t as abundant, although it smells similar. Still, the Swarfega is effective, didn’t dry out our skin and is available in a wide array of sizes to suit a range of budgets and uses.

    Buy now from Screw Fix

    Worx All-Natural Hand Cleaner

    Price: around £13.50
    Rating: 3/5
    Size: 454ml

    Uniquely in this company, the Worx cleaner comes as a powder, rather than a gel, which can make it awkward to dispense the correct amount. It needs to be applied to pre-wetted hands as well, adding another step to the process, while the outlawing of microbeads means its environmental credentials carry less weight now. Still, once on it’s pretty effective – and a little goes a long way, making a fairly dinky bottle last quite a while. Some like its juniper scent, although it’s not to our taste.

    Buy now from eBay

    Swarfega Tough

    Price: around £2.99
    Rating:  3/5
    Size: 250ml 

    Cleans well thanks to a seriously gritty abrasive, although enthusiastic scrubbing to get engine oil off did leave our skin feeling rubbed raw afterwards – it’ll certainly soften up your calluses. There’s a greasy film left behind, too, often necessitating a second rinse, and Tough doesn’t smell very good, either – harsh and chemical. But the tube dispenser is convenient and you only need a tiny amount at a time to get great results.

    Buy now from Amazon

    Bonnymans Pearlised Hand Soap

    Price: around £6.90
    Rating: 3/5
    Size: 5,000ml 

    By far the best-value product here and one that smells pretty good but, with no abrasive, this formula requires quite a lot more scrubbing on hard stains such as engine oil. Still, it made short work of ash and soil. The five-litre bottle isn’t exactly convenient without a pump, although as a refill kit it’s a bargain. Our skin felt great after washing, making it good for those with less demanding cleaning needs.

    Buy now from Bonnymans

    Briggs and Stratton Ultracare Heavy Duty Hand Cleaner

    Price: £8.99
    Rating: 2.5/5
    Size: 600ml 

    This has a chemical smell and is so runny that it’s tricky to use without making a mess. Drop it once with the lid open, and you can kiss your hand cleaner goodbye. It cleans well, though, lifting two of our stains straight away, only requiring a little extra work on the ingrained engine oil. But our hands felt a little dry afterwards, despite the rather gentle abrasive. Would suit a pump dispenser more than many of the firmer gels here.

    Buy now from Amazon


    Price: around £9.99
    Rating: 1.5/5
    Size: 397g 

    The manufacturer touts Goop as a do-it-all product, capable of removing stains off any surface and boosting laundry. That’s all well and good but, sadly, we found it abysmal at cleaning our hands. There’s no abrasive, but the heavy-duty chemicals do seem to shift most dirt – although we had to work it quite hard. However, there’s a greasy layer left at the end which required a solid minute of scrubbing to shift. It doesn’t smell great, either. Not the best to use.

    Buy now from Goop

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