From garages to barbershops: Swarfega remains popular degrease choice

FROM the computer game heroine Lara Croft to the ever-delicious Bakewell tarts, Derbyshire has been a source of amazing inventions, products – and ideas such as the study of Sociology.

Adding to the county’s inventive streak, the area also has a proud history of involvement in the oil and grease cleaning industry after Belper-based chemist Audley Bowdler Williamson invented the iconic, classic green Swarfega gel, in 1947 - writes SAMUEL McKEOWN.

The famous Swarfega product is a rapidaction classic smooth green gel formula hand cleanser with added conditioner. It is easy to apply and quick rinsing to remove ingrained oil, grease and general grime, leaving skin feeling smooth. Prevalently used in a variety of industries such as engineering, construction, garages, chemists, and even barbershops.

As a world-leading industrial hand cleaner, Swarfega’s origin stems from AB Williamson’s first invented product, which was known as ‘Deb’, asilkware protector.

Originally a silkware protector, Deb was intended to extend the life of silk stockings and prevent ‘laddering’, the mild solution was applicable for hand-washing silk stockings too.

Inventor Williamson was inspired by memories of motor fitters suffering from cracked skin and dermatitis through the washing of their hands with petrol, parafin and sand. 'Deb' was then reformulated to a skin cleaner to remove engine oils and grease in order to leave the skin’s natural oils intact the birth of Swarfega.

The hand-cleaning agent quickly established itself as a popular choice in the 1940s and 50s. This led the company to enter the specialist hand cleanser market, with Williamson’s detergent-sales company, Deb Silkware Protection Ltd (now Deb Limited), leading the way.

To go full circle, we took Swarfega back into Derbyshire, travelling just 43 miles from Belper, to the town of Glossop – to be put to the test on two mid-noughties car engines.

First up was a late-2005 registered Ford Fiesta, which needed an oil change and some much-needed tender-loving care after recently clocking over 50,000 miles.

Changing any vehicle’s liquids is a grimy job no matter how old the engine is. On top of that, the Fiesta’s 13-year-old innards were stained with dirt, oil and dust.

After checking the oil level and PCV valve, filling up the water coolant, checking the transmission fluid, and other meticulous (but necessary) tasks, a wipe down of the entire surface was called for.

Remarkably, only a palmfull dollop of the famous green gel was needed to cleanse the hands, wrists and forearms.

Next up was an early-2004 registered Toyota Yaris, which over the years has clocked a whopping 117,000 miles. As expected, a look under the Yaris’ bonnet revealed copious amounts of grime, oil and dirt, collected over a 14-year period.

Although a smaller vehicle than the Fiesta, the Yaris required twice the attention. After cleaning the Toyota’s bonnet interior, hands were disinfected and grime-free within moments after applying the green-coloured gel.

The Swarfega gel impressively, and instantly, neutralised and cleansed three pairs of hands – and forearms – to the same standard as a deep wash. And there was enough Swarfega gel left in the 500ml tub to do at least another 15 cleans.

As well as degreasing/maintenance, and hand and skin cleaners, other Swarfega products include surface cleaning for both the indoors and outdoors; surface wipes; painting remover; and even SPF30 sunscreen, which are all designed for both home and workplace use.

FACT: Swarfega’s irregular name derives from the term ‘swarf’, being the old Derbyshire engineering term for oil and grease and ‘ega’, as in ‘eager to clean’.

Swarfega gel Derbyshire Audley Bowdler Williamson Belper The Deb Group
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