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  1. #1
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    Automotive Starter Fluid for cleaning drivetrain

    The bike mechanic at my local bike shop suggested using automotive starter fluid to spray down my chain,rear cassette,ect. to thoroughly clean my drive train when it gets really gunked up from riding on crushed limestone bike paths.He claims it works as good as the stuff bike shops sell and is a lot cheaper.Would it be a mistake to do this?
    Last edited by dclifton; 10-25-10 at 02:42 PM. Reason: mispell

  2. #2
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    Quite flammable; it IS starting fluid.

    Might as well look at carb/brake cleaner too. The MSDS on the Gunk Brand product indicates theirs is primarily tetrachlorethylene, which is non-flammable.

    But, 1:1 Simple Green with H20 works well too, cheap, and non-flammable. And, while it it labeled enviro friendly, I'm not sure that is a legitimate claim after thoroughly loading the solution with dirty lube.

  3. #3
    Senior Member JTGraphics's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dclifton View Post
    The bike mechanic at my local bike shop suggested using automotive starter fluid to spray down my chain,rear cassette,ect. to thoroughly clean my drive train when it gets really gunked up from riding on crushed limestone bike paths.He claims it works as good as the stuff bike shops sell and is a lot cheaper.Would it be a mistake to do this?
    Not very smart is he were is this shop? if I were the owner I would not allow it in my shop for sure.
    It may not be fancy but it gets me were I need to go.
    http://www.jtgraphics.net/cyclist_bicycles.htm

  4. #4
    Fred-ish rogerstg's Avatar
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    It'll work fine. Just use it outdoors. It dries very fast, and don't smoke of course. FWIW, Carburetor cleaner works well too and is less flammable but dries slower.

  5. #5
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    It will work, but it is highly flammable and can knock you out if inhaled. It used to be used as an anesthetic known as ether.
    Bikes use brakes to stop.

    If your bike has breaks, don't ride it.

  6. #6
    Gear Hub fan
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    I am not sure of current formulation but it used to be mostly ether. No smoking or flame of any sort nearby and try to avoid breathing the fumes.
    Gear Hubs Owned: Rohloff disc brake, SRAM iM9 disc brake, SRAM P5 freewheel, Sachs Torpedo 3 speed freewheel, NuVinci CVT, Shimano Alfine SG S-501, Sturmey Archer S5-2 Alloy. Other: 83 Colnago Super Record, Univega Via De Oro

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  7. #7
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    "Starting fluid is a mixture of volatile hydrocarbons (heptane, butane or propane), diethyl ether, and carbon dioxide(as a propellant)."
    Wikipedia.
    Volatile is a hazard clue.
    Apparently sometime abuse by huffers.
    RANS V3 (steel), RANS V-Rex, RANS Screamer

  8. #8
    Insane Bicycle Mechanic Jeff Wills's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rogerstg View Post
    It'll work fine. Just use it outdoors. It dries very fast, and don't smoke of course. FWIW, Carburetor cleaner works well too and is less flammable but dries slower.
    Carburetor cleaner, particularly older stuff, may contain dichloromethane, monochlorotoluene, sodium bichromate, and ethyl benzene. Nasty stuff. Do not handle anything that's been cleaned with carburetor cleaner with your bare hands!

    Personally, I've used kerosene to clean parts for years. It might take a little scrubbing and scraping, but it's better than melting your nervous system.
    Jeff Wills

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  9. #9
    Senior Member $pecial's Avatar
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    Don't try Brake cleaner with bare hands either. I did and had VERY dry fingers with really rough irritated skin for like 10 days. oops

  10. #10
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by $pecial View Post
    Don't try Brake cleaner with bare hands either. I did and had VERY dry fingers with really rough irritated skin for like 10 days. oops
    What you got was a case of solvent induced eczema. I've had that before from exposure to model airplane dope thinner (similar to lacquer thinner) when using it for a few days. It's not that uncommon for this to happen with strong degreasing solvents in contact with skin. After all our skin is flexible largely due to the fatty OILS in it. And all the stuff in this thread is good at removing oils.

    To the OP, your mechanic wasn't wrong but he's stupid for recomending something that is quite pricey to buy, so blatantly flammable and hard on the human body. Especially when there are so many other options that are cheaper, less flammable and not quite as damaging options to our bodies out there. ANYTHING in an aerosol can is more pricey to buy per volume than stuff that comes in a big gallon jug. Some of the gallon jug options may require a bit of work with a brush to clean the stuff but you don't usually need much of it and so the cost is a lot less. And with any strong detergents or any solvent at all it is well worth wearing good nitrile solvent resistant gloves.
    Model airplanes are cool too!.....

  11. #11
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    Pricey? I can get a can of starting fluid for less then US$2.
    Bikes use brakes to stop.

    If your bike has breaks, don't ride it.

  12. #12
    SE Wis dedhed's Avatar
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    I like the aerosols for finish work on the really tough stuff. With the straw in you can really blast away. I usually use brake cleaner. I also like it on my chain after the solvent tank just to blow everything out of the insides and not have to wait as long for everything to evaporate before lubing and reinstalling. Be careful around plastics with some of that stuff too.
    '68 Raleigh Sprite, '02 Raleigh C500, '84 Raleigh Gran Prix, '91 Trek 400

  13. #13
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DieselDan View Post
    Pricey? I can get a can of starting fluid for less then US$2.
    While that sounds cheap it's still more than you'd pay for the same amount of mineral spirits when bought in a gallon jug. And then there's that pesky bit about the flamability of the contents. By definition it has to be more easily vapourized than gasoline and more easy to light or it would not be useful as a starting fluid. Not to mention that if the are still using the ether component that it's not good stuff to be inhaleing even if outdoors.
    Model airplanes are cool too!.....

  14. #14
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    -1 for nasty stuff

  15. #15
    Senior Member canopus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BCRider View Post
    While that sounds cheap it's still more than you'd pay for the same amount of mineral spirits when bought in a gallon jug.
    apparently you haven't priced mineral spirits down here lately. That stuffs gotten outrageous. Thats why I use gasoline...
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  16. #16
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    And let's not forget how much you'd use if you were only spraying the gunk away. One pass to soften things up and then a second pass to blast the gunk away. That uses up a lot of fluid.

    And a can of starter fluid is what? Maybe 8 oz? Or 10 if it's a large "economy" size? By letting the gunk settle out of the mineral spirits I can re-use the same stuff for a good 8 to 10 cleanings vs one time use.

    Up this way a 4.4 liter (the old imperial gallon size) of mineral spirits in the disguise of "low odor paint thinner" is around $8. Then they tack on an "environmental fee" tax of another buck and a half just because the government are idiots..... but that's a whole other topic. So that's around $9.50 for 133 floz or 8.3 cents per oz. At $2 for a 10 oz can that's 20 cents an oz for the starter fluid. Also we're talking multi use for the mineral spirits to single use for the starter fluid. Still think it's a bargain? Even if the stuff goes up to a total of $12 a gallon for a US gallon with it's 128 floz we're still talking about less than 10 cents per floz vs 20 cents or more an oz for the starter fluid. And again factor in the multi use ability of the mineral spirits vs spraying onto the ground with the starter fluid and it's a slam dunk win for MS as a cleaning solvent cost wise. Of course you need to get one of the chain cleaning gizmos or take the chain off and slosh it in a jar instead of spray, wipe, oil and ride but for the slight extra time it takes I'd still say that a proper solvent is the winner cost wise. Not to mention that the fumes are a lot less toxic.

    And if the cost bothers you get four other buddies together and buy Varsol in bulk from one of the local fuel and oil suppliers in the area. A 5 gallon jug split 5 ways will keep most riders in clean chains for a good year. Bought in bulk I can assure you that the cost per fluid ounce would then be around a nickel.
    Model airplanes are cool too!.....

  17. #17
    Bigger than my body dkprnce's Avatar
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    Wasn't the original question "can i use it" and "will it destroy my parts" or something like that. How did we get to global warming and saving the economy? YES you can use it and NO it won't hurt anything.... well besides what has already been mentioned. You can use brake cleaner for almost anything mechanical. That's what its for.

  18. #18
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dkprnce View Post
    Wasn't the original question "can i use it" and "will it destroy my parts" or something like that. How did we get to global warming and saving the economy? YES you can use it and NO it won't hurt anything.... well besides what has already been mentioned. You can use brake cleaner for almost anything mechanical. That's what its for.
    The question was whether it would be a mistake to use 'Automotive Starter Fluid for cleaning drivetrain.'

    Smells like a mistake to me. And if I smell it too much, I get high.
    RANS V3 (steel), RANS V-Rex, RANS Screamer

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