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  1. #1
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    chain cleaning with solvents

    I tried the shake-in-a-jar method today with isopropyl alcohol to clean my chain. I'm allergic to white spirit and other solvents so I figured I'd give isopropyl alcohol a go. . . another benefit would be that it evaporates without leaving a residue so no need for further cleaning after that. However I found it not effective enough, it wouldn't shift all the grime. Was wondering, would leaving a chain in isopropyl alchohol for a long time have any corrosive effect on the metal or whatever outer coating it might have?

    In fact, is white spirit suitable for use with any type of chain/outer coating?

  2. #2
    Holy crip he's a crapple
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    fwiw, spraying liberally in a bucket with walmart branded foaming engine degreaser (in car lube aisle) that's $1 a can works great to degrease anything on a bike/car/rc car for me.

    stubborn parts will get a brass brush or red scotchbrite pad scouring while the foamy stuff is doing its work
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  3. #3
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    Yeah, i just use de-greaser too.
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    I don't think alcohol will even make a dent.

    I cycle in the winter, and have to clean the chain frequently, and use a very tenacious lube (Finish Line Green). Over the years I've tried several solvents, always trying to find something more or less environmentally 'safe' or at least water-based so I can use it indoors. Simple Green, orange 'citrus' degreaser, Park Chain Brite, Zep Industrial Purple have all had their chance. Sadly, nothing has ever done the job except mineral spirits. Next winter I might stop using the Finish Line Green - it's just too much of a mess.

  5. #5
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    I've just switched to dry lube (finish line) to see how it works. I may well give the 'dip in molten wax' method a go.

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    I used to use kerosene...it definitely works on oil, not sure about wax or grease. It's flammable but not explosive like gasoline.

  7. #7
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chagzuki View Post
    I tried the shake-in-a-jar method today with isopropyl alcohol to clean my chain. I'm allergic to white spirit and other solvents so I figured I'd give isopropyl alcohol a go. . . another benefit would be that it evaporates without leaving a residue so no need for further cleaning after that. However I found it not effective enough, it wouldn't shift all the grime. Was wondering, would leaving a chain in isopropyl alchohol for a long time have any corrosive effect on the metal or whatever outer coating it might have?

    In fact, is white spirit suitable for use with any type of chain/outer coating?
    In chemistry, the hard and fast rule is that like dissolves like. Waxes and oils are nonpolar. Alcohols are polar. Mineral spirits are nonpolar. Water is polar. Water and alcohols : like dissolves like. Oils, waxes and mineral spirits: like dissolves like. Alcohol and oils: dislike like oil and water.

    There are tricks you can play on things like oil and water to make the oil go away into water but the water has to have something in it that the oil likes to be in. Those are surfactants, i.e. soaps. But you have to get rid of the soaps to get ride of the oils which means flushing with water - like you rinse your clothes. That causes other problems like rusting and the need to remove the water before you add more oils and/or waxes.

    You could use...and everyone should use... gloves when handling mineral spirits. Nitrile gloves do a very good job of resisting mineral spirits.
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  8. #8
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    You might try the citrus based biodegradeable degreasers. They may be easier on you than the mineral spirits. You will have to rinse the degreaser out with water. When I do this, I wipe the excess water off and let it dry. Then I spray the chain with WD40 to displace the water and wipe it off. Finally I use a liberal does of chain lube to hopefully ride the chain of the WD40.

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    Thanks for the explanation cyccommute. I had a bit of a read on the subject but the chemistry is over my head so far.

    Unfortunately I'm as sensitive to citrus solvents as mineral spirits or turpentine. Isopropyl alcohol is about the only cleaning agent I seem to tolerate.

    I've been trying to think of an easy way to use mineral spirits such that I don't inhale any vapours. . . the problem is what to do with the chain as it's pulled out of the liquid.

  10. #10
    Senior Member JonathanGennick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chagzuki View Post
    Unfortunately I'm as sensitive to citrus solvents as mineral spirits or turpentine. Isopropyl alcohol is about the only cleaning agent I seem to tolerate.
    That's an interesting problem. Do you perhaps have a friend who would clean the chain for you?

    Finish Line has some sort of earth-friendly, soy-based degreaser. I just ordered a bottle of it this week as an experiment. I've no idea whether it really works.

    You could look at something like White Lightening's Clean Streak, which I believe is essentially brake rotor cleaner. That stuff is magic when it comes to cleaning parts, dissolving lung tissue, etc.

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    Lover of Old Chrome Moly Myosmith's Avatar
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    I'm still a fan of Simple Green with just a squirt of Dawn dishsoap added. It'll degrease anything I've come across.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chagzuki View Post
    Thanks for the explanation cyccommute. I had a bit of a read on the subject but the chemistry is over my head so far.

    Unfortunately I'm as sensitive to citrus solvents as mineral spirits or turpentine. Isopropyl alcohol is about the only cleaning agent I seem to tolerate.

    I've been trying to think of an easy way to use mineral spirits such that I don't inhale any vapours. . . the problem is what to do with the chain as it's pulled out of the liquid.
    Have you tried kerosene? Might be worth a shot - It's been a while since I used it (I haven't cleaned my chain at all in my adult riding years), but I remember it being much less offensive and producing less fumes than mineral spirits, turpentine, or gasoline. They use it for kerosene lamps, etc...which are stored inside the house.

  13. #13
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    Alcohol won't hurt your chain, but will never clean it either. Since you can't use mineral solvents go with water & detergent. Use a closed soda bottle so you can shake and alternate long soaks to break down the oils with lots of agitation to flush them out. Do multiple rinses until the liquid stays clear, then remove the chain, hold it in the middle ans spin it over your head (outdoors) to spin it dry. Finish by baking in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 200 degrees to be 100% sure it's dry inside and out.

    Based on the acidity of your local water, you might want to add a bit of baking soda to the rinses as an acid neutralizer to prevent rust, though if you work fast it isn't usually an issue.

    Because water and oil don't mix, it's critical that the chain is dry before lubing so don't pass on the oven bake.
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    In my derailluer-commuting days I used to run the bike with 2 chains. When a chain needed cleaning I would remove it using the powerlink, put on an already clean chain and put the dirty chain in a jar of kerosene. After a few days soaking (ie whenever it was convenient) I would scrub the dirty chain, leave it hanging to dry off then oil each link with Finish Line.
    The main advantage is getting the bike roadworthy without the mess and time of cleaning the chain there and then. For those of you with a garage and warm climate this may not sound much but if you live in a dark, cold, wet winter and have limited facilities, ie you live in an apartment, it makes a huge difference.

  15. #15
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    Some simple green, an old nalgene bottle, some very hot water and a minute of shaking will get any chain clean. Rinse and repeat if super dirty.

  16. #16
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    At work, if I need to clean a very dirty chain really well, I usually start by using Finish Line Citrus Degreaser in a Park Tool chain scrubber (with safety glasses and nitrile gloves). After running it through the chain scrubber for a while, I also cycle the bike through all the gears so they get some degreaser too, and/or brush some on with a paintbrush.

    Once that's done, I may let it stand for a few minutes, then mix up a bucket of hot sudsy water with Dawn dishwashing liquid, and spray the chain and drivetrain parts down with Simple Green's foaming degreaser. The Simple Green does something very weird with the citrus degreaser, and the mess just begins pouring off the metal as they annihilate eachother. Then I finish by rinsing the parts down with the hot sudsy water and my Finish Line brush set. It can't hurt to rinse out the chain-scrubber and run the chain through it with hot sudsy water either.

    Since I have an air compressor on hand, I blow the residual water out of the chain with that, then relubricate. In most cases, the chain looks close to brand-new.


    Bigger picture:

    1. you can easily spend more on this cleaning routine than the chain itself is worth, not to mention your time

    2. if the bike's just going to get dirty again immediately, there's a point at which getting it really, really clean is an exercise in futility You might want to try lubing more frequently but also wiping off as much lube from the chain's exterior as possible so it doesn't attract more dirt than necessary. The extra wiping will also help keep the external surfaces from getting too much buildup.

  17. #17
    Old. Slow. Happy. MileHighMark's Avatar
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    I've used mineral spirits (aka, paint thinner) and an ultrasonic cleaner (eBay special) with good results.
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  18. #18
    comin' in hot James1:17's Avatar
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    To the OP: you may want to invest in an ultrasonic cleaner. I use one filled with Dawn soap and hot water to clean my chain. That combo should certainly be tolerable to your senses. As others have stated, always bake out, spray out, or blow out your chain after using water and before re-lubing. Good Luck.
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  19. #19
    05 Roubaix Comp Double
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    Smh.
    Touch every 3rd person and you'll find an idiot.

  20. #20
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Park , on the bike chain cleaner devise ,
    and their stuff to put in it is what I used at the shop,

    at home Its Kerosene , I have a lamp for when the lights power down,
    and so have some on hand anyway..

  21. #21
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    It seems that with the molten wax method it's not necessary to clean the chain anyway, you just have to strain the wax every so often to get the dirt out. That might suit me, if it works OK as a lube. As usual reports vary wildly.

  22. #22
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    A lot of cleaning products work ok in the summer, with 'dry' chain lubes. Winter is another story. A 'dry' lube doesn't last long in the winter and the chain rusts quickly. But a more tenacious 'wet' lube like Finish Line Green becomes a black crawling horror that laughs at cleaners like Simple Green, and can only be removed by mineral spirits - which I won't use indoors in the winter. I need new thinking.

    By the way chagzuki, I don't react to mineral spirits but Simple Green gives me immediate asthma-like symptoms.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by chagzuki View Post
    It seems that with the molten wax method it's not necessary to clean the chain anyway, you just have to strain the wax every so often to get the dirt out. That might suit me, if it works OK as a lube. As usual reports vary wildly.
    I used to fry my chain in parafin in a FryDaddy. Did a good job of cleaning and lubing the chain. Only problem was a wet ride caused the need for a rewaxing.
    Now I use a cheap ultrasonic cleaner with a 50-50 mix of water and Simple Green. After I rinse and dry the chain I install it on the bike and lube it with 4 parts unscented mineral spirits to one part chain saw bar oil. The oil seems to hold up well in the rain. I repeat every 650 miles or so.

  24. #24
    Senior Member Jed19's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MileHighMark View Post
    I've used mineral spirits (aka, paint thinner) and an ultrasonic cleaner (eBay special) with good results.
    Is it ever safe (thinking fire hazard here) to use mineral spirits in an ultasonic cleaner? Can the agitation ever reach a flash point?
    Regards,

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  25. #25
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    Ultasonic cleaner for a bike chain? Really? It's not brain surgery, it's your bike chain. Get a park tool cleaner and use the bio stuff once amonth or so and be done with it.
    Touch every 3rd person and you'll find an idiot.

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