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Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 3/5
Section - 8d.6 Chain cleaning

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Date:    Sat, 26 Jul 2003 09:34:37 -0700

Here is a specific procedure for cleaning a chain.  There may be better
procedures; please contribute.  Note that the best cleaning procedure
will vary with the kind of chain lubricant and the riding environment.

* Basic Equipment and Procedure

I use three jars (old pizza sauce jars) each about a litre labeled
``dirty'' ``clean'', and ``rinse''.  The first two are filled with
kerosene; the third with paint thinner.  I also have an old tin can
labeled ``waste'', two solvent-resistant bowls each about two litres
(damaged saucepans), an old toothbrush, a paintbrush about 5cm wide, a
wooden stick, and a pair of chemical-resistant gloves.  I bought about
four litres of each solvent and green chemical-resistant gloves at a
hardware store for about US$15.

The golves keep you from poisoning yourself and also keep your food from
tasting like kerosene; I wear them throughout the following procedure.

Note that even ``safer'' solvents are easy to set on fire accidentally.
Using them in a well-ventilated and/or cold area reduces the hazard.

The basic producedure is to wash a chain first in the dirty kerosene,
then in the clean kerosene, then in the paint thinner to remove residual
kerosene, then air-dry the chain.  Kerosene does not evaporate well; if
you skip the paint thinner rinse you'll have an oily film of kerosene
even if you let the chain dry a long time.

When you wash the chain you want to remove the gunk on the outside.  You
also want to move the chain around a lot in the solvent bath so that you
wash out the gunk which is trapped inside.  I scrub the outside fairly
enthusiastically using the paint brush and toothbrush.  I also stir the
chain around in the bowl fairly vigorously to clean the inside.  I do
this in all three solvent baths.

I wash the chain in one bowl, then move the chain to the other bowl for
the next bath.  You could do it all in one bowl if you have someplace
for the chain to drip; I had two bowls and it seems to work well.

You can reuse the solvents: after use, pour them back in their jars.  As
the jars sit, after a few weeks most of the grit will settle out at the
bottom.  Next time you clean your chain, pour most of the solvent in to
the bowl, but leave 2mm or so in the bottom above the sludge.  With the
stick, scrape the sludge on the bottom and swish the jar around to get
the gunk in solution in the 2mm of cleaner solvent you left, then pour
the gunky solvent in to the ``waste'' can.  Don't worry about getting
the jar clean, just try to pour out more than half the gunk and you're
ahead of the game.

Wnen you are done with a solvent bath, just pour it back in the jar.
You may find some gunk sitting at the bottom of the bowl.  Wipe it out
with a discardable rag, newspaper, etc.  You lose some solvent each
time; the ``dirty'' solvent can be refilled from the ``clean'' solvent
so the clean solvent and top off the fresh jar using the jug from the
hardware store.

I suppose the paint thinner eventually gets diluted with kerosene and
won't rinse off the kerosene any more.  At that point, pour off some of
the ``rinse'' mix in to the ``clean'' jar.

When you are done cleaning the chain, put the ``waste'' can someplace
well-ventilated where the can won't get knocked over and you won't be
bothered by the stink.  The solvents will gradually evaporate.  That
leaves a can of grime, which can be discarded.  Note that evaporating
organics does pollute; but the total volume is quite small.

* Variations

Kerosene on the chain will interfere with some lubricants, and kerosene
in the chain will prevent other lubricants from being wicked in to the
chain as effectively.  Hence the paint thinner ``rinse''.  It might be
as effective to do all cleaining with paint thinner, I have not tried.
(The paint thinner was an addition to a routine which was proven to
clean the chain but which left a residue.)

Diesel is similar to kerosene.  I have used bio-diesel to clean parts at
a shop with good results.

Mineral spirits may be similar to paint thinner and may be cheaper.  I
have not tried it.

Some solvents seem similar to kerosene/thinner but do a poor job.  For
example, acetone does a poor job of cutting some oils.  It's also more
toxic and more dangerous than thinner, so don't bother.

Gasoline contains more toxic compounds and is much easier to ignite
accidentally and thus more dangerous.  Even when you wear gloves, the
toxic compounds are easy to inhale.  Do not use gasoline or other
highly-flamable materials to clean your chain; a few dollars of kerosene
and paint thinner will last a long time and they are widely available.

Dawn Dishwashing liquid can remove some lubricants but in my experience
is not good for cleaning chains.

Spray-on cleaners may cut grease very effectively.  However, many are
also more dangerous and more costly than kerosene/thinner.  In addition,
immersing a chain helps to ``float away'' grit and dilute the grease.
The greater the volume of liquid, the more is carried awawy diluted.
Spray-on cleaners are a much lower volume and thus can be less effective
at floating away grit.

Many people use citrus and similar degreasers to clean their chains and
report good results.  I have had poor results, but do not know why.
Beware that some degreasers may not work when diluted with water.  I am
curious if ``good'' degreasers can be re-used.  Citrus degreasers are
less flamable and less toxic than kerosene/thinner.

User Contributions:

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