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I'v been using citrus degreaser to clean my bikes for years. I usually get a gallon jug of it from the auto parts store, and it lasts a long time. I use it for cleaning the drivtrain, either using a chain cleaner or by soaking the chain overnight. I've used it with a rag to clean the rims. I'll sometimes even use it to scrub a nasty bit of dirt or grease off the frame. However, some of the discussion in this very good question has got me wondering:

Are there parts of your bike that can be damaged by degreaser? Obviously, keep it away from the bar tape or a leather saddle, but what mechanical parts could be harmed by citrus degreaser? Also, are there types of degreaser out there that are gentler and could be more appropriate?

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Use Simple Green, much safer than petroleum based degreasers, or some the orange based products. –  Moab Aug 4 '11 at 16:06
    
SimpleGreen degreaser can harm unfinished/unprotected aluminum components. I believe this is only a problem if it were applied and not cleaned off within a reasonable amount of time (~10 minutes). –  James Schek Aug 7 '11 at 1:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Degreaser acts like a solvent (although I'm unsure if it is technically a solvent, or more of an emulsifier). With all solvents you'll have to be careful with what they contact--however degreaser is relatively safe compared to stronger solvents.

Each type of solvent has its own list of things it will dissolve--and even brand-to-brand can make a difference, so spot-testing is always recommended.

In general though, the risky things are:

  • Rubbers
  • Adhesives
  • Organics (leather, etc)
  • Porous materials
  • Paints
  • (obviously) Grease/lubricants

Your main concerns should be your tires, your paint, and (as you mentioned) components like grip-tape and seats. Getting degreaser on these has the potential to stain--so extra precautions may be in order. Typically your best option is to try and prevent it from contacting them, and cleaning it off quickly with mild soap & water if you do make a mess (although soap and water itself will stain things such as leather if you're not careful).

A secondary concern is that you fully remove the solvent after it's done. Leaving excess solvent/degreaser behind is a very bad idea--see Rubbing Alcohol below for tips.

As for other solvents/degreasers:

  • Rubbing Alcohol is fairly safe. It has the risk of drying-out leather and rubber, but is very useful for cleaning parts--and especially useful for rinsing degreaser off of things such as chains (it also evaporates and leaves them dry--ideal for re-lubricating).

  • Naptha (a.k.a. liquid lighter fluid, not butane) can be very effective as well and is generally safe

  • Acetone is a stronger solvent, and likely to be less safe. It should be used with extreme care, but is a very powerful solvent and can get the job done well and quickly.

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A pure "citrus" degreaser, containing no hydrocarbon solvents, is going to be reasonably safe on stuff other than leather and the like. But, as you say, it's technically more of an emulsifier than a solvent. (And be aware that some "citrus" degreasers contain solvents.) I wouldn't advise using naptha (which is basically unrefined gasoline) on anything rubber or plastic. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 2 '11 at 23:24
    
Denatured Alcohol is good also. –  Moab Aug 4 '11 at 16:08
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This answer is pretty perfect. @Neil Fein, did you want additional info? –  zenbike Aug 7 '11 at 14:09

I've used so many types of degreaser and one thing to have in mind is not if it can damage but how it can damage!

For example:

I've used a mix of gasoline+diesel and it cleans beautifully the frame and rim and spokes, but mind you that it needs to be cleaned afterwards (water and a rug) and maybe add a little grease to protect it again, otherwise it can generate some rust!

This means that some product can be harmfull only if in some conditions.

If you know how it can damage, you can protect the parts.

Solvents and degreasers based on petrol can damage rubber. Even when using WD-40, it can destroy the axle rubber protection (if it exists in your bike), but what I've done is clean it very well and it doesn't ruin anything, it's a matter of time.

I've used petroleum to clean my aluminum frame and no harm there, and works wonders with sticker removal.

Water and soap (or dish washing) can damage also if left for sometime, it can generate rust, so, as in other washes, always dry the best you can, and in some bike parts apply some grease (I've even done that with a seat post).

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A good citrus cleaner degreaser is much better than simple green. It is derived from natural components such as de-limoline found in citrus fruits. Does it work? You bet it does. Safe? I have never had any issues with it. The one I use that I have found is called Hillyard Citrus Scrub. You can use it on just about any surface that water won't hurt. (not recommended to use on glass)

Here is where I get mine. http://www.baxtersales.com/Catalog/CatalogProductDetail.aspx?itemno=HYD-143-1-GA

They will ship it to you straight out of their stock.

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