I'd like to avoid solvents, or use less solvents when I re-wax my chain.

Are there any features I need to have in an ultrasonic cleaner?

I've seen unheated 700mL cleaners for ~$30 USD and 2 to 3L cleaners with 80 degrees celcius heating starting at ~$90 USD.

My current chain cleaning process is

  1. Boil chains in some water and wipe the melted wax off onto a rag.
  2. Soak chains in solvent and agitate. I always see some metallic particles in the solvent after I remove the chains.
  3. Hang & wipe dry the chains.
  4. Soak chains in melted wax.
  5. Take chains out of the wax pot when the wax starts to form a skin, wipe the excess wax off.

Could I get away with a cheap ultrasonic cleaner and pour in boiling water + maybe a little detergent instead of using the solvent I currently use to clean my chains?

  • 3
    Just out of curiosity: how often are you doing this? – k102 Nov 19 '19 at 13:03
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    Have you tried a chain washer? – Daniel R Hicks Nov 19 '19 at 18:10
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    How long do you leave the chain in the melted wax? Leave it there a bit longer and the particles should drift out of the chain on their own and sink to the bottom.. You shouldn't need any solvent on a waxed chain. – Criggie Nov 20 '19 at 7:56
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    @Criggie I must be riding through something funky, I tried that before and my wax turned into some kind of miso-soup texture. Everything came out of the wax dirty even if it went in clean :( – Scottmeup Nov 22 '19 at 23:10
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    @Criggie the theory is the oil on the chain will prevent the wax from adhering, I would be curious to see how it works for you. I have always stripped the oil off for the first wax, but after that just wipe off the dirt and into the wax. – Rider_X Nov 23 '19 at 3:42

Some models have multiple frequencies. Most operate between 28khz and 120khz. Depending on the frequency the size of the bubbles that form on the surface of the object changes. Lower frequency gives larger 'cavitation bubbles'. The larger the bubbles the more cleaning action happens when they implode so this would be desired for cleaning a chain. For fragile objects one might want to aim for smaller bubble size. Some expensive models are even infinitely adjustable (the frequency)

Keep in mind that if you're buying from China or if you're buying a rebranded Chinese product the listed tank capacity if often exaggerated. The actual capacity of a 3L tank might be 2.6 liter for example. I've seen quite a few of such examples on aliexpress reviews. The bigger the tank the larger power the transducer (the ultrasonic vibrating element) must have.

"Heaters are required to bring the cleaning solution to the desired starting temperature. They are also a necessity when cleaning contaminants such as carbon oil and grease residue. High temperatures help break down these contaminants to better facilitate the cleaning process"

Some models allow the user to limit/adjust the transducer power. Thus removing the need to buy a separate machine for less aggressive cleaning.

Check this page for some more info: https://sonicpro.com/choosing-an-ultrasonic-cleaner/

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Some notes from my experience:

If you are in a 220-240 volt country avoid the cheap Chinese cleaners, they are designed for 110 volts and remove a rectification diode as a hack to make it work on higher voltage. This doesn't work well as the peak voltages are still higher and the output transistors fail.

Secondly, I found ultrasonic cleaning in just water and soap is nowhere near as effective as using a solvent. I use kerosene, however its very smelly so I only use it outdoors, but it does clean everything well.

Lastly, I haven't noticed much increase in chain life vs just wiping with a rag and oiling the rollers. Because of this I don't bother ultrasonic cleaning chains unless I am cleaning something else like a cassette. My theory is the oil aids in flowing out contaminants in the rollers but I have no evidence to back this up.

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  • 2
    Thanks for the insight! It sounds like I might just be as well off without the ultrasonic cleaner. I use kerosine too: the smell is pretty potent even trying to keep it outside as much as possible. – Scottmeup Nov 22 '19 at 23:31
  • That's a bit surprising since China has a 230 V 50 Hz local grid as well. – gschenk Jan 8 at 14:36

The heating of the chain in an ultrasonic is critical to removing the wax if that is the method you use for protecting the chain.

I also wax all of my chains as I detest the oily residue that inevitably builds up on wet-lubed chains, then transfers a greasy stain to any surface it touches. My waxed chains can go about 500 miles between cleaning/waxing (less if rained upon), which works out to about once per month during the main riding season.

  1. Remove chain, remove master link, and thread ML through safety wire such that it is captive while threading the remaining wire ends through the two end link holes of the chain. With a manual pliers-style wire twister gripping the free ends, twist the wire tight enough to retain the chain and master link. Then bend the twisted end into a hook shape to aid in hanging the chain while cleaning and/or storage for later use.
  2. I use Simple Green as my cleaning medium in the ultrasonic and heat it to 50 degrees Celsius with the chain already coiled, loaded and heating along with the solution (the heating takes longer than the actual cleaning/waxing of the chain).
  3. Once fully heated, I then cycle the ultrasonic for 5 minutes and may agitate the chain in the solution with a stiff bristle brush.
  4. Remove chain by the hooked wire end and allow it to drip back into the reservoir, then hang from a hook where you can access all sides.
  5. Optional... but invaluable; with a clean cloth bracing the chain from behind, blow compressed air through all the links while the chain is still warm and into the cloth. This allows a visual confirmation of chain cleanliness as well as evacuating any leftover wax/grit into the cloth.
  6. Remove and re-coil chain to place into a solution of either lacquer thinner (with protective gloves) or denatured alcohol. I prefer Lacquer Thinner but it contains some aggressive solvents that are not recommended for skin contact so be sure to wear good gloves if using this option. Agitate the coiled chain in the solvent to completely permeate the inner links and remove any leftover residue.
  7. Remove from solution, wipe and/or blow again with compressed air. The LT or Denatured Alcohol leaves the chain completely free of any oils that might prevent good wax penetration and adhesion to the link surfaces.
  8. Re-coil the chain and immerse into the heated wax solution, agitate the chain with a tongue depressor to penetrate the wax into all the inner link surfaces (you'll see small bubbles rising to the wax surface).
  9. CAREFULLY remove from the heated wax by the hooked wire end... if the chain was coiled well, it will slowly uncoil as you remove it from the wax and not fling it everywhere. I always use the tongue depressor to control the looped end, then move the chain in a slow arc to prevent the liquid wax from collecting at the freehanging end. I do this until the wax on the surface begins to solidify, then hang the chain until it becomes rigid.
  10. Break apart the dried wax by rolling the chain across a piece of metal pipe or use the handle of a vise to roll the links over until the outer layer of wax is broken up and the chain is loose enough to install.

I know it sounds involved but the whole process literally takes only about 20 minutes and, like I said, the heating of the ultrasonic and wax takes longer than the actual cleaning process.

I maintain two waxed chains for every bike and label them. When one gets dirty or rained on and breaks down the wax, I swap them out and try to do multiple chains in one ultrasonic/waxing session.

Ultrasonic cleaner and wax with new chain Dura-Ace Chain wear with 2200 miles New Wipperman chain spec

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  • I asked a related question: Ultrasonic cleaner requirements, for cleaning chains before waxing – gschenk Jan 8 at 14:34
  • Not that lacquer thinner will still leave a very slight residue. You will need a final alcohol bath to remove all residues before re-waxing. – Rider_X May 14 at 22:55
  • I will also add is there any reason not to just use plain water in the ultrasound when cleaning a previously waxed chain? There shouldn’t be any oil residue on the chain. The heat and vibration will remove most of the wax and dirt. A residue of wax may remain, but likely not an issue as there shouldn’t be any dirt left and you are rewaxing anyway. This would reduce the amount of solvents and exposure to solvents. – Rider_X May 14 at 22:58

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