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This question is a follow-up to Ultrasonic cleaner advice, for cleaning chains before waxing.

I plan to lubricate my chains by immersion in molten paraffin wax. The advantages and disadvantages are discussed in answers to a question by Poulter.*

The wax only adheres to clean surfaces without grease. While this is easy to achieve that for the outer surfaces, it is not easy at all where it counts: inside the roller bushings. I should rather avoid the good old Sheldon Brown method, since I fear it may be too much fun. It appears to be consensus that ultrasonic cleaning is needed.

In JC Allen's answer to Ultrasonic cleaner advice it is pointed out that heating is necessary – 50 C are suggested. An answer by Maarten discusses cavitation size at lower ultrasound frequencies.

However, there is no discussion of the transducer power requirements to achieve thorough cleaning between rollers. At present I am in a discussion with other cyclists who doubt that low powered devices, specifically a 2l device with a 60 W, 40 kHz, transducer is sufficient.

What are the requirements for a ultrasonic cleaner? What is the minimum transducer power for thoroughly cleaning all relevant surfaces?

* Please post fundamental comments on the method at Poulter's question.

Fun, as in the feeling experienced when one's dwelling is flooded with magma, while being inside.

I cannot find sources to support that claim.

tl;dr: Are heated ultrasonic cleaners with low powered transducers (e.g. 30 W, 50 W, or 60 W) good enough for cleaning bicycle chains from lube before paraffin wax treatment?

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    The ultrasonic cleaner Molten Speed Wax sells is specced for 70W, 40KHz. I think this means your proposed spec of 60W maybe on the low side of the required ballpark. What wattage do your correspondents think is sufficient? moltenspeedwax.com/collections/tools-miscellaneous/products/…
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jan 8, 2020 at 16:27
  • I have yet found the need for an ultrasonic cleaner. Solvents are used to strip oils from the chain before the first waxing. Re-waxing a previously waxed chain doesn’t require striping it down as the chain should still be free of oils. Boiling water and agitation is enough to strip out old wax before re-waxing.
    – Rider_X
    Jan 8, 2020 at 23:59
  • @Rider_X I see that I based my question on wrong assumptions. I might rephrase it to something like "If one were to chose an ultrasonic cleaner how powerful would the transducers need to be for removing lubricant from inside the rollers?". Then perhaps have a different question to ask if an ultrasonic cleaner is required at all. You and JC Allen, who have plenty experience and methodically collect data, appear to think so. Since this needs quite a bit of discussion the comments may not suitable.
    – gschenk
    Jan 10, 2020 at 13:24

4 Answers 4

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Probably not, especially if some of that power is shared with heating, which may not be mentioned in a straightforward manner in the product description. According to Adam Kerin of Zero Friction Cycling, small jewellery cleaners won't cut it either, and there is also the possibility of getting a too strong cleaner that may damage the chain. Nominal transducer power is 70-120w, although no mentions of frequency are made. More specifically:

Like all things there is a right tool for the job. A jewellery cleaner is likely not powerful enough. I have had customers using auto parts cleaner at work that have pitted chain metal – this would stripped low friction coatings and plating’s off chain – too strong. Somewhere between around 70 to 120w max cleaning power is about the right cleaning power for bicycle chains. Note this is not total power consumption – a US cleaner may use 100w but only 35w of that is cleaning power – check the specs.

Additionally, you can preheat the water and use a kitchen thermometer to get to a good temperature range, saving a lot of time from waiting the cleaner to heat the water. This is also mentioned in the same document.

Source: https://zerofrictioncycling.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Ultrasonic-Clean-Race-Chains-Quick-guide-v3-converted.pdf

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  • The devices I looked at specified transducer power rather then input power. The power figures I asked for in my question are transducer power as well.
    – gschenk
    Jan 9, 2020 at 17:30
  • Then a cleaner with transducer power between 70-120W should do the job.
    – aBrav
    Jan 10, 2020 at 11:16
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I'm writing in partial response to aBrav's answer.

When you see YouTube videos of ultrasonic cleaners, you see someone put a chain in and all the dirt just lifts off the chain. Like in this video by GPLama. What you do not see is that if you started with a used chain, you dump out the solvent, and you put in fresh solvent, more dirt will lift off the chain. And note that best practice is degas the solution plus warm it up, which adds 5-10 minutes to each bath.

Ultrasonic cleaners are not magic. Simply using one will not get a dirty chain spotless, as I found out personally. Simply using one on a new chain will also not dissolve the factory grease, which is pretty persistent. Hence, I think most consumers can skip the ultrasonic cleaner and just use a bottle with solvent - keeping in mind that you need several solvent baths plus a couple more baths in alcohol to get the solvent residue off. Alternatively, the more expensive single-step solvents from Ceramicspeed and Silca seem to work well, or you could get a pre-treated chain from either of them or from someone else.

Since that answer, I got an ultrasonic cleaner myself, and I started waxing my chains. I started with a couple of lightly used chains which had been ridden with an oil-based drip lube.

Indeed, the link from Adam Kerin that was provided did say (first page, emphasis mine) that ultrasonic cleaners are:

Not necessary unless preparing race chains / re optimising race chains and going for every possible watt saving.

Very handy for if have broken in chain (ridden 50 to 100km to break in with factory grease). A chain with a good break in in clean conditions will be a faster chain than a chain straight out of the box cleaned and waxed. However, the break in will bring in contamination. Agitated container baths will not perfectly clean from all tiny fissures, nooks and crannies. If looking to prep a fully optimised race chain by doing a break in with factory grease, an ultrasonic is a must or the break in will be negated by contamination imported that you cannot perfectly clean out via agitated container baths.

My own experience was based on a cleaner with about 70W ultrasonic cleaning power (NB: remember that this is separate from heating power, and some cleaners may report total power as ultrasonic transducer power + heating element power). However, do note that Poertner recommended an ultrasonic cleaner with 180W cleaning power, which is 1.5-2.5 times the power range that Kerin recommended. My cleaner was about US$120 on Amazon.com. The cleaner Poertner recommended is quite a bit more expensive. So, if you need a powerful ultrasonic cleaner to get good results, then you're increasing the cost differential versus just bottles of solvent.

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    Another trick is that you don't need to fill your ultrasonic cleaner's bath with cleaner - it works just as well with water, and your chain/part should be in a clipseal plastic bag with solvent/degreaser/etc inside that. Uses far less chemical too, the frequencies transmit through plastic fine, and doesn't fume you out. You can even use a hard plastic jar with a screw-top lid, and several jars/bags in the same bath.
    – Criggie
    May 4, 2021 at 0:50
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    You can also to some extent trade off power for time. I haven't tried it on a chain, but the 70W (transducer power) in work has been very helpful. It needed a few 10s of minutes and a couple of changes of solvent/soapy water getting slightly greasy mud out of the freehub that jammed on me (I'm going to rebuild it as an exercise ans so I have a spare).
    – Chris H
    May 4, 2021 at 13:32
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    @Criggie even further than that, many aren't intended to be filled with anything other than water. I use a pyrex lab beaker of solvent in the basket for work stuff, but if I make use of it for my own things I use whatever container I've got that it will fit in
    – Chris H
    May 4, 2021 at 13:34
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My .02, and please don't take this the wrong way; you're drilling down into granular details that, in my 2 years of cleaning and waxing chains for 6 different bikes, is just inconsequential.

I say inconsequential as related to nominal performance and durability of chain to drivetrain life for the majority of use by average or a sporting cyclists. Unless you are pursuing the most minimal of wax application to achieve adequate chain lubrication without negatively impeding the friction coefficient for, say TimeTrials... then the method and materials I laid out in my answer to the other post are more than adequate.

Personally, I am pursuing a goal of reduced maintenance intervals while, at the same time, increasing chain life, reducing the griminess of a wet-lubed chain, and reduction of chain wear from the debris that inevitably collects and embeds in wet lubes over the same time period.

I just cleaned and waxed the chain on my gravel bike that is setup with a 1x11 drivetrain with a 42T Narrow-Wide ring up front and a 12-29 cassette out back. I installed this chain back in 2018 and ticked over the 3500 mile mark on it just this past week. Using my Park CC2 chain check tool; it is just now showing .50 of wear and I will most likely go ahead and replace it before the 2020 racing season officially begins. This chain has endured a DirtyKanza 200 race with no lube needing be applied during the race, along with a plethora of shorter gravel races in 2018 and 2019. Neither the chain ring, nor the cassette are exhibiting any increase in wear over even more mileage than has been logged on this chain.

  • 10/21/2018 NIB - Cleaned, de-greased, and waxed for first use.
  • 12/02/2018 - 365.6 miles - Deep Cleaned, waxed, and re-installed. Light surface rust/corrosion removed with Dremel and wire brush after clean and before waxing. Rust accumulated at link edges, some pins, and inner link connector surfaces. Rain/wet riding on a gravel/CX bike will do that.
  • 12/31/2018 - 747.4 miles - Squeaking links caused another deep clean and soaking in wax. This year has not been kind.
  • 03/11/2019 - Add 457.1 miles from using it on the Lynskey until the D-A chain could be cut/installed. Deep cleaned and waxed.
  • 03/12/19 - Measured .25 on CC2 Chain Check tool (same as a new chain)
  • 05/04/19 - 1589.8 miles - Deep cleaned, waxed, re-installed.
  • 08/23/19 - 2371.91 miles - Deep cleaned, waxed, re-installed .25+ on CC2
  • 09/16/19 - 2841.0 miles - Deep cleaned, waxed, re-installed .25+ on CC2
  • 01/05/2020 - 3,482 miles - Deep cleaned, waxed, re-installed. .50 on CC2.

tl;dr - The heating is more important than the ultrasonic and, IMHO; the accumulated debris between the roller bushings can be adequately removed with manual agitation while in the heated cleaning solution and/or application of compressed, forced air from a handheld blow wand (this is a method I use).

I did an extensive test protocol with my rollers and using the same bike at a specified speed/gear ratio to check the effects on wattage/Crr.

Wax Test Spreadsheet

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    This is very interesting, but it seems like it is just a log of your mileage on one chain, and it doesn't say what power your cleaner's transducer used.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jan 9, 2020 at 16:53
  • It is a log of a single chain and was done to establish a baseline of wattage comparison before and after rides to determine any marginal gains/losses in power with a newly waxed chain. As I stated in my response, the transducer is not absolutely necessary for cleaning the area between the roller bushings. That can be accomplished with manual agitation and/or compressed air. If you absolutely will not be satisfied with that; here you go. 2 super power industrial grade 60W ultrasonic transducers ((2x60 W=120W)
    – jc allen
    Jan 9, 2020 at 20:17
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    This is indeed very interesting, and quite a convincing of the advantages of waxing. Much better than the answers at bicycles.stackexchange.com/q/51188/30402 perhaps you may post it there as well?
    – gschenk
    Jan 10, 2020 at 13:14
  • I've read this carefully and several times, yet I cannot follow you on the first part. You do use a (powerful) ultrasonic cleaner. Such a cleaner is a rather substantial investment. For its cost I could ride 8000 km on KMC chains and dispose them as soon as they need lube. For me the decision on whether to start waxing depends entirely on the requirements for such a device. I expect that others will ask themselves similar questions.
    – gschenk
    Jan 10, 2020 at 16:13
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    Agree with @gschenk. You effectively stated that you’re using 120W gross power. The question asked if 30-60W gross power was enough. Hence, this could be a good answer, but not to the question.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jan 10, 2020 at 16:18
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I'm on my second ultrasonic cleaner now. Primarily used for cleaning chains and other bike parts.

The first was a $40 30W/50W single transducer with no heater or basket, and a capacity of 800 mL. It worked fine, did the buzzy noise and loosened/softened dirt which would drift off or was easy to brush clean.
Later it failed with condensation dropping from underside of bowl onto circuit board, after a marathon 6*9 minute session, and fried.

So I spend $200 on a bigger and better one, 180W with three transducers, and a proper heater. This one is capacity 2L, which allows me to submerge a whole cassette - the old one was not large enough.

The heat function is very helpful - even though I used hot water in the old cleaner, having the unit keep the water hot works nicely.

The higher buzz power is somewhat offset by the larger tank size and ability to put more stuff in there.

The one regret I have is not getting the 3.2 Litre size, which was the smallest one to have a drain valve in the side. The smaller ones have to be physically tipped over, which can be awkward and I worry about water running inside and killing the mainboard again. To reduce that risk, I disassembled it and sprayed the mainboard with Conformal coating.

An ultrasonic cleaner is not a perfect solution; it is another tool in the arsenal. US won't remove impacted dirt that has been pressed into a cassette although it goes make it softer and easier to dig out, then repeat.

You do need to use a water-based degreaser additive, and that means chemicals. Don't cook petrol/gasoline in a US cleaner, though you can use it inside a plastic bag/jar which is immersed in the water. Expect jar to be pressurised on opening.

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    Can you recommend a cleaning solution? I have used dilute bike greaser. Silca recommended Shooter’s Choice.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jan 26 at 19:11
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    @WeiwenNg "water-based degreaser" is about all I use. Seems that some degreasers will harm aluminium, and all of them risk shrinking rubber parts. Plastic can also be damaged but that seems to be by heat so don't clean any PLA 3d prints with heat on.
    – Criggie
    Jan 26 at 19:39

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