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I've ordered an ultrasonic cleaner, to clean up greasy, oily bike parts like chains and cassettes. I want to get them fully clean of contaminants and try a wax-based lubricant.

What kind of liquid should I use in the ultrasonic cleaner? I've not used one before so wondering if I need more than water, whether I should use soap or degreaser or some kind of solvent. Can I water down an existing cleaner to make it go further? Can I reuse the liquid?

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  • Ultrasonic metal cleaner is generally sold as a concentrate. Check the types of metal it is compatible with before purchase, and maybe select one with anti-corrosion additives. Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 15:52

3 Answers 3

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There's a range of degreasers that will work in there from the more potent like mineral spirits, to dedicated cycling degreasing products (expensive!), to washing up liquid.

I've also seen a nice suggestion to put your chain in a ziplock bag with your chosen degreaser and just put water in the ultrasonic cleaner. Probably wouldn't work quite as well with a spiky cassette though.

Cleaning solution comes out extremely dirty/contaminated - I'm not sure if it's possible to filter it and re-use, but I'd assume not.

However, the two best guides I know of for preparing a chain for waxing both recommend manually agitating in a jar rather than using a cleaner.

The general process is to give the chain many cycles in mineral spirits until they are completely clear after agitation. And then follow up with a methylated spirit/alcohol cycle to clean any residue.

https://zerofrictioncycling.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/waxing-how-to-zen-master-guide-v2.pdf

https://www.trainerroad.com/forum/t/chain-waxing-tutorial/2633

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    Make sure the chain does not sit on the flat bottom of the ultrasonic cleaner, put it on a of some sort base that allows the grit coming out the chain to fall through.
    – mattnz
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 22:32
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I've used a laboratory ultrasonic bath for bike parts. That's designed specifically for use with only plain water directly in the bath, and I wouldn't want to contaminate it anyway.

Any solvents or other cleaners are meant to go in an inner container. This is particularly important is they're flammable. While some domestic models may not be so strict on this, it's still a good idea as the bath is hard to get clean.

In a beaker, jam jar, or whatever inner container will take your dirty item (mine was a freehub so quite small) you can use a wide range of cleaners. I found white spirit (mineral spirits) to be good for a first removal of grease, more by dilution than anything else, then acetone if you want it oil-free. Soapy water can be pretty good, but it won;t shift large amounts of greasy mess.

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  • How about a clip-sealed plastic bag as the inner container ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 2:39
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    @Criggie with the potential for sharp edges it would have to be pretty tough but I don't see why not apart from that.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 10:09
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In my tiny 0.8L cleaner, I use water with a splash of turps or similar solvent. I also pre-clean the item with a rag or paper towel or pick/scraper.

I personally do not, but you can reuse the liquid, but its messy, and a lot of hassle for minimal gain.

You would decant the used liquid from the cleaner into a tall bottle, trying to leave all the large blobs behind. Wipe them up and dispose.

The bottle should be capped and left to stand still for at least days, possibly weeks or months. The contaminants will settle out to the bottom and the "good" cleaner will be on top.

When you're ready for the next cleaning cycle, undo the lid and pour off the top good liquid back into the cleaner, stopping as soon as the flow changes colour or grit is visible. Dispose of the liquid remaining in your standing bottle, and rinse ready for the next round.

Top up your cleaner with fresh liquid to the required level.

If you're only saving a few hundred mL of cleaner, this may not be worth your time.

This method is identical to what I used for years to remove water from differential oil in my landrover, saving roughly half of what went in.

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    If you've got a funnel you use for motor oil, you could use that to filter the dirt out through a piece of kitchen paper. Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 7:01
  • @AndrewMorton plausibly, could be worth a go. Back when I was separating water from gear oil, probably both would go through a filter.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 13:22
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    At home I do something similar, filtering my waste solvent and allowing it to settle. I'll eventually have to get rid of it but I'll get a good few uses first.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 10:11

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