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Does anyone have a recipe for a homemade bicycle degreaser solution? I'd like to make my own degreaser solution instead of buying one. I have read about using lemon juice and various types of alcohols - white spirits, etc.

EDIT: I should have actually explained I was looking for a homemade bicycle degreaser liquid, not just cleaning liquid. I have now edited the title and wording. Sorry for the wrong title.

  • Commenting: Commercial citrus cleaners seem to work well. But there's only one answer that makes a tangential reference to citric acid. This could be an unexplored line of inquiry. – Criggie Dec 31 '16 at 21:26

11 Answers 11

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I am an industrial chemist, and manufacture commercial-grade degreasers and other cleaners.

Firstly, there are 3 main parts to a degreaser:

  1. Alkaline booster, to increase the pH, allowing the dirt, grease and grime to be effectively removed, for faster cleaning
  2. Solvent, to cut through tough grime and grease, as well as extract grime and grease from hard-to-get areas
  3. Surfactant, to hold grime and grease in the cleaning solution, preventing it from depositing back on the bikes surface once lifted off by the solvent and the alkaline solution

(there are also other components in professional degreasers, such as water softeners, hydro-tropes, anionic and ionic surfactants, specific application solvents, etc...)

The main source of the above 3 parts can be from using baking soda as a alkaline booster, methylated spirit as a solvent (I would use methylated spirit because it is water-soluble), and a small amount of dish-washing liquid as a surfactant.

An example formulation by volume would be:

  • 50% Methylated Spirit
  • 40% Water (H20)
  • 5% Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda)
  • 5% Dish-washing Liquid

The methylated spirit and the sodium bicarbonate will work together to extract and lift the dirt/grime/grease, and the dish-washing liquid will work as a surfactant to stop it from depositing back on the bike again.

The dish washing liquid will also act as a wetting agent and a foam booster.

EDIT ----

Please also note, that the methylated spirit will prevent (or nearly prevent) any foam or the like from forming. If you want foam, you will have to substitute the methylated spirits with a mild solvent that is hydrophilic and not oil-based (lipophilic).

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    I made this mixture, but substituted methylated alcohol with isopropyl rubbing alcohol; this recipe seemed to work better than the degreaser I had purchased, thanks for the tip! – iBorg Jun 10 '14 at 2:12
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    this mixing percentages are by mass or by volume? – Davorin Ruševljan Jan 8 '15 at 15:11
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    @DavorinRuŇ°evljan This is by volume – Jem Fisk Jul 14 '15 at 7:40
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    I am having issues with the baking soda not dissolving. I am needing to constantly shake or mix the solution. My first attempt I put it all in a spray bottle but it stopped pumping I assume because I was moving solids through it. FWIW the solution may not make suds like dishwasher detergent alone, but it is foamy enough I have to stir or agitate and not shake to mix the degreaser. Any tips or ideas or is this par for the course? It's not letting me down as a degreaser, so thank you, I'd just like a little more functionality. Thanks! – BEVR1337 Mar 22 '16 at 3:48
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    @gschenk to thicken it you could use guar gum or zantham gum. – Jem Fisk May 28 '17 at 23:09
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If what you're looking for is a cheap alternative, here in my country is very common to use diesel or kerosene to clean bike parts. Personally I use diesel, I just pour a small amount in an old plastic cup, and use a brush (the kind normally used for painting) to rub it all over derailleurs, cogsets, bearings, etc.

It is plenty effective for removing even heavy grease. It is smelly and leaves an oily residue that can be easily removed with dish soap. (I prefer the liquid one). I Like to use it because it is effective, and the "residue" seems to be protective against corrosion for a few days. You can use rubber gloves, since diesel won't melt them, but if carefully used barehands, it won't cause much trouble as long as you wash your hands right after the job, which you can do with plain water and hand soap.

On a side note: Liquid dish soap is an amazing grease remover, but it needs scrubbing, so it does not make the job as easy as diesel. It is extremely useful for the rubber parts of the bike, leaves tyres looking really good, and does wonders with the grips: somehow they end up shiny but not slippery, and it's really easy on the paint job, try it!

Diesel has the advantage of being not so flammable as gasoline or kerosene. You can't light up liquid diesel with a spark or a match, but with kerosene or gasoline it's easy, thus my choice for diesel.

Another reason to prefer diesel over gasoline or paint solvents, is that it won't damage plastic or rubber parts, as gasoline would do. Some paint solvents may cause long term discoloration of paint (d'uh!) or plastic parts if used frequently. I haven't had these situations with diesel.

Kerosene is more flammable, less viscous and less smelly, but I have never used it for cleaning.

Many years ago, I used to clean with gasoline, but the smell is unbearable after a few minutes, it damages plastic, rubber and paint. It melts some kinds of rubber gloves and causes immediate damage to the skin. For some specific jobs it can be useful though, since it evaporates rather quickly, leaving no residue.

Bottom line: As with all flammable /volatile liquids, they should be used with caution, in open, ventilated environments, and should be stored carefully, properly labeled and out of reach of unsuitable users (children, elderly, etc...).

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    Gasoline is really really unsafe to use for lots of reasons! (atsdr.cdc.gov/mmg/mmg.asp?id=465&tid=83) – WTHarper Jan 31 '13 at 19:18
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    I used to use Diesel as it's cheep and cleaner than Gasoline. But I stopped some time ago, I find that's it's not really necessary for 99% of cleaning jobs. A small amount of WD40 and some car shampoo get the job done. – alex Feb 1 '13 at 6:12
  • Any flammable cleaner is not a safe choice. – paparazzo Aug 14 '14 at 2:00
  • My bike chain gets really dirty since I commute to work every day - the bio-degradable tosh they sell in the store doesn't work and my neighbour introduced me to the effectiveness of diesel. Cheap and easy! Ironincally, it's illegal for a bike shop to clean with diesel in the country I live, but nothing to stop me doing it at home :) – vikingsteve Aug 14 '14 at 10:11
  • Commuting in a reasonably clean city should not cause your chain to get too dirty that fast. Consider using a thiner oil or even a dry lube on your chain so dirt doesn´t stick that much to it. You won't have to clean it so frequently. And less dirt and grime stuck on chain's lube means less grinding wear. – Jahaziel Aug 22 '14 at 15:01
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A degreaser needs to contain either a solvent or an emulsifier or both. Deionized water (not tap water) combined with citric acid works pretty well as an emulsifier for slightly greasy stuff (it's used for cleaning electronic components), but by itself is probably no match for, say, a greasy derailer. There are other emulsifiers that are a bit stronger (including plain soap/detergent).

Petroleum solvents, of course, are pretty good at cutting petroleum-based grease, but pure petroleum solvents are environmentally unfriendly and don't do much for removing general grime. Alcohol is not a particularly good solvent for petroleum products and hence not a very good degreaser.

I suspect a lot of modern commercial degreasers now contain an emulsifier plus a "dash" of solvent.

Added: It's a trick of the solvent/degreaser business that a bit of emulsifier (ie, soap/detergent) will, in effect, allow oil and water to mix. So one can take some water, soap, and a kerosene-like oil (in the proper proportions), mix them up, and end up with a reasonably good degreaser solution. (Interestingly, regular "axle grease" is also such a combo of soap, oil, and water, though in different proportions, of course. It's not simply the super-thick petroleum that many people believe. The "thickness" is due to the soap.)

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A good recipe for a cheap, simple homemade degreaser is water + borax + washing (laundry) powder, mixed in the ratio 12:4:1. Keep it in a jar as spray bottles can get clogged (but might be worth a try for ease of application).

It works on my bike. Some soaking and/or scrubbing with an old toothbrush is required for stubborn muck and grease, for example: when overhauling headset or BB bearings and it should work for derailleurs too.

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I use the colourless, odorless liquid that comes out of taps and sometimes (often, where I am) falls from the sky...

Beyond simply using a damp cloth, when I'm doing maintenance, I'll wipe off any grease or oil using WD-40 or Liquid Wrench or Brake Clean (whatever I have on hand for cleaning bolts).

We don't have that brand of dish soap here, but I wouldn't hesitate to use something like that on a bike. For people who are worried about harsh soaps, there's Palmolive, which is well-known for being very gentle.

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  • Hmm, I must look for that odorless liquid..I wonder if we have it here :) Fairy is the UK equivalent of Palmolive. – Bernard Tyers Apr 29 '12 at 18:19
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    Watch out for the high salt content of washing up liquid. – alex Feb 1 '13 at 6:14
  • That colourless liquid that comes out of taps does not degrease properly and, as well, risks penetrating the places where you are not going to dislodge it with a cloth and therefore risk corrosion and thus weak points. – RichieHH Oct 19 '16 at 12:07
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For those of you who still may be looking for a cheap degreaser, search for Virosol. This is the strongest degreaser I've seen. You'd normally buy it from sites selling industrial cleaning chemicals. It's eco-friendly and leaves your bike spotless.

It was less than £10 for 5L delivered (UK). It's concentrated so for general cleaning I dilute it 1:10, for chain etc 1:2. Basically, 5L will last you for ages.

Be careful though, couple of drops can leave ball bearings in the hub clean as well.

Hope this helps someone.

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Solvents are not only bad for the environment (no I am not from Greenpeace) but also bad for your health. Luckily many solvent free solutions are mantioned above. Soap and water, a dry rag and washing up liquid. No need for solvents at all. Have you ever had to wash your dirty black hands after handling the greasy, rusty old chain of and old street bike og after fixing something on your car? Did you use a special hand degreasing fluid? No because soap and water does the trick - washing up fluid if soap is not enough. If the same kind of oily dirt is on your bike, the same kind of washing technique applies.

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A friend of mien told me that he is using Coca Cola as a degreaser and rust remover. He leaves overnight the chain in the Cola and after that he washes with water to remove the sugary stuff.

I never tired and I don't even recommend it, but I think this is a cheap feasible solution.

You will spend a lot of time with washing of the cola and waiting to dry your chain. I rather use paint solvents.

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  • The citric acid in coke is good for dissolving a bit of rust, but as far as I know it's more of a myth that it's effective for anything more. – oarfish Jun 16 '18 at 16:53
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I've used sugar (yes, the stuff put in coffee or on cereal) and liquid dish soap as a very effective home-made degreaser for my hands after working on bike or truck but haven't thought to try it on the parts themselves. For the metal bits I usually use WD-40 or Powerblaster and a scrub or toothbrush. I buy the "WD" in 1 gallon containers (liquid form, not "aerosol") and use a plastic 5 gallon pail as a parts washer. After the project is done, I'll pour off the "used" liquid into a smaller container (filtering as necessary) and reuse it for future degreasing projects.

Brake Parts cleaner, as suggested above also works, but it's more toxic and I generally reserve it for things that truly need to be clean, perhaps in preparation for painting, not parts that are going to be re-greased after cleaning. I'd put diesel in the same general category. Very effective, but not as pleasant, or "safe", to work with.

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    Do you want ants? Cause this is how you get ants! – Batman Aug 14 '14 at 2:07
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Waterless hand cleaners such as GoJo, etc., work well and are environmentally friendly.

What the white creme hand cleaner is: Water, vegetable soap, a small amount of low odor mineral spirits. Emulsifies grease quite well and it is harmless indoors or out. Cleans anything dirty, from antique finishes to phono records, laundry stains, grubby garage sale finds, you name it. Slather, brush, rinse.

BTW, good old WD-40 is merely low-odor mineral spirits and low viscosity straight mineral oil. It is therefore a safe and good solvent, as we all well know. Also, such weak "aliphatic hydrocarbons" are relatively non-toxic by nature and are fully biodegradable.

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  • are you suggesting to use both gojo and wd-40 together? – johny why May 20 at 23:17
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The best degreaser is simply a rag.

Disassemble the parts, rub them briskly with a rag, re-grease/re-oil and re-assemble.

YMMV depending on how far you let things go before servicing.

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