Ultrasonic Chain Cleaning
Ultrasonic cleaners do a phenomenal job of cleaning chains for waxing. They use ultra high frequency sound waves to blast away contaminants on chain parts. Importantly, ultrasonic cleaners meticulously clean hidden, interior parts like pins, inner links and inside roller surfaces where the majority of friction occurs. The cleaning action, known as cavitation, is completely safe for chains and other bike parts.
Because ultrasonic cleaners are powered by electricity, we can't recommend using flammable solvents in them like mineral spirits and denatured alcohol. Instead, choose water based (aqueous) cleaning solutions that are non flammable. When combined with heat these solutions clean extremely well with one exception: they aren't 100% effective in removing new, unoxidized grease from a new chain. If an aqueous solution is used in this situation a light film of grease will remain on the chain.
To completely strip new grease and oil from a brand new chain we recommend using our container method with mineral spirits and denatured alcohol; from that point on the ultrasonic cleaner and aqueous cleaning solutions can't be beaten. Note: if you live in an area that has banned mineral spirits, visit your LBS for a good quality citrus degreaser to use in the first step of our container method. No other type of solvent is advised for completely stripping new factory chain grease off a chain.
In sum, a new chain out of the box should be cleaned with our container method and petroleum solvents before its first waxing; for all subsequent cleanings, use the ultrasonic cleaner with an aqueous based solution for an incredibly clean and fast chain.
Items Needed For Ultrasonic Cleaning
Safety first: wear rubber gloves throughout cleaning process to protect hands from hot liquids and cleaning solutions; never put hands in ultrasonic cleaner while running; wear safety glasses when working with chemicals.
Ultrasonic Chain Cleaning Steps (assumes chain has been cleaned with container method and waxed at least one time)
Please note: from this point forward we will refer to the ultrasonic cleaner as "UC."
- Mix aqueous solution concentrate with hot tap water according to manufacturer's recommendations (mix in measuring cup then pour into UC, liquid should be minimum of 2/3 tank height). Time saving tip: preheat 32 oz. of water in microwave before mixing. Big time saving tip: use Swisher Tool to swish chain in boiling water to remove wax and grit before ultrasonic cleaning. This pre-cleaning will reduce the number of ultrasonic baths necessary for a clean chain.
- Put lid on UC and plug in, set temperature to 57°C (135°F) and timer to 6 minutes (to degas aqueous solution). Degassing improves cleaning performance.
- After degassing is finished, place chain in basket and basket in UC, replace lid
- When temperature reaches 57°C, set timer to clean chain for 6 minutes, then flip chain for additional 6 minutes (caution: chain, solution and tank are hot!). Note: if chain was swished in boiling water in step one to remove wax, bath temperature can be much lower than 57°C.
- Unplug UC, remove basket and place chain in large measuring cup
- With chain in cup, fill cup with hot tap water in sink, keep water flowing into cup while agitating chain aggressively, empty and fill cup several times to flush out solution and contaminants in chain, minimum of 30 seconds intense rinsing/agitating is recommended
- Dry chain with clean rag, note any residue marks left on rag (distinguish between dirt and simply wet marks left by chain)
- Coffee break: it is possible to stop now if no dirt was left on rag - see additional notes at bottom of page for clarification - but for cleanest and fastest chain continue remaining steps to assure chain is as clean as possible before waxing.
- Pour out dirty cleaning solution from tank, clean tank with paper towels, including wax clinging to sides of tank (reminder: tank is hot!)
- Mix new solution with hot tap water as in step #1 above, pour into tank, put lid on, plug in UC
- Set temperature to 57°C and timer to 6 minutes to degas
- After degassing is complete, place chain in basket and basket in UC, replace lid
- When temperature reaches 57°C, set timer to clean chain for 6 minutes, then flip chain for additional 6 minutes
- Unplug UC, remove basket, place chain in cup for second rinsing as step #6 above
- After thorough water rinse, blow chain dry with compressed air if possible, then dry with clean rag (if any marks appear on rag, repeat process with fresh concentrate and water). Note: when in doubt, replace solution and clean more!
- Final step: place chain in clean, clear plastic container that has a lid, add denatured alcohol to cover depth of chain, put lid on, swish for 45 seconds, remove chain and dry with clean rag, hang chain 15 minutes before waxing. Note: check container for debris on bottom (likely), repeat alcohol rinse with new alcohol (clean container with paper towels before refilling). For fastest chain plan on multiple alcohol baths.