The Chainlink

I mentioned the use of a cheap ultrasonic cleaner to clean freewheels without disassembly in the "I rode today" thread. I thought perhaps it deserved a thread of its own. I have this from Harbor Freight. I got it for about $65 as I recall. You can also find HF coupons online to drive the cost down a bit.

This one is nothing spectacular. I just run some generic Dawn-like dish soap in it, though there are all sorts of solutions available on the net for various purposes. I'm sure a better device would do a better job and have more features, but this was my first try at this sort of thing, and I didn't want to plunk down a couple hundred bucks on an experiment. It's big enough for a non-drive-side crank arm, but not the drive-side arm. In those cases I just flip it around once or twice so everything gets its turn in the juice. I also typically run most things through multiple six-minute cycles. After the cleaner, I generally rinse the parts under warm/hot water to clean off any soap, then either continue with a more through cleaning, or for many things, just let them air dry before reinstalling them, or (for chains and freewheels) lubricating them ahead of storage.

I'm really quite pleased with it. Derailleurs, freewheels, chains, brake calipers, stems, etc., all just go in the cleaner. If I'm feeling bored I might give them a quick once over before tossing them in the sauce.

If you're still not convinced that you should get one, you're welcome to come over some evening or weekend with some parts and give mine a try.


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Hi, Skip!

I've got one of those too, the same model probably.  I had to return the first one I got pretty quickly, it failed, and apparently that is a common fault, due to water getting in around the perimeter of the bowl and the case.  Inevitably water will get in there.  With the new one I ran a bead of caulk around and so far no problems.  I'd been thinking the ultrasonic was some kind of magic cleaning aid but it only helps...for crusty parts there is still lots of elbow grease involved.  Fortunately for me, I have found I enjoy cleaning.

I've got the HF one, too. Decent for doing small parts. I use the purple Ace bio solvent and it did a good job on the carbs for my moto. Like Skip says, it is fairly small and it takes a few rotations to get larger things done.Next job for it is the rebuild of my tractor engine.

I have one of the Harbor Freight ultrasonics that is now in it's fifth year, it gets used for ~100 hours per year cleaning bike bits and other greasy/corroded parts. I know of maybe a dozen of them that people are using and there have been longevity issues, mostly because they aren't handled and used with sufficient care. Don't drop them (cheap plastic body and delicate electronics) and keep them clean and dry (easier said than done but be careful) and they perform very well and are reasonably reliable. I've also used commercial models and they are better - durable as stone, stable heat, bigger tanks, more powerful transducers, etc. - but unless you're using one every day it's hard to justify the cost. Like you said, crank arms can be problematic in the little HF ultrasonics but they do get the job done.

Dawn works as a solution, though it tends to foam (messy) and is very slow. I've found that the chemicals get the job done much faster and much better, so I normally go that route. The trick is to be careful about which chemicals you use. There are some out there that will eat some metals while others are actually safe to eat (well, not really but they aren't poisonous) and can actually help prevent corrosion (passivate) from forming after the cleaning.

Whenever possible, I fill the tank with plain water and put the parts to be cleaned in an old peanut butter jar or tupperware to be submerged in the tank. It helps keep the machine itself clean and it saves money by reducing the amount of cleaning solution used.

The best all-purpose ultrasonic cleaner I have found is 'Blue Gold'. $$$ but the stuff is highly concentrated and a gallon will last a long, long time. At $85 per gallon, the cost per quart of solution is about a buck.

This stuff is amazing on funked up chains and sprockets but be careful using it on aluminum. Lots of rust issues that would normally require replacement can be resolved in a hurry with this.

The easiest/cheapest source I've found for this stuff is scuba stores and there is always a tech or two who will probably be happy to talk to you about how to use the machines and the chemicals. They usually won't have it in stock but can get it for you or might sell you a cup or two from their stash - bring an empty jar with a good seal on it. An alternative source that I've used is Ultrasonics Direct, a little expensive but their 1220 and 1852 are both good, though aggressive. A gallon of any of these goes a long way so splitting the cost of the goop (and, for that matter, the ultrasonic machine) with a friend will help lower the cost of entry.

Any chance to see some before and after photos? 

I'll see what I can come up with. I've hit a bit of a lull at the moment, but am awaiting arrival of a bike in the next week or so that the seller says "needs a complete tune-up". If someone else doesn't beat me to it, I'll try to remember to take a couple before and after photos.

Kelvin Mulcky said:

Any chance to see some before and after photos? 

Not until early summer - I'm not man enough to ride much during the winter and all the end of season maintenance work is done so this time of year I'm only using it for non-bike related cleaning.

Kelvin Mulcky said:

Any chance to see some before and after photos? 

I don't know if the photos I've attached will mean much but I did find a before and after shot of an oxygen regulator that had an internal fire and was badly scorched. In the before photo you can see the black carbon burnt into several of the little orifices, the second photo was taken after a two minute dunk in the ultrasound with a fairly aggressive chemical solution.

As a general rule, the bike bits are more messy but easier to clean than most of these regulators.

Kelvin Mulcky said:

Any chance to see some before and after photos? 



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