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Removing really sticky grease?

Old 10-08-19, 09:50 PM
  #26  
cyccommute 
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Originally Posted by Ronsonic View Post
Naphtha.

Basically a very clean, highly refined version of mineral spirits. Same stuff as found in Zippo cigarette lighters.

As non-toxic as such things get. Not harmful to plastics and paints including fine lacquer.

Works great on old grease and other goo and won't hurt anything.
Naphtha is another name for mineral spirits.
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Old 10-12-19, 06:17 PM
  #27  
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Originally Posted by JohnDThompson View Post
Grease is an emulsion of soap and oil. The solid matter you see is the soap component left behind after the oil has separated from the emulsion and drained out. If you want to avoid potentially toxic solvents to deal with this, try adding back some mineral oil and working it back into the soap. This can reconstitute the grease and make it easier to clean out with e.g. a rag.

Personally, that's more work than I am inclined to put into a job like this. I'd just use mineral spirits, nitrile gloves, a brush and a rag and be done with it.
Thank you for reminding one and all that grease is oil and soap. This is why after working with grease it is possible to clean one's hands with soap and water. OP was asking about how to do the job w/o resort to nasty chemicals (OP's phrase), soap and water are usually not categorized as nasty.

In the bigger hammer department nitromethane cleans most anything. Last I had a reason to contemplate buying some the minimum quantity was a 55 gallon drum and price was about $3000. Is that a problem? Just throw the whole bike in the nitro and guarantee by morning that's one clean bike. Do you want clean or not? I have it on good authority that the legendary Shelbrothane Chain Cleaner was nitromethane. Deakinol of course was 190 proof grain alcohol. Useful for many things. Then you could try an industrial pressure washer loaded with nitro. Or flamethrowers. Do not forget flamethrowers.
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Old 10-13-19, 10:24 PM
  #28  
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Aaargghh! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Some good advice here, some bad.

First, you don't know what you are dealing with, and neither do we. That makes all advice very hypothetical, and potentially dangerous. Short of a chemical analysis, you are "shooting blind." However, there is a safer way to do this.

First, try Simple Green™. Full strength, just soak 24 hours and see what it does. It will remove baked on automotive oil residue. NOTE: do not use on aluminum or aluminum alloys.

Second, try Goo Gone™. Apply, soak for a few minutes, wipe. This stuff seems to remove most hydrocarbons, some take more time than others. FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.

Third, try ethyl alcohol (Everclear). FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.

Fourth, try isopropyl alcohol, 90%. FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.

If none of the above work, you have entered the realm of truly hazardous substances requiring adequate ventilation, solvent-proof gloves, and a face shield as minimums. "Lacquer thinner" is a blend of various solvents, and thus will dissolve quite a few organic compounds.

A very low toxicity substance for removing the last residues: creamy peanut butter. Peanut oil is "nature's penetrating oil." Slow, but effective.

Regardless of what you use, it is wise to treat all hydrocarbon solvents as potentially toxic. What you are not exposed to cannot kill you. Lastly, "safe" does not exist, only "safer" and "less safe."
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Old 10-14-19, 09:40 AM
  #29  
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Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
Aaargghh! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Some good advice here, some bad.
I'll agree that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. However, many of us have more than just a little knowledge about what is happening here.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
First, you don't know what you are dealing with, and neither do we. That makes all advice very hypothetical, and potentially dangerous. Short of a chemical analysis, you are "shooting blind." However, there is a safer way to do this.
Unless someone did something really stupid, many of us have seen this before. We don't need a chemical analysis because the only thing that should have ever been in the bearings is grease. We are only "shooting [partially] blind".

And most of the suggestions made have been both knowledgeable and offered to reduce any potential hazards as much as possible.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
First, try Simple Green™. Full strength, just soak 24 hours and see what it does. It will remove baked on automotive oil residue. NOTE: do not use on aluminum or aluminum alloys.
Sure, you could soak it in Simple Green for a day but, short of removing the headset cups, how do your propose soaking the parts? Simple Green has it's own hazards and disposal problems. Just pouring it down the drain isn't environmentally friendly especially considering that to soak a headset that is still on the bike is going to take a pretty big vat of the stuff.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
Second, try Goo Gone™. Apply, soak for a few minutes, wipe. This stuff seems to remove most hydrocarbons, some take more time than others. FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.
Yep. Goo Gone will probably work because it is composed mostly of the same stuff as mineral spirits. It's 60 to 100% light petroleum distillates with a little orange peel thrown in for scent.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
Third, try ethyl alcohol (Everclear). FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.

Fourth, try isopropyl alcohol, 90%. FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.
Neither is effective for dissolving old grease. Trying to use them is a waste of time, money and chemicals. Alcohol can dissolve some things but grease isn't one of them.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
If none of the above work, you have entered the realm of truly hazardous substances requiring adequate ventilation, solvent-proof gloves, and a face shield as minimums. "Lacquer thinner" is a blend of various solvents, and thus will dissolve quite a few organic compounds.
This is the place to start...sans the over the top personal protection equipment. Yes, use it with adequate ventilation but you don't need super heavy solvent proof gloves nor a face shield. Disposable nitrile gloves are all you need. Eye protection might be worthwhile but you don't need a faceshield. The idea isn't to splash this stuff all over everything. A bit poured from a bottle (10 mL is a lot) on to a rag will remove the old grease quickly and easily.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
A very low toxicity substance for removing the last residues: creamy peanut butter. Peanut oil is "nature's penetrating oil." Slow, but effective.
Maybe but...
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Old 10-15-19, 06:02 PM
  #30  
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Probably too late, but before the liquids, heat may help. Your original description sounds almost like cosmoline, which responds to heat. A heat gun might help. Alternatively, hot water and dishwashing detergent, or ammonia. That said, my favorite is Diesel. It is cheap, has low volatility, works pretty good. Gloves are a good idea.
Good luck
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Old 10-15-19, 08:00 PM
  #31  
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Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
Aaargghh! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Some good advice here, some bad.

First, you don't know what you are dealing with, and neither do we. That makes all advice very hypothetical, and potentially dangerous. Short of a chemical analysis, you are "shooting blind." However, there is a safer way to do this.

First, try Simple Green™. Full strength, just soak 24 hours and see what it does. It will remove baked on automotive oil residue. NOTE: do not use on aluminum or aluminum alloys.

Second, try Goo Gone™. Apply, soak for a few minutes, wipe. This stuff seems to remove most hydrocarbons, some take more time than others. FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.

Third, try ethyl alcohol (Everclear). FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.

Fourth, try isopropyl alcohol, 90%. FLAMMABLE. ADEQUATE VENTILATION NECESSARY.
No.

It isn't that complicated. You start with a material that damages aluminum, a material that makes up most of the mass of most bikes. Then go to something that'll surely ruin the paint. Next next you suggest inflammable volatiles.

A little knowledge, indeed.

Start with some sort of mineral spirit, I prefer naphtha. Other people will use diesel fuel or odorless mineral spirits. All are relatively safe in use and not harmful to the thing we're working on. At that point you are almost certainly done. This is experience talkin' here.
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Old 10-15-19, 08:51 PM
  #32  
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Of course. I should know by now that a professional career in materials science, chemistry, and geology is utterly trumped by garage "experience" and word of mouth "experience." What was I thinking to challenge such hide-bound, entrenched, absolute stupidity? I grant that you have forgotten more about bicycles and their components than I will ever know, but about material science you know bupkis.

It is immediately obvious that you know nothing of organic chemistry: "some sort of mineral spirit, I prefer naptha." The two are different chemicals that happen to have similar effects on some materials. In point of fact, "naptha" has several meanings, none of them precise, and different in differing parts of the world.

Define "sticky grease." Very little is known about the substance in question. The fact that it is old means that it has lost volatiles, in addition to what ever else it may have been exposed to. That means it may be quite different from what it was originally. It may have broken down, or it may have polymerized into something more similar to glue than grease—or both.

Whether or not a hydrocarbon is soluble in alcohol, or partially soluble, depends on the hydrocarbon. Some lubricants are, others not, but there is also the possible surface effect to consider, and they are far safer to use than most other organic solvents.

Simple Green will attack many metals given sufficient time. Twenty-four hours is not sufficient unless heat is applied. It is far safer than most common cleaners when used properly.

As for your casual attitude toward safe practices, be aware that some things sold as "naptha" will pass through nitrile gloves. Carburator cleaner will go through them as if they weren't there, destroying them in the process. "Lacquer thinner" is a blend of whatever the manufacturer wants to put in, and many of its components go right through nitrile.

But don't worry, the long term effects probably won't show up for years, and they are getting much better at treating cancer, liver, and kidney failure. The effects on brain cells, however, are immediate and permanent.
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Old 10-16-19, 08:55 AM
  #33  
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I've just retired from a 40 year career related to safe use of chemicals, both in industrial and laboratory settings. After reading all of the punditry posted above, I would say that @cyccommute has the best handle on the reality of functional effectiveness and safety, though there are a lot of subtle factors related to a particular chemical's properties other than toxicity that affect the hazard of use.

The bottom line is that low volatility, high flash point mineral spirits (a generic hydrocarbon product available by many names) provides an excellent balance between effectiveness and hazard. Use as little as necessary and don't run away from a bit of elbow grease.

Limonene-based products work ok as well and are low hazard, but have a tougher time with hardened grease. I've always been concerned about residue on bearing surfaces, though.
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Old 10-16-19, 02:08 PM
  #34  
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Scrubbing with a brass-wire brush helps when the grease is very crusty or sticky while using your solvent of choice.
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Old 10-17-19, 05:44 PM
  #35  
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It is immediately obvious that you know nothing of organic chemistry: "some sort of mineral spirit, I prefer naptha." The two are different chemicals that happen to have similar effects on some materials. In point of fact, "naptha" has several meanings, none of them precise, and different in differing parts of the world.
We are talking about the grease and oils used in bicycle construction and maintenance.

It isn't that complicated.

Naphtha or mineral spirits both do a fine job on the stuff we are talking about.

No matter what the grease an oil has turned into or has in it, naphtha will remove it.

And yes, naphtha is rather benign as such things go and quite safe to handle.

This is what I do. I know what works.

Last edited by Ronsonic; 10-17-19 at 05:56 PM. Reason: Edited to not sound too *****
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Old 10-18-19, 12:03 AM
  #36  
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Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
Of course. I should know by now that a professional career in materials science, chemistry, and geology is utterly trumped by garage "experience" and word of mouth "experience." What was I thinking to challenge such hide-bound, entrenched, absolute stupidity? I grant that you have forgotten more about bicycles and their components than I will ever know, but about material science you know bupkis.

It is immediately obvious that you know nothing of organic chemistry: "some sort of mineral spirit, I prefer naptha." The two are different chemicals that happen to have similar effects on some materials. In point of fact, "naptha" has several meanings, none of them precise, and different in differing parts of the world..
How much did you say you know about chemistry? First mineral spirits and naphtha (there an ‘h’ in that to make a ‘f’ sound) aren’t “chemicals” in terms of being pure compounds. There is no “mineral spirits” molecule nor a “naphtha” molecule. They are mixtures of petroleum distillates that are based on distillation temperatures. They also happen to have overlapping compositions. You are correct that there are various names for the mixtures but they still fall into a fairly narrow range of distillate fractions.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
Define "sticky grease." Very little is known about the substance in question. The fact that it is old means that it has lost volatiles, in addition to what ever else it may have been exposed to. That means it may be quite different from what it was originally. It may have broken down, or it may have polymerized into something more similar to glue than grease—or both..
As I said before, we can be fairly certain about what will be found inside of a bicycle bearing. Chemically, there’s not really all that much that will be used in a headset, bottom bracket or hub. It is going to be some kind of grease and, as such, will be relatively easy to dissolve with the proper hydrocarbon solvent.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
Whether or not a hydrocarbon is soluble in alcohol, or partially soluble, depends on the hydrocarbon. Some lubricants are, others not, but there is also the possible surface effect to consider, and they are far safer to use than most other organic solvents..
Not really. If you used a longer chain alcohol, it might do a fair job on dissolving a hydrocarbon but those are not something you can pick up at your local Big Box Store.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
As for your casual attitude toward safe practices, be aware that some things sold as "naptha" will pass through nitrile gloves. Carburator cleaner will go through them as if they weren't there, destroying them in the process. "Lacquer thinner" is a blend of whatever the manufacturer wants to put in, and many of its components go right through nitrile..
Nitrile gloves stand up to both “naphtha” and “mineral spirits” according to this chart.

And, for someone who was just complaining about people not using the proper names, you seem to not know what various chemical mixtures are. “Lacquer thinner” is different from ”paint thinner”. Lacquer thinner has more in common with carburetor cleaner than it does with mineral spirits or paint thinner. Carburetor cleaner and lacquer thinner are alcohol/ketone/toluene based with the “alcohol” seeming to be methanol. Nitrile gloves don’t do well with acetone nor toluene. But I haven’t seen anyone suggesting using either lacquer thinner nor carburetor cleaner.

Originally Posted by Lightning Pilot View Post
But don't worry, the long term effects probably won't show up for years, and they are getting much better at treating cancer, liver, and kidney failure. The effects on brain cells, however, are immediate and permanent.
For both naphtha and mineral spirits, neither is particularly toxic. Mineral spirits is even less so if odorless mineral spirits is used. The aromatics...benzene/toluene/xylene...have been removed in that mixture and they are mostly aliphatic compounds with little toxicity. They certainly don’t have any neural toxicity...either short or long term.

The alcohols that people are suggesting do have acute neural toxicity.

Again, when using mineral spirits, use odorless mineral spirits. Use it in well ventilated areas. Use it while wearing nitrile gloves. And use a little as possible.
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Old 10-18-19, 05:11 AM
  #37  
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My choices are:
1. Simple Green
2. Mineral Spirits
3. WD-40
I would be cautious with something like brake or carburettor cleaner as they can be harsh on painted surfaces. As a side note, carb cleaner does leave a slight film as well. Simple Green has been great when cleaning up an old bike which hasn’t been serviced for a while, if ever.
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Old 10-20-19, 05:18 PM
  #38  
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I would use rubbing alcohol
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