Ultrasonic Cleaning: How To Get A Super Clean Bike Chain & Cassette


Speaker: Cassettes and chains can get really
dirty. Then everyone loves riding a clean bike. They look nicer, they’re faster, and
the drivetrain is more efficient, and regular cleaning will make your components last longer.
But cleaning takes time and effort, and it can be really difficult to get every last
bit of dirt out from intricate components like chains and cassettes, but not with one
of these. This is an ultrasonic bath and in this video, I’m going to show you how you
can use one of these, what they can do and also where you can get one. They’re not especially
expensive. [music]
Ultrasonic baths, also known as sonicators, create tiny little bubbles induced by high-frequency
sound waves to agitate or vibrate the liquid that’s inside the bath. These agitations or
vibrations in the liquid, create huge pressure on any dirt or contaminants that are on the
object that you put inside the bath. Whether that’s your cassette, your chain or any
other component you want to clean. The cleaning action also penetrates blind holes and is
excellent at getting into tiny recesses and cracks, making it ideal for cleaning something
as complicated as a chain. They’re also often used to clean jewelry,
and as an organic chemist, I used to use them to sometimes clean lab apparatus, but also
you could use them to actually dissolve stubborn solids into various solvents, which was important
for various chemical reactions. You didn’t need to know that but [unintelligible 00:01:42]
nerdy fact for you. Anyhow, we’re going to clean this filthy chain and cassette. Now,
if you want to pick one of these up yourself, you can do on websites like Amazon for around
£50 or $60 or so and they go up in price generally depending on the size. I think this
one was about £80. You’ll then want to put some kind of cleaning
solution inside the liquid, something aqueous-based is going to be best and ideally, we’d always
say use something a bit more environmentally friendly that’s not going to destroy the environment.
So something like this Bio Degreaser from Muc-Off would be great. You can also use solvents
like white spirit and they’re very powerful and potent at cleaning things, but they’re
not quite as good for the environment and also factor in that there is a health and
safety thing here, you don’t want to get this kind of stuff in your eyes, and also, they
can be highly flammable. So just be careful with that.
White spirit isn’t too bad though because the– well the autoignition temperature of
white spirit is about 240 degrees, so it’s quite hard to set it on fire without a naked
flame, but still, it’s well worth being careful with these things. I’ve stress, I would recommend
you use something that’s a bit more environmentally friendly. I mean if you are a total chemistry
nerd, then you can actually recycle white spirit using a distillation still, that does
fall within my weird skillset, but most people are just going to probably chuck it down the
sink, which isn’t very good [unintelligible 00:03:15].
Also, remember anything that you do put in the bath is going to be more potent at cleaning
than it would be normally. That’s because the bath is able to warm it up, which helps
clean, but also the vibrations improve the potency of the cleaning as well. You can actually
use water and just a drop of washing up liquid and that will work pretty well in most cases.
Put on some nitrile gloves just to stop any nasty dirty stuff getting on my hands. It
looks like I’m going to fry some chips, don’t I? [laughs] It’s not a deep fat fryer. I’m
going to put my dirty chain in here. There we go, look at that.
Also going to put the cassette in there as well. In fact, I’m going to put the cassette
in half and half because that way I might get like a nice half clean, half dirty thing
going on, which would be pretty cool. I’m going to turn the bath on. Vibrates in a way
and drop it in. That’s working its magic. Now, this is cleaning, I’ve set a timer on
the unit for five minutes, we will see how it turns out after that. I don’t know if you
can hear it on the camera but there’s a real high frequency vibrations sort of sonic waves.
I guess if you were a dog, you’d probably find it really annoying. It’s quite loud.
Now in theory, you could use this to clean all manner of bicycle components, so brakes
and derailleurs and things like that, but this kind of system is going to be excellent
at stripping grease out of bearings. For example, if you were going to be putting in something
like a rear derailleur, it might be worth removing the jockey wheels and just cleaning
them separately, because the grease inside the little bearings on the jockey wheels will
probably get stripped out and you don’t necessarily want that. You could use it to clean bearings
but just bear in mind you’ll have to take out the seals and regrease them again.
If you’ve got a really dirty chain like the one I’ve got, then you’ll probably want to
do a couple of immersions like this where you change your cleaning solution, put a fresh
batch in and do the chain again. One of the things that’s useful as well is to use brushes
to help loosen the dirt, and I’d actually suggest that you clean all the surface dirt
off as best as you can first with it on the bike and using a hose pipe and some degreaser.
Then immerse it in the bath because the bath is best at penetrating in between the rollers
and the links of the chains and getting the dirt that you can’t normally reach and loosening
that. The water had a kind greenish tint from the
Muc-Off in there, but it’s completely changed. It’s like brown and grey black now. It really
is stripping that dirt off the components. Right, that’s all done. I’m quite excited
to see how clean this comes out because my chains never normally get that dirty. This
is one of [unintelligible 00:06:23] chains, obviously.
Now it’s done, I’m going to take the chain and cassette out and I’m just going to rise
them with some water under a tap just to wash off any residual dirt that’s just left on
the surface, but the sonicator or well, the ultrasonic bath should have loosened any of
that dirt, so it should just come off nice and easily. Right, I’ve just rinsed these
off and you can see the cassette. That’s incredible where it’s been half in and half out of the
cleaning solution. This cassette truth be told wasn’t the filthiest
dirtiest cassette in the world, but you can see there on this half where this SRAM logo
is, how it’s much much cleaner after just– well that one’s just been into it 10 minutes
compared to that side which has still got all the dirt on it. That’s cool, but this
chain, check this out. That’s just much, much, much cleaner now. You could eat dinner off
it. Right, I hope you found this video useful, and if you have, then consider following us
on social media, and also, why not check out some more of our videos. You’ve got a load
of other ones with other useful cleaning tips.

100 Replies to “Ultrasonic Cleaning: How To Get A Super Clean Bike Chain & Cassette”

  1. I love mine. Be careful with SimpleGreen. It is tough on aluminum. They make a version that is aluminum friendly though.

  2. Needed to see the chain close up also for longer! Also the cassette was hard to see the difference. Might have to get one of these !

  3. In the past I wrecked a chain as I cleaned it so well with Kero all the internal lubricant was stripped. With this method what step are require to make sure this does not happen?

  4. Be carefull with polished aluminum parts on dereillieurs and shifters – most of the time they are coated transparently which can start to come off by the cavitation and results in flakey white oxydation. Generally be careful with all coated parts and ultrasonic cleaners.

  5. Don't forget to use the basket. Never put items sitting directly on the bottom. It will eat a hole through the bottom. (eventually)

  6. Couldn't see any dirt on that cassette and then the screen shrunk when oli showed the chain.
    Something makes me think it didnt work that well.

  7. A ultrasonic cleaner hack: Fill the cleaner with normal water, then take a old plastic jar (or glass depending on the cleaner you're using) and put your de-greaser of your choice in it. And put the component you want to clean in the jar, and put the jar in to the water. The sound waves still pass into the jar and it still cleans just as well, but you're using less of your cleaner of choice.

  8. Hi Ollie,
    1st you better use more liquid. At least 2/3 of the tube, not just 1/3 of the tube… the ultrasonic cleaner will last longer.
    2nd liquid soap/detergent from the kitchen does it as well.
    3rd my private solution for filthy greasy metal: liquid soap/detergent with 1 or 2 gulps of denatured alcohol. It cleans much better, the water is "softer" and it has more cleaning potential.
    4th I prefer to take out objects while the unltrasonic device is still un operation. The dirt stays better in the bath and less on the object.
    5th why just 51°C and not 60 or 80?
    6th how do you get the water out of the last corner or gap? How about a flush with senatured alcohol or/and drying on a heater?

  9. I use WD-40 on my chain/drive-train in the winter. Works great. Gotta apply often though. But in the summer months, I use Finish Line Ceramic Wax. <-Make sure you're applying this on a brand new chain or on a clean/new drive-train when using wax products on your chain.

    Ollie's awesome guys, c'mon. Of course we miss Jon. Keep it up @GCN Tech.

  10. Disappointed…. I thought you were actually going to show us how to clean a drivetrain, not just take the cassette and chain off and dump them into a machine…. That's not what I consider cleaning…. If I have to take it all apart, I'm just going to surface clean, re-lube and then buy new components when it's all worn out… #advertisement

  11. Ive used those before in a dive locker. you need to be careful with certain metal parts as well as the mix. if you get it wrong you can literally take off the finish. They can be very "powerful" and you really need to watch / read the user guide

  12. Thanks to Si's much maligned suggestion many years ago, I’m using WD40. Haven’t found anything that works better while the chain is still on the bike.

  13. Put chain in glass jar with gasoline screw on lid and agitate. Do this over and over till gasoline is clear and your done.

  14. Over 7 minutes of chain cassette cleaning in an ultrasonic cleaner and we don't even get to see how well it cleaned? Don't you think showing the dirty and clean side of the cassette in better light would have been pretty relevant?

  15. I’ve been doing this for years. I but the chain in a zip lock bag with degreeer and but hot water in the ultrasound cleaner. This way I use less chemicals and I don’t dirty the tub of my ultrasound cleaner.

  16. Pro tip for Ollie— put your chain and cassette in a zip loc bag and fill it with the cleaning solution. Then place that bag in the ultrasound machine after filling the machine with water. That way, you do not have to use as much solution AND you do not have to clean the machine afterwards. The ultrasound goes right thru the bag and will not affect the cleaning.

  17. Ollie … If you're going to get scientific I think you should wear a white lab coat and bow tie for extra cred….the glasses were a good touch btw but need thicker lenses ( try watching some OU lectures from the 1970 / 1980s for the full dress code )

  18. I've used an ultrasonics to clean car engine parts for over 30 years, and I always clean my bike parts in there too. Works a treat.

  19. Here’s a little constructive suggestion for you, Ollie. When showing the “after cleaning” results, stop wiggling and waving the parts around so much. It’s difficult to tell how clean the cassette actually is since the eyes cannot focus on it long enough. Also, let us see the other side of the cassette where most of the chain sludge accumulates. Otherwise, great video.

  20. Oil, interested in your thoughts…from SRAM chain manual..
    “Clean the cassette and chain with biodegradable cleaners only. Rinse thoroughly with water and allow the parts to dry, then lubricate the chain with chain lubricant. Lubricate regularly to extend the chain's service life.
    ⚠WARNING – CRASH HAZARD Do not use alkaline or acidic solvents to clean the chain and cassette cogs.
    Do not soak or store the chain or cassette in any cleaning product. They will become brittle and can break under load, which can cause the rider to crash resulting in serious injury and/or death.

  21. Cleans as well, but saves lots of money: put only hot water into the utrasonic device. Put your to-clean item (e.g. chain) into a plastic bag together with a little amount of cleaning fuid and that into the water bath.

  22. Right great video BUT where was the CLOSE-UP of the chain ??? or the cassette ?….. nil points #notick it was just too short…!

  23. I have an ultrasonic cleaner, but rarely use it. Sometimes a friend asks me to work on a bike they haven't ridden for awhile. More often then not, their components are caked in gunk. This is about the only time I use the ultrasonic cleaner. A properly maintained chain should never need an ultrasonic cleaning.

  24. Waste of money let alone money to buy this ultra sonic machine .
    I use simple wd40 or diesel in a spray bottle . This works amazing and is a simple 2-3 minute process . This is done after every ride/race . Lube after ur done cleaning the bike & drivetrain .

  25. Very poor vid. Comes across as unprepared and amateurish. Spend half an hour reading up on cavitation – then explain it instead of some handwaving mumbo-jumbo. The process is aided by temperature, surfactant and sometimes added grit. Not necessary to use use a specialized cleaning fluid or solvent unless it's an extreme case. It's also a good idea to enclose the part in a plastic bag or container with fluid of choice – then immersed in the bath. Saves on fluid and prevents the dirt contaminating other parts or the bath itself. Much cleaner. Boyish enthusiasm won't make up for lack of preparation – and this is the impression the video is making. Poor and sloppy effort.

  26. Total chemistry nerd here (actually chem. eng.). Thanks for this, it's way more than I normally want to do with my bike parts but very educational and entertaining.

  27. OK guys here's a tip not to overlook. Place your dirty parts in a glass or plastic container filled with de-greaser and place this in the ultrasonic cleaner filled with water. The vibrations will go through the container and do their magic. No need to fill the ultrasonic cleaner with any de-greaser, spirits or anything just water. No mess to clean after either.

  28. Fine: I use one all the time in my workshop for drivetrains, and even rejuvenating tired 10 speed shifters, derailleurs, etc.
    HOWEVER: make sure you get a good warranty on whichever one you buy, as the transducers on cheap Chinese ones tend to cack out sooner or even sooner, and once that happens, it goes in the bin.
    I learnt that lesson at a shop I used to work at, and bought a good quality lab spec German-made one, with a warranty and service agent nearby.
    10x the price of an eBay special, but it will last 10x longer, I'm pretty sure of it.

  29. NEVER EVER PUT PETROLEUM INTO AN ULTRASONIC CLEANER AS IT WILL IGNITE AND BURN YOUR WORKSHOP/HOUSE/NEIGHBOURHOOD DOWN

  30. By god I think Ollie is in his element, SCIENCE! Good job. 

    The points I would want to make to the viewers are to be sure to get a unit that is large enough to submerge all the parts you want to clean. I got a small one that is good for small parts and chains but not cassettes, similar to Ollie's issue.

    Another point to consider is what to do post cleaning. After you rinse off the components, be sure to dry them as thoroughly as possible. You now have water and degreaser in the tightest of spots. A compressor or air canister to blow them out works very well. Then be sure to re-lubricate them almost immediately so that you don't introduce rust to the components.

    I ride a lot and I will clean my drive train after each ride. I use sonic cleaning about once per chain in the middle of its life, so for me about every 600-800 miles or 1000km-1300km depending on road conditions.

  31. So you spend quite abit of money on a sonic cleaner, then quite alot more on the cleaning fluid, and then for best results you recommend cleaning the chain first whilst on the bike with chain cleaner. After that several 10 minute cycles in an ultrasonic bath with fresh cleaning fluid each time.
    Thats utterly ridiculous considering a chain will be as dirty as it was in only a few rides.
    It may have some uses but a parts washer can be had for under £50 and it filters and reuses the fluid.

  32. I know what I'll be getting my dental nurse to do for me when she has some spare time. Might even put the chain in the autoclave!😂

  33. It looked really interesting, but I agree with the others. You didn't show any still closeups of the results for us to see how clean they got, especially the cassette. You kept moving it and showing it at an angle rather than head on. Can you do a followup to show us more detail?

  34. there's something called a chain cleaner now. does gcn need me to show you guys how to use it. faster and cheaper. common guys

  35. Also Checkout the tests made by Oz Cycle (on YouTube), ….. Ie which cleaning method has shown the best results……

  36. I have a feeling this is a bit of a waste of money, otherwise you would have properly let us see the end results instead of deftly dodging around it; would probably have been cleaner with a squirt of GT-85!!

  37. i find best results when i liberally spray with degreaser onto the part in the empty bath, then fill the cleaning bath with boiling water from the kettle, and give it about 10 minutes. best to leave the room because it is pretty noisy. They do work, but you need to scrub off afterwards.

  38. I have now stopped using my ultrasonic cleaner for items with friction joints e.g. rivets. So cassettes and chains. Over time the ultrasonic cleaner loosens these joints giving premature wear of the components.

  39. This is scary…..I just found my ultrasonic cleaner in the garage after not touching it in probably 10 years. My phone was not with me at the time and this vid was just recommended.

  40. Have you guys considered doing a maintenance video for direct drive trainers? I've had my bike on mine all winter and am starting to think about taking it off for spring/summer, I've not idea if there is anything maintenance wise I should be considering for my bike or my trainer after that period…

  41. A super idea for cassettes, but as for chains, I would never hassle with removing a chain, but do recommend using a snap-on chain cleaner filled with 'dawn for dishes' — ah yes, good old dawn, it super cleans a bike chain, and it looks like new when you're done. But, like you, I clean mine after each ride for that showroom look and feel.

  42. Making simple things more difficult…..for something that needs to be done on a regular basis why not to use something as simple as a park tool chain cleaner….it should be like writing a PhD paper……keep it simple…keep it simple

    Ultrasonic bath…may useful in a bike-shop….

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