Technical Q&A with Lennard Zinn: Cleaning solvents prior to chain waxing
Lennard asks the experts at Zero Friction Cycling, Ceramic Speed, Silca, and Molten Speed Wax about the order of operations.
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I read your recent VeloNews articles on chain lube with great interest. The chain stretch on both my road bikes is at 0.5, so I’m about to replace the chains (one Dura-Ace 11sp, one Ultegra 10sp).
1. In this article, you agree with correspondent Kevin’s proposed method: degrease with Simple Green, wipe dry, then apply lube. Is there something special about Simple Green, or would something like this work just as well in the chain scrubber tool?
2. I have a bottle of the Squirt “Clean” lube. Per the pointed advice in this article, the Shimano factory grease needs to be thoroughly stripped off for the Squirt to bond properly. But ZFC’s advice recommends following the solvent bath with “methylated spirits” as a final cleaning/drying step. Unfortunately, California, where I live, banned the sale of denatured alcohol in 2019, and it’s difficult to find anymore. On the other hand, I can easily buy 91 percent isopropanol at a local pharmacy for a few dollars. Are you aware of any issues with using isopropanol for the final pre-lube clean/dry step instead of methanol? I am not aware of acetone being banned in CA under Proposition 65. I also got some clarification about the ban on methylated spirits: it’s not on the spirits per se, but rather on the methanol that is most commonly used as the denaturant.
I received answers to your queries from Zero Friction Cycling, Ceramic Speed, Silca, and Molten Speed Wax.
From Zero Friction Cycling:
I cannot believe that they banned denatured alcohol! That has such a low toxicity – (it is rated as EXTREMELY LOW environmental toxicity). I checked all this stuff a long time ago as I am using these chemicals a lot every day as I am prepping up to 100 chains per week – I don’t want to get sick from accumulative exposure to anything. I take precautions with mineral turpentine (white spirits – low toxicity) due to the amount of handling, one should take same precautions with any solvent really – but some recent googling on the denatured alcohol ban confirms environmental groups are slamming this move as a) completely and utterly useless and b) completely for political optics – it does zilch to help anything environmental-wise.
However – banned it is, and more places in the world are finding it difficult to follow prep instructions.
I really need to properly test products like UFO Clean. CS (Ceramic Speed) have always been honest with me, and they have assured me it will clean off factory grease as promised – I am just hesitant, as I know how stubborn factory grease is, and how much comes off in a bath of turps – I am hesitant that spraying some UFO Clean on to chain on a bike is going to do a perfect prep. If it was me, I would still remove the chain and soak it in UFO Clean – then rinse with water as they advise. I need to find out how many chains one could put through a bottle of UFO Clean, as it is not cheap. I am just finding it very difficult to recommend with confidence this approach for on bike factory grease removal as per the CS video instructions, or one using a very expensive bottle for just a couple of chains prep, etc. – so I will be following up further with CS, and I just need to find time to test myself – something I have put off as, believe it or not, I am so back ordered for wax I just don’t even have any spare for my own waxing to risk contamination and ruining a batch, I am almost completely out even for pre prep chains for retail sale – I haven’t had any wax buffer at all for a bit to risk ruining a single bag – I have about 150 orders and w/sales orders waiting for wax as I type – many of them for many bags. Waxing is really not so niche anymore! (which is grand work, I must say).
I will be doing same with Silca’s new degreaser too that is also claiming to be extremely environmentally friendly – you might be able to check directly with Josh as well; my line to him is hit and miss depending on how super busy he is.
Long story short – my instructions (and probably some mfg like Molten Speed Wax) will likely update to add option of using UFO Clean or bio degreaser in lieu of white spirits and denatured alcohol. Based on these reputable mfg claims, there should be no issues to use as per their instructions – I just personally am hesitant to put out a recommendation that people will follow until I am absolute 100% certain – so that is on my more urgent to do list now that more and more are getting stuck.
Founder/Owner of Zero Friction Cycling
Isopropanol will work fine, I also believe that you can still get acetone in California, which is my personal favorite, it’s an amazing stripping agent and drying agent, whereas isopropanol will just accelerate drying.
Also, we need to keep beating that drum on NO SIMPLE GREEN or at least use Simple Green Aircraft. I cannot count the number of emails we get from people using Simple Green on their chains! Not good!
From Ceramic Speed:
It is important to start with a completely stripped chain prior to waxing/lubing process.
I believe ZFCs advice to do a final rinse with denatured alcohol is to remove any residue left by other solvents. The alcohol leaves no residue, therefore it is used as final clean prior to waxing.
For example, mineral spirits and odorless mineral spirits leave a light oil residue, which could affect the performance of the wax-based lubricant if the wax is applied on top the oil residue.
Essentially, the spirits dissolve the grease, which the alcohol does not dissolve as well. The alcohol then removes the spirits residue.
To answer your readers question, isopropanol alcohol should work fine. It just needs to rinse the light residue and then dry residue free.”
Chief Technology Officer, Ceramic Speed
From Molten Speed Wax:
Aqueous solvents like Simple Green won’t remove factory grease from a new chain like mineral spirits or citrus degreaser, there will still be a sticky feel to the chain.
Isopropyl works just fine as a rinse, 90 percent or higher should be used so that the water content is reduced. Chain should be rinsed and hung to dry, not stored in the alcohol.
Molten Speed Wax LLC
So, go ahead with the isopropanol rinse, Alex. Clearly, I should not have let pass Kevin’s comment about cleaning with Simple Green without recommending a different cleaning solvent. (And the “electrostatic” typo still is in that post; it should say, “ultrasonic”.)
Regarding your recent post, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”
-George E.P. Box
My sentiments exactly. The Anhalt/Poertner graphs made a big difference for me in understanding rolling resistance on non-smooth surfaces. They were instrumental for me in designing the rolling-resistance tests of Paris-Roubaix tires and of gravel tires.
Some labs testing rolling resistance not only have a smooth roller but also have an undamped load on the wheel. This means that every tire tested on this setup continues to show lower rolling resistance the higher the tire pressure. I might have chosen one of those labs to do those tests if I had not seen Anhalt and Poertner’s graphs, which show how a decreasing-rolling-resistance curve hits an inflection point where the rolling resistance suddenly turns and starts rapidly increasing with increasing air pressure. By choosing a test lab with damping of the load and insisting on a rough surface for the drum, I was able to locate the pressure corresponding to a rolling resistance minimum.
Indeed, Anhalt and Poertner’s model, while imprecise, was a useful model for me and resulted in much more useful results that riders could use to reduce their rolling drag.
Lennard Zinn (https://www.velonews.com/byline/lennard-zinn) , our longtime technical writer, joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a custom frame builder (www.zinncycles.com) and purveyor of non-custom huge bikes (bikeclydesdale.com), a former U.S. national team rider, co-author of “The Haywire Heart,” and author of many bicycle books including “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” “DVD, as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”
He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College.