Page 1 of 1

Cleaning bearings

Posted: Fri Sep 30, 2005 9:16 pm
by Jonathan Harms
OK, let's talk bearings. Specifically, let's talk cleaning bearings. More specifically, let's talk about a question I've had for some time now that I still haven't found a completely satisfying answer to: What is a cheap, effective, (reasonably) environmentally responsible way of cleaning bearings?

I realize there is plenty of information out there on different ways of cleaning. I don't want to rehash everything here, unless the general consensus is that it would be helpful. But to provide a bit of background, perhaps it would be helpful to summarize just a bit before I ask my REALLY specific questions.

There seem to be three main approaches:

1) Use a citrus-based degreaser/cleaner or a detergent/surfactant like dishwashing liquid, either with or without diluting it in water. Dry and re-lube before rust sets in.

2) Use a solvent (for example, mineral spirits, a.k.a. paint thinner or "white spirits") and then some sort of alcohol to disperse and remove the solvent. Dry and re-lube.

3) You mean you actually CLEAN your bearings? What are you, some kind of a freak? Just buy some new bearings, ya moron!

I will disregard #3 and focus on #1 and #2.

One of the most-cited cleaning methods I've seen is from Powell Corp., the manufacturer of Bones bearings, at

Some selected quotes from Bones article, which are echoed in other how-to articles:
Citrus base cleaners usually work, but may leave a slight residue. Solvents are dangerous to use, but often do a better job of cleaning very dirty bearings.
Some solvents we have tested that will do a good job are: Gumout® carburetor cleaner (found in auto parts stores) is easy to use and cleans well; kerosene, acetone or lacquer thinner (found in hardware stores) clean well. All these solvents are very flammable, and should be used with great care, so be careful and don’t use them around any flame or spark. If you are using a solvent cleaner, please use rubber gloves, a metal container, in a safe, well ventilated area. When you are finished, remember to dispose of your solvent in a safe, ecologically sound manner. (my emphasis, not Bones'.)
So, finally, here are my questions:

If citrus-based cleaners leave a residue (let's assume that they do), what kind of residue is it? And can it be removed (say, for example, with denatured alcohol), or is it somehow permanent? (And if so, does it make the bearings slower or harm them somehow?)

It seems a bit easier and less toxic to use something like dishwashing liquid, which would dissolve the old grease and gunk and could safely be washed down the drain. As long as you dry and re-lube the bearings quickly afterwards, you're home free, right? Well, apparently not. Rockin' Ron Foster of has told me that using a surfactant destroys or reduces the "wettability" of the steel (which means, in practical terms, the ability for lubricant to function properly). Again, my question is: If using a surfactant leaves a residue or impedes wettability, is the effect permanent or harmful? Or can a quick bath in some other liquid remove the residue and restore that wettability?

So, is there really a safe, ecologically sound way of disposing of gunk-filled mineral spirits or denatured alcohol? Can citrus/surfactant residues be removed? Or should I simply revert to technique #3 mentioned above?

Posted: Sat Oct 01, 2005 7:37 am
by Tod Oles

I use CHLORINITE SOLVENT #008. I know it as a cleaning agent for bowling lanes, i.e. stripping the lane oil off the surface of the lane....anyway, I have access
to a 150 psi air compressor and after a short soak in the "Solvent 8" I hit them with the 150lbs.
of air pressure and bingo, clean as bearings can be outside of the factory they're made in.

Here's a link to the "material safety data sheet" for this chemical;

I'm still using the first ever set of Bones Reds I bought with my first setup. I clean bearings
2-3 times a season.

I should mention that I use PB Blaster teflon spray lube. it's the type of stuff that evaporates and leaves a dry coating of teflon particles ... 2 eye drops per bearing.
Jonathan Harms wrote:So, is there really a safe, ecologically sound way of disposing of gunk-filled mineral spirits or denatured alcohol?
NO!!........... But I ain't walkin no more :-)

How ya been otherwise??

Posted: Sun Oct 02, 2005 7:50 pm
by Wesley Tucker
Reading JBH and TO's post reminded me of something. Does anyone else remember "Super Skate Spray?" It came in a white spray can and was sold mostly at bike shops where we got our wheels and trucks "way back then."

This stuff was INCREDIBLE. What it did for loose-bearing Da' Kine Cadillacs and Stobies was make those wheels twice as fast as any precision bearing Road Rider, Alligator or Power Paw (I'm not exaggerating.) The trouble, though, is I have no clue what this stuff was made. I do know it WAS NOT a spray silicone lubricant. I used lots of that stuff, too, and it behaved completely different. Was the SSS suspended graphite? Or suspended teflon? I never found out. It disappeared off the market sometime after 1976 when precision bearings finally ran loose balls off the market.

Oh, and for the record: I really believe that loose bearings, cone nuts, fully-threaded axles and "D" rings would still serve a purpose in downhill SPEED racing. Sure, they were a BITCH to clean, but God Almighty were they FAST!

P.S. Now, some 20-year old is going to ask, "what a 'cone nut'? What's a 'D' ring?' What's a 'Stobie'"?

Posted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 6:59 am
by Tod Oles
Going to Ace hardware for loose ball bearings got quite old quite fast if you ask me....

It was a pleasure to toss that old Makaha in the trash when Kona Surf shop finally delivered
the "Bruce Logan" Earthski w/fulltracks and......drumroll.................. RR4s w/.......

SEALED BEARINGS!!!!!!!! Mankind's greatest invention when I was a 13yr old.....

Posted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 3:55 pm
by Jonathan Harms
Wesley, what is a Stobie? I remember Stokers, Strokers, Hobies and Stubbies, but I don't remember no Stobies.

And since my first post was really long and involved, I'm still very curious about these unanswered questions:

1. If citrus-based cleaners leave a residue, can it be removed, e.g., with denatured or isopropyl alcohol? (Or is the residue harmless and/or inconsequential?)

2. What exactly do surfactants DO to a bearing to impede or destroy its wettability? Is the effect temporary/reversible, or do surfactants PERMANENTLY harm the balls and/or races? If so, exactly how does this damage occur?

Posted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 6:01 pm
by Wesley Tucker

Cadillac's "little wheel" was the Da' Kine and the big wheel was the "Stoby."

"Little" being like a RR2 and "big" being like the RR4.

I just assumed the plural would be "stobies." Might be "stobys."

Posted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 6:42 pm
by Jonathan Harms
Well, I'll be... Didn't know that one.

Tod, what do you do with your "dirty" solvent? Filter and reuse? Save it for hazardous watste collection? Let it evaporate? Dump it down the drain?

Maybe I'm just being impatient, but I'm contemplating posting these same questions (from my previous posts) on NCDSA as well. I think this is an un(der)explored topic, on the Web in general--rollerskating/blading as well as skateboarding sites. There's a lot of "pretty good" info out there, but it all kind of stops before it gets to what I want.

Chewning, do you know anything about this stuff? Duane?