I'd like to clean my bicycle chain with as little effort as possible, so I thought an ultra-sound cleaner would be best. Professional oil-based ultrasound cleaners are way too expensive for a hobbyist, but water-based ultrasound cleaners are pretty cheap. So I could just run it with oil.

Could this work or is it doomed to fail because you need different kinds of transducers (or something like that)?

I understand that the risk is all mine, so I won't sue any of you for damages. I'd just like a more qualified opinion than my own. I'm assuming here that the worst that could happen is that it doesn't work and I end up with an oil-smeared device that I need to properly dispose of. Oil is less conductive than water, so I see no risk of shorting the device.

  • $\begingroup$ If you are unable to determine the viability of your objective, consider that you can certainly clean a bicycle chain in a water based solvent, as long as it's not a motorcycle chain with internal O-rings. Chains get rained on and lubricants will displace the last rinse water. $\endgroup$
    – fred_dot_u
    Aug 6, 2020 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @fred_dot_u Rain won't displace the lubricant inside the chain links like water-based ultrasound cleaning probably would. Chain lube is relatively viscous, it supposedly wouldn't replace the water inside. Hence my approach to ultrasound it in low-viscous oil, wipe it off and then lube it with normal chain lube. $\endgroup$ Aug 6, 2020 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ water and detergent? $\endgroup$
    – fred_dot_u
    Aug 6, 2020 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Detergent is a given when cleaning with water, otherwise you achieve hardly anything. That changes nothing wrt the lube inside the chain links. $\endgroup$ Aug 7, 2020 at 5:27
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    $\begingroup$ In laboratory use, ultrasonic cleaners are often used in the "double bath" configuration - so you have a bottle or beaker in the outer bath (cheap water), and extra clean fluid in the inner bottle or beaker. I don't see any reason that fluid shouldn't be an oil or organic solvent. The cleaners I've seen have a stainless steel bath with a lid and nothing at all going through the walls. $\endgroup$
    – Pete W
    Sep 29, 2021 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


In my lab we use ultrasound cleaners a lot, albeit to clean glassware but from all sorts of stains and dirt.

What I would suggest at first is that you try water + dishwashing liquid. Dishwashing liquid is formulated to bind partially to grease (surfactant effect).

Do let us know how it goes.

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    $\begingroup$ On bicycle chains, the will degrease the innards of the chain links which are then hard to "re-grease". $\endgroup$ Aug 6, 2020 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ So if I understand correctly you want to remove the grease from everywhere in the chain except the internal portions of the chain links? $\endgroup$ Aug 6, 2020 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ The grease and the dirt, yes. $\endgroup$ Aug 6, 2020 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ Then to me it sounds like you need to hand scrub. UT baths are DESIGNED to get gunk out of nooks and crannys that you otherwise couldn't access. $\endgroup$ Aug 6, 2020 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ @AustinPrater The gunk is only on the outside of the chain. The inside contains clean low-viscous lube. If I clean it in an oil-based ultrasound cleaner, the inside lube should be replaced by oil from the bath if at all while the dirt on the outside will be removed. $\endgroup$ Aug 7, 2020 at 5:26

Yes, it is possible.

I actually went ahead and bought a simple large (for an end-user device) ultra-sound cleaner and filled it with low-viscous oil. I operated it twice in the space of a few weeks. It still works and it does clean. The main challenge is to get the dirt out of the oil in the device's basin.

  • $\begingroup$ If you use water in lieu of oil, I think you are risking damaging the protective layer of the metal over a tight space, which may create more headaches down the road. $\endgroup$
    – r13
    Sep 27, 2021 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ I know, that's what motivated this question in the first place. $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2021 at 4:54

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