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    Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    I've been reading Bob Smalser's articles about preparing chisels, planes and other metal tools to better resist rusting. He's an advocate of using phosphoric acid to convert any remaining rust or rust pits, cleaning metal surfaces thoroughly using trichloroethylene and then cold bluing using Brownell's Oxpho-Blue. His most thoroughly written article on his process is "Rust-proofing Tools" at the link provided.

    Of course, Smalser spends of lot of his time restoring classic wooden boats. He's preparing his tools for use in unheated, wet, open boat sheds where he does much of his work and he readily acknowledges that his process may not be of as much benefit if your tools live in a heated dry workshop. If you've not read his articles on rust treatment and tool restoration, I encourage you to take a look. He's sharing a lifetime of practical experience.

    MY QUESTION, however, is about alternatives to
    trichloroethylene for final de-oiling/degreasing metal surfaces (including removing fingerprints) before applying a cold bluing compound or painting. I know it works - it's excellent! But it's also identified as a carcinogen, is highly restricted by EPA for ozone impact, is banned for sale in many countries and some U.S. states, and is getting extremely difficult to find.

    A product showing up in some of Smalser's photos is CRC Safety Solvent 8086 which, according to its MSDS is 90% tetrachloroethylene. Tetrachloroethylene is also the principal ingredient in CRC's Brake Kleen at one-third the cost. Is anyone using Brake Kleen as the final surface prep for metal before painting or bluing to insure all of the oil has been completely removed for excellent adhesion? What results?

    Any other recommendations as a final step degreaser before blueing or painting bare metal?






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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Even before I read last two paragraphs, I was thinking brake cleaner. Wadco used to make a degreaser that washed off with water that left bare metal ready for paint, but no longer. You might try some "Totally Awesome" ( Dollar Tree) or even better, "Greased Lightening, which can be bought at Lowes. Several of the lime removing cleaners contain phosphoric acid, FYI.

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Thanks, Bruce. I've found that Ospho 605 Metal Treatment works well for rust conversion - it's phosphoric acid. I'll have to look at the products you mention for degreasing alternatives.

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    It all depends on the type of oil/grease you are removing. The general rule in chemistry is like dissolves like. If you are using a hydrocarbon grease, mineral spirits may work fine. If you are dealing with more polar oils, the solvent polarity can be increased.

    in order to clean the source in a mass spectrometer, the source is cleaned with micro grit as a methylene chloride paste. Once this is complete, the parts are cleaned by 15 minutes in a sonicicator bath using hexane followed by methanol then methylene chloride in the same manner. In this case the parts must be ultra clean and can,only be touched using lint free gloves... While assembling the source. Our newer instruments have detection limits near attomole limits in other words a few thousand molecules and any oil based impurities will show up as background. This is ultra clean, no 1,1,1 trichloroethylene. note we do use highly purified solvents for this level of clean. But.....

    mineral spirits, denatured ethanol and methylene chloride are all available at Lowes as industrial grade and would clean to an acceptable level for tools. There are inexpensive sonic atop baths sold as Jewelry cleaners.

    fyi, 1,1,1 trichloroethylene is the solvent that was used in Whiteout for several decades until kids discovered they could snort it and get whited out! We do not see an unusual number of administrative assistants with cancer and the exposure was chronic dewing on their typing skill.

    I am a chemist so I really have no problems working with solvents as I understand the safety precautions and toxicology for them. The use of nitrile gloves and adequate ventilation provide sufficient protection for the limited exposure that a common craftsman would be exposed from time to time. Material safety data sheets are highly misleading and scary to those that do not understand. The underlying toxicology used in these is generally animal studies with chronic exposure for extended periods of time. The OSHA PEL's (permissible exposure limits) are ultra conservative and are primarily to protect employees hat are exposed to high levels every day for a lifetime.

    I was more fearful in graduate school while synthesizing various natural products with neuropsychiatric therapeutic potential as there is a fine line between a great and useful drug and a rat poison.

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Quote Originally Posted by cyclopentadiene View Post
    It all depends on the type of oil/grease you are removing. The general rule in chemistry is like dissolves like. If you are using a hydrocarbon grease, mineral spirits may work fine. If you are dealing with more polar oils, the solvent polarity can be increased.

    in order to clean the source in a mass spectrometer, the source is cleaned with micro grit as a methylene chloride paste. Once this is complete, the parts are cleaned by 15 minutes in a sonicicator bath using hexane followed by methanol then methylene chloride in the same manner. In this case the parts must be ultra clean and can,only be touched using lint free gloves... While assembling the source. Our newer instruments have detection limits near attomole limits in other words a few thousand molecules and any oil based impurities will show up as background. This is ultra clean, no 1,1,1 trichloroethylene. note we do use highly purified solvents for this level of clean. But.....

    mineral spirits, denatured ethanol and methylene chloride are all available at Lowes as industrial grade and would clean to an acceptable level for tools. There are inexpensive sonic atop baths sold as Jewelry cleaners.

    fyi, 1,1,1 trichloroethylene is the solvent that was used in Whiteout for several decades until kids discovered they could snort it and get whited out! We do not see an unusual number of administrative assistants with cancer and the exposure was chronic dewing on their typing skill.

    I am a chemist so I really have no problems working with solvents as I understand the safety precautions and toxicology for them. The use of nitrile gloves and adequate ventilation provide sufficient protection for the limited exposure that a common craftsman would be exposed from time to time. Material safety data sheets are highly misleading and scary to those that do not understand. The underlying toxicology used in these is generally animal studies with chronic exposure for extended periods of time. The OSHA PEL's (permissible exposure limits) are ultra conservative and are primarily to protect employees hat are exposed to high levels every day for a lifetime.

    I was more fearful in graduate school while synthesizing various natural products with neuropsychiatric therapeutic potential as there is a fine line between a great and useful drug and a rat poison.
    Username checks out.

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Thanks, cyclopentadiene. I agree with your observation that the OSHA rules are more about long term exposures and I don't worry to much about home hobbyist usage. Use some of the chemicals outdoors, nitrile gloves, good respirator filter - pretty much not a health issue for a limited user like me. Interesting to hear about your use of methylene chloride paste and sonic bath using hexane. For my purposes, seems like mineral spirits, denatured alcohol, acetone, and Brake Kleen might be reasonable solvents.

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Any other recommendations as a final step degreaser before blueing or painting bare metal?
    What are you going to prep that requires absolute and unequivocal grease/film/oil removal? Will this be a few one-off small projects using relatively small amounts of chlorinated solvents (TCE, methylene chloride, etc)?

    CRC has a "non-chlorinated" aerosol brake cleaner which is more environmentally friendly and probably much safer.

    http://www.crcindustries.com/product...-oz-05084.html

    Two suggestions for oil/grease removal: Naphtha and/or Lacquer thinner.

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    I don't see gun bluing all that rust proof. Still needs oiled down to keep it rust free.
    itvis a pretty color though.

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Quote Originally Posted by Fishbucket View Post
    I don't see gun bluing all that rust proof. Still needs oiled down to keep it rust free.
    itvis a pretty color though.
    Fishbucket, I have to give credence to a professional who has used this bluing process for over 50 years in harsh environments. We all know that nothing makes steel "rust proof" but this process seems to make a highly resistant surface. And, yes, still needs to be oiled. Have you read any of Smalser's articles?

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff View Post
    What are you going to prep that requires absolute and unequivocal grease/film/oil removal? Will this be a few one-off small projects using relatively small amounts of chlorinated solvents (TCE, methylene chloride, etc)?

    CRC has a "non-chlorinated" aerosol brake cleaner which is more environmentally friendly and probably much safer.

    http://www.crcindustries.com/product...-oz-05084.html

    Two suggestions for oil/grease removal: Naphtha and/or Lacquer thinner.
    Largely small projects - although I just finished restoration on the cast iron base of a drill press for which I used the tetrachloroethylene safety solvent. I'm just looking at following Smalser's recommendations for cold bluing some of my hand tools, and he's pretty insistent about getting a surgically clean surface.

    Thanks for the link - the CRC Brakleen is precisely what I was asking about (but had mis-spelled) because it is 95% tetrachloroethylene and pretty inexpensive. [Edit: you correctly linked to the non-chlorinated brake cleaner and I was still thinking of this CRC Brakleen product which is 95% tetrachloroethylene.]

    Thanks for the lacquer thinner and naphtha suggestions. I've not used either in my shop and will explore those as alternatives.
    Last edited by Rushton; 08-10-2017 at 05:44 PM.

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    To successfully remove any grease/oils, etc from a metal surface, your process is as important as the solvent used. The solvent dissolves the contaminant, but if it is not removed before it dries, it will just redeposit the contaminant back onto the surface.

    Therefore, if using a clean cloth to wipe off the solvent, the clean cloth (not the same one used to apply the solvent) should be used to wipe the surface dry before the solvent evaporates. If using a pressurized flush like spraying with brake cleaner, you want to thoroughly flush the surface with clean solvent. If drying with forced air, use canned air or filtered air, not the possibly oil-laden air coming straight from your air compressor.

    Common solvents used to clean off oily surfaces are acetone, MEK, lacquer thinner (which is a blend of several solvents), mineral spirits, and naptha, to name a few. Acetone, MEK, and some lacquer thinners evaporate too fast to effectively use for the wipe on/wipe off method unless it is a small item. Naptha and alcohol remain wet for a while so are better suited for larger items, but most likely will leave a residue if left to evaporate.. Mineral spirits stay wet for quite a while and can be hard to fully remove by wiping.

    Lacquer thinner is a blend usually containing toluenes, xylenes, ketones, etc to get the proper evaporation rate for spray painting, based on humidity and temperate conditions. The off-the-shelf lacquer thinner from the borgs is a "one-size-fits-all" blend, but the constituents vary per manufacturer.

    When using acid to etch or clean a metal, care must be taken with high strength alloys. Hydrogen embrittlement can occur with some steels when using acid as a corrosion remover or etch. Not something you want for a tool that gets impact (i.e. chisel) or that you are trying to maintain a fine edge. A mild phosphoric etch probably would not hurt the shank of a chisel or the main body of a plane iron, but if it were me, I would protect the hardened tip with plasti-coat or melted wax. If you find that the tips are breaking, chipping, or cracking, it could be the result of embrittlement.

    My solvent of choice for most metal pre-coat cleaning is ISO (industrial isopropyl alcohol), with DNA being the one I use most due to cost and availability. Naptha is my first choice for adhesives removal if alcohol doesn't dissolve it.

    jmtcw

    Go
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  13. #12
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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Thanks, Gofor. Really appreciate your comprehensive suggestions and information!

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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Safety tips:

    Any rags used with the solvents or the acids will be extremely flammable. Get SEPARATE metal containers with lids to store them until trash day. NEVER put the acid rags with the solvent rags unless you want a fire. Steel wool used with acid can self-ignite, and is highly flammable after it dries. Treat it like it is a mild explosive (i.e. don't use steel wool with acid). Keep the acids and solvents and their residues well separated at all times.

    If your shop has wood floors or a lot of sawdust, I would recommend doing the acid treatment in a different location, or as a minimum, use plastic drop-cloth to catch any spillage/drips. If the acid does get onto a porous surface, it can be neutralized with baking soda and water mix. (If you get it on you, just flush well with plain water. Don't use the baking soda on the acid mix because the chemical reaction generates heat and bubble agitation which can cause more burns/damage)

    Good ventilation is a must, of course. Realize that although your lungs are really affected, your eyes will absorb 10 times the toxins that your skin will due to the large amount of blood vessels on the eye surface, so eye protection is also important.

    For most normal wipe-down, I have found the blue Scott paper shop towels to work quite well for most areas. (I buy the 12 roll pack from Sam's club in the cleaning section) Inexpensive and convenient, they hold together much better than normal paper towels and don't leave fibers all over your work. If there are sharp edges, or crevices, a cotton cloth may be better. Don't skimp on the clean wipe-down towels and you will most likely have good results.

    Good luck and let us know how it works. I may try that on some of mine also.

    Go
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    Re: Alternatives to Trichloroethylene for final cleaning prep of metal surfaces

    Always good to have the safety tips. Thanks, Go!

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