Article on The Internet Mini Encyclopædia
General purpose cleaner for all mechanical parts
In Pete Kay's humble opinion (and at least one of the IME team is in full agreement!): "...the best general purpose cleaner for all mechanical parts is Brake Cleaning Fluid.
"This can be purchased in aerosol cans, which is expensive, or from your local motor factor in 5 litre cans for about UKP6. The latter will last 'forever'.
"Contrary to some opinion, it does NOT attack rubber or plastic seals. Thats why it can be safely used on brakes!
"The only thing I never use it on is the crank taper and flywheel hub. Many 'moons ago' I read that all cleaners except Methylated spirits or Industrial Alcohol, leave a film on the cleaned item and, on the crank nose, this can cause the flywheel to slip. I have no proof of this, but I have always used Meths on these items and never had a problem."
As an ed's note, brake cleaning fluid does contain a high amount of volatile solvents which evaporate readily (that's one reason why it smells so darn good ;-). In theory, brake cleaner should evaporate after cleaning without leaving a residue. This is important, as otherwise, any residue could be potentially fatal to the occupants of the vehicle if it affected the braking performance.
As Pete says however, there's no proof so it's up to you.
As a further aside, isopropyl alcohol does evaporate completely leaving no residue. However, c.8 hours exposure to the fumes can render you over the drink driving limit in the UK without you having touched a drip, ocifer, *hic*.
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07 May 2003