Let’s Get Together and Clean Our Balls!
(Bring Your Own Lube)
By Hannah “WillKillSome” Wilkinson
Derby Frontier Contributor
I’m pretty cheap. I don’t want to spend money unless I need to. Bearings can get pretty expensive. They usually run from $25 to $100. I’ve been told that the ceramic bearings are closer to $150, and I don’t know how to clean those. If I don’t have to buy new bearings, I’m not going to. So, shortly after I started derby, I wanted to clean my bearings because they weren’t rolling as smooth as they used to. I asked around the league, and no one seemed to have any advice on how to do it, so I hopped on the Google to see if it could tell me. I cleaned my bearings, and it worked well.
Before you get all set up to clean, you’ll probably have to buy lube and a cleaning solution of some sort, so I’ll talk about those before getting into the rest of it.
For lube, I use KWIK Bearing Lube. Bones Speed Cream is pretty popular, and so is sewing machine oil. There are a lot of options out there. As long as it is a thin oil, it should be okay. And if you mess it up, you can clean your bearings, and start again. Whatever you use, it shouldn’t be very expensive, and will last a really long time, as you only use a drop or two per bearing.
For cleaning solution, I’ve been using mineral spirits because it was easy to get. I didn’t really know anything about cleaning bearings, and a lot of videos on the net talked about mineral spirits or paint thinner, so that’s what I went with.
- It works.
- It’s cheap.
- It’s really easy to find.
- It’s stinky.
- It will try to eat your skin. 😦
- To dispose of it, you’re supposed to let it sit in the sun and evaporate. This is a con for me because I tend to forget about my container, and it’s sitting on my balcony… In the wind…
- It usually only comes in really big jugs.
- You need a solvent-safe plastic container, or a glass jar.
- It’s not very environmentally friendly.
- You need to wear gloves.
A lot of other videos recommend a citrus degreaser. What they mean is an all purpose cleaner that uses natural citrus solvents. If you watch the videos I’ve linked here, it explains in more detail what I mean by this. I’m going to switch to citrus degreaser next time I clean. I’ll let you know how it goes.
- Environmentally friendly.
- You can dump it down the sink.
- It only dissolves the oil on your skin, instead of eating all your skin.
- You don’t need to wear gloves.
- Google tells me that it comes in many sizes.
- You can use any container.
- It works.
- It’s a little more expensive than mineral spirits or paint thinner.
- Some websites have told me that it can leave a residue on your bearings.
So, I will recommend trying the citrus degreaser even though I haven’t had the chance to use it yet. If you’re using the mineral spirits or paint thinner, please wait until it’s warm enough to do it outside because of the nasty fumes, and so that you can let it evaporate when you’re done.
This year, since I clean my bearings regularly, I’ve invested in a bearing cleaner container. It was actually pretty cheap. It happened to be available at a game I went to, so I bought it. I have the one that Bones makes. You can make your own, but you’ll need solvent-safe materials if you plan to clean with mineral spirits.
To start cleaning, you’ll need these things:
- A hard surface covered with a rag
- Rags and/or paper towel (you’ll probably want paper towel if you’re using mineral spirits so you can toss them after. I just reserve a few rags for solvents.)
- Paper clip or pin
- Citrus degreaser or mineral spirits
- Smallish container with a tight fitting lid or special bearing cleaning container (solvent-safe plastic or glass if using a mineral spirits type product)
- if you’re using mineral spirits, you will also need a larger container to put your dirty fluid in to let it evaporate. I put mine in an old loaf pan.
- Gloves if you’re using mineral spirits. I’ve used cheap latex gloves from the grocery store. I change them a lot so that they don’t get all eaten up.
- Canned air (Pretty easy to find at hardware or electronics stores)
REMOVING THE BEARINGS
First you need to get your bearings out of your wheel. I’m pretty cheap, so I just use my axles to pry them out. This is not recommended if you have aluminum hub wheels. You could damage your hubs by prying the bearings out with the axle. There are a few different tools you can buy for this. In the video below, she demonstrates the Reflex Utili-Tool ($22.00), the Bearing Buddy ($30.00), and the Sure-Grip Bearing Press ($70.00). So far, I have never needed a tool. It probably takes a little longer to use my axles, but it works, and it’s free. To put mine back in, I just push them in with my fingers.
REMOVING THE SHIELDS
Next, you will need to remove the shields. The shields are the metal or rubber things that hide your balls. With rubber ones, use a paper clip or pin to pry the shield off. Metal ones are a little more complicated. They have a c-ring which you can pry out with your paper clip or pin. Then you tap out the shield.
WASH THE BEARINGS
Once you have the shields out, it’s time to clean. If you don’t have a “fancy” container, that’s okay. Either way, you’ll want to clean about half the bearings at a time. If you have the “fancy” container, put the bearings on as directed. Different containers have different methods. Fill about 1/3 of the way full.
If you’re using a regular container or jar, I recommend having one with a screw-on lid, or one that is really tight fitting to prevent spills. Put the bearings in and then pour cleaner over top of them. Fill with enough cleaner to cover the bearings. Put the lid on nice and tight.
Swish it around, and shake it up (careful if you have a glass jar). If you’ve never cleaned your bearings, the liquid will probably get dirty pretty fast. If it’s really gross and murky, dump it out (if you’re using mineral spirits, dump it into the larger container I listed above), and repeat. You probably won’t have to swish more than twice, but you can if you want. In the one video I have listed, the guy runs the bearings under cold water after this. I don’t because I’m too worried about rust. Both the videos I have here go on to talk about drying them, but I don’t use either method they talk about, so I will give you my method as well.
**If you are using mineral spirits, do not leave your bearings in to soak!**
DRYING YOUR BEARINGS
To dry my bearings, I put them out on a couple layers of rags, and fold it on top. I hit them on both sides until I don’t see any more liquid coming out. Then I use the canned air. I like this because it’s more effective than a blow dryer, and you don’t have to worry much about getting solvent in your eyes since you’ve smacked it all out.
LUBRICATE YOUR BEARINGS
Set the bearings out on your work surface and give them each a drop or two, and then spin them around to get all the balls lubed up. If you put too much lube on, they will get all gummed up, and you’ll have to clean them again, so don’t put more than two drops on unless you absolutely have to.
PUT THEM BACK TOGETHER
Once they’re spinning nice and smooth, put the shields back on and pop them back into the wheel. I just use my hands to push them in, but you can use a bearing press if you have one.
So there you go! Happy cleaning, and good luck!