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 Post subject: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 7:18 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 02, 2004 5:48 pm
Posts: 344
Location: Hickory, NC
I have heard many tales of folks using diluted lye / Draino as a solution for removing paint, dirt, and grime from everything from engine blocks to lanterns. I also know that Lye is very dangerous with aluminum, etc.

From my own experience, I have also seen how a brass bathtub drain ring looks nice and shiny after a good "de-clogging."

If one took proper precautions with gloves, etc, does anyone see any problem with using this solution to shine a large bell, whistle, or other brass/bronze parts? Since it is so alkaline, I would probably follow the lye solution with vinegar to try and neutralize it.

Any thoughts appreciated (not wanting to be lazy, just work smartly...ok, I don't want to spend an afternoon scrubbing a bell either!)

Thanks,

Matt Bumgarner


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 7:52 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:26 am
Posts: 3716
Location: Maine
Since you have taken precautions, maybe, but lye based alkalais and Draino or other caustic cleaners are very dangerous. Gangsters used it to dissolve bodies in bathtubs, too, leaving no unsightly rings (!). I would never recommend this stuff for restoration work. There are safer chemicals. If you go ahead and use it anyway, be certain the area is well vented and above all else, wear goggles. If you don't, it may not matter if the bell is shiny.

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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:03 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5250
Location: southeastern USA
Go to Spencer....and check out the big tank with the coils of pipe at the bottom, just back of the backshop. This tank was full of lye solution, and heated and agitated with steam from the house boilers. You could about put a frame down in there and have it down to bare metal in a few hours.

Legend has it, at least one unpopular character was dissolved there as well.

I had a neighbor in Savannah who stripped his interior woodwork with Red Devil lye in a home made tank in his yard. Still looked like a moonscape when I left. He always wore a lot of PPE when he worked on it.

Maybe if you let us know what you want to clean of what material, we could offer a safer idea.

dave

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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 10:41 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 02, 2004 5:48 pm
Posts: 344
Location: Hickory, NC
Dave,

It runs the gamut... A shelf of old painted, cruddy lanterns collected over the years, a couple of working telegraph keys and sounder that I really don't have the patience to disassemble and scrub, and a 1954 Southern Railway presentation bell about the size of a VW Beetle. I attacked the bell about 10 years ago with some Brasso and Semichrome and was sufficently whipped. The little spot I did manage to polish after a couple of hours has finally aged enough to not stand out like it once did!

Thanks for any tips

Matt


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 11:28 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5250
Location: southeastern USA
Maybe the lanterns with Lye or another paint stripper....but be very careful about neutralizing whatever you use, and really cleaning it out of the nooks and cracks or your new paint will fail.

NOT on the electrical instruments. Lye and insulation are incompatable. There are electrical equipment cleaners out there that should help.

Last bell I had to really tear stuff off of, I put in the lathe and used a power wire brush to rip the paint and dirt off, followed by a buffing wheel and compound to bring out the shine, followed by cleaning with laquer thinner, very careful drying and clear laquer. Yes, stuff flies off but a face shield should cover it.

Best wishes.

dave

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"Techies never minded eating bits and jots of their work. They were grit and grease inside and out and could turn a pile of junk into a magical kingdom."

Andrea Hairston


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 11:50 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 03, 2004 9:42 pm
Posts: 2431
Dave beat me to it. Back in the "good old days" you'd use a tank of hot lye to get just about anything off of metal. Gets it good and clean!

Put on some red oxide primer and then get a can of lead paint and give her a couple of good thick coats.

Slap some asbestos insulation on that puppy and you're all set...

Methodology has changed somewhat since then, as has life expectancy of the workers. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:19 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 8:53 pm
Posts: 130
We've had good luck with white vinegar on metals, both iron-based and copper-based. It is inexepensive, and far less dangerous than lye. However, it does not do as well on paint removal. Also, you need to be certain to completely submerge the piece, or you'll get a lot of corrosion on the vinegar-air boundary.

Copper and brass usually come out shiny, and iron and steel often come out looking fresh-from-the-mill.

JR


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 2:23 am 

Joined: Mon Nov 21, 2011 11:01 pm
Posts: 1
Gentlemen: I use lye to clean gun stocks, then I wash it with lots of water and a solution of oxyolic acid (wood bleach)...It cleans a lot of crud off the wood, but I do not use it indiscriminately, just for a really badly varnished or oiled surface. As stated previously, use precautions and protective gear...

Lye will clean brass, but it also removes any traces of gold, so I use jewellry cleaner for such things, like sword hilts and brass RR Lanterns.

Lye/oven cleaner will remove all the galvanized coating from a lantern, so perhaps something like lysol basin tub and tile cleaner foam is better for the less dirty lanterns.

I have found that bottled ammonia will also clean wood, but it will remove all the applied finish, just like lye, so if you are doing wood surfaces, be prepared to refinish them, it also pop up the grain a bit, which is fine on an old rifle, but if you want a fine surface, you will have to sand it a bit.

Dale


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 9:23 am 

Joined: Tue Aug 24, 2004 3:07 pm
Posts: 640
Where I have used a concentrated solution of lye to great effectiveness is removing decades of baked on crud from glass and porcelain telephone/telegraph insulators. No matter how black they are, a week or so soak in the lye loosens the film, which can then be removed very easily. I use a bent coathanger hook to put the insulators into and out of the solution, you really don't want to make a splash! If you get any on your skin, wash it off immediately or you'll regret it very quickly. Eye protection is also a must when working with the stuff.

But the cautions are worth the results. The only problem I've had lately is finding lye in the first place. Every hardware store used to sell the stuff in one pound cans, but it has completely disappeared from the retail market, at least in PA. Last time I did find any, I put away a supply of enough to clean many, many insulators.

Amen on the cautions to not use the stuff on aluminum, or on any kind of delicate equipment, it can be harsh on various kinds of fiber and even some plastics.


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:08 pm 

Joined: Wed Aug 25, 2004 11:01 pm
Posts: 74
Location: LA or NC
Red Devil lye was used for years by lantern collectors to remove paint from lanterns. You need a 5 gallon bucket with lid and two cans of lye. Draino has an additive that will not give a good result, so stick to pure lye. Wear eye protection. Stir well and drop the lantern/switch lamp in the solution. Check after two hours because some paint bubbles off easy. The process might take as long as two days with other paints. Do not leave in for say a week because the lye eventually degrades the solder and the lantern will get loose at solder joints. Remove the lantern and hose it off. Then prepare a mild vinegar bath and soak the lantern for five minutes or so. The lantern will not be a bright shiny thing but will be dull (not eroded because lye doesn't attack metal the way acid does. Then the hand work will begin with four ought steel wool, but that's another story. Never leave the lye bucket uncovered because pets or children might get into it.
Definitely an outside or workshop project, not for in the house. Lye is not really great for grease unless you have a giant hot vat of it. It doesn't get rid of rust. Lye does nothing for brass unless there is shiny brass under the paint to begin with.

For a bell, get some phosphoric acid at Lowes, dilute it about 1part acid to 10 parts water and paint it on your bell. Rinse off after a minute and try some fine steel wool. No go? Give it another few minutes of acid. If your bell is dark and even colored, this should work. The brass might turn pinkish, but once all the dark is gone, a good scrubbing with lots of Brasso and 000 steel wool will bring back the brassy color. If the bell is heavily corroded, that's another story entirely. Any way you look at it, the process is much much work and takes a certain amount of "restorative courage."

Wear gloves with either process. Both Lye and Acid will eat your skin right off.


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:16 pm 

Joined: Wed Aug 25, 2004 11:01 pm
Posts: 74
Location: LA or NC
On the lye bath, forgot to mention: never pour water into lye. Stir lye slowly into water. Otherwise, it will sort of explode up and eat your face off. No exaggeration here.


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 2:09 pm 

Joined: Sun May 15, 2005 2:22 pm
Posts: 1213
Lots of chemical instructions say to use eye protection, and then they tell you what to do if you get it in your eyes. So what do you do if you happen to splash a little lye solution into your eye? What is the next step?

For cleaning locomotive frames, I could see a lye dip tank as being the way to go, but it strikes me as rather unfocused overkill for miscellaneous small items that require a variety of cleaning objectives. Handling these items and dipping them into solutions is bound to cause unintended splashes. It sounds like asking for trouble.

For removing paint, why not use paint remover? Why not just use a cleaner targeted to the contaminant? Why use a cleaner that is capable of damaging a wide variety of materials, some of which may exist in the item you are cleaning?


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 5:04 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:40 am
Posts: 320
Location: UT
I have stood by and watched this thread and I believe as the only eye care practitioner on the board, I must chime in on the seriousness of exercising caution in relationship to working with lye.

There are three true ocular (eye) emergencies:
1. an alkali burn to the eye
2. a central retinal artery occlusion (essentially a 'stroke' to the eye)
and
3. uhh, I forget (Sorry, Gov. Perry).

Individuals can recover well from acid burns to the ocular tissues because acid is slower to break through the cell membranes and irrigation can dilute the acid rather quickly. An eye suffering a alkali burn looks amazingly white due to the immediate chemical cauterization of the surface blood vessels, the epithelium of the cornea quickly dissolves and the burn continues into the stroma (main body) of the cornea with an opaque scarring following. The outcomes can be dire with the need for corneal transplantation and its associated complications being on the optimistic side and loss of the eye/vision on the other extreme.

People, if you are going to do this, be extremely cautious. Wear a sealing goggle with a protective full face shield over those. If exposure occurs, start constant irrigation and don't stop until emergency room personnel assume care. Do not go to a first aid center, or the company dispensary, or family doctor...your sight is precious and the hospital emergency room is best equipped to save what they can.

Sorry to be a 'wet blanket'.

sc 'doc' lewis


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:07 pm 

Joined: Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:29 pm
Posts: 1043
Location: Youngstown, OH
No Doc, THANK YOU for the wet blanket!

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Steel Industry Preservationist, Narrow Gauge Railroader and ALCOhaulic


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 Post subject: Re: Draino / Lye as a cleaner ??
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 7:48 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5250
Location: southeastern USA
If Matt's still thinking about Lye now, I'd be very surprised. Especially with volunteers, a lot of chances for liability when something happens.

Every couple years, I exchange about 48 eyewash bottles strategically placed in the locations in my building where nasty stuff is stored or used. If using stuff like lye or acid, it might be a good idea to call Grainger and stock up on a case of eyewash solution bottles.

dave

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"Techies never minded eating bits and jots of their work. They were grit and grease inside and out and could turn a pile of junk into a magical kingdom."

Andrea Hairston


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