As with any process, you can choose from an array of equipment, based on your available space and your needs. The sky’s the limit on cost, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. A simple benchtop parts washer or a used dishwasher is quite afford-able, and if you can get away with it, a good old bucket of soapy water is as close to free as you can get.
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Many different options are avail-able to you when it comes to finding appropriate tools for washing your powder coating projects. These range from a simple 5-gallon bucket to industrial-size hot solvent washers. As you might imagine, the industrial tools work much better than any-thing you can afford or fit into your home workshop. But you can get good results with a little more time and effort or just take your parts in a batch to a commercial cleaner and pay a little cash for the service.
Having a parts washer is a good idea if you plan to perform powder coating or any surface prep work. Having two or more parts washers is even better because you can put different cleaning solutions in different washers.
Parts washers come in a variety of styles and sizes. Some of the factors to consider before you make a purchase are: size of the unit, how often you plan to use it, what kinds of parts you have to clean, what sort of grunge you plan to remove, and cost. Also think about whether you need a full-size standalone parts washer or a benchtop unit or both. Then, based on the chemicals you will use, consider whether the body of the washer should be made of metal or plastic/ABS of some kind.
Note that a parts washer uses an electric motor to drive a pump that circulates the fluid through a nozzle. Pay close attention to the sol-vents you put in the washer because certain chemicals, such as acetone, immediately destroy the rubber parts of the pump and potentially even the body of the washer. Your prod-uct documentation should tell you what’s safe to use.
Some freestanding parts washers use a filter system and a drum of sol-vent placed below the washing basin, while lower-cost models are simply a basin full of solvent. Some high-cost units actually heat the solvent, which works great for cleaning purposes, but in addition to the cost, the heating element poses a fire danger. Some states have outlawed solvent-based parts washers, and others have heavily restricted their use. Biodiesel fuel is a great natural solvent. This product dissolves grease and oil-based deposits very effectively and works well in a parts washer.
The highest-end parts washers are like giant dishwashers, and use boiling water and detergent to clean large parts such as engine blocks. A shop dishwasher simulates one of these cleaners on a small scale.
You may wish to put the parts washer outside if you use solvent in it, because it gets dirty, and if you fill it with mineral spirits, gasoline, kerosene, or Diesel fuel it poses a vapor and fire hazard.
If you would rather not have a large parts washer filled with dangerous chemicals, you can always take your parts to a machine shop or parts-cleaning business to be washed. As a rule, machine shops probably charge a little less for small and infrequent cleaning jobs, but parts cleaning businesses are a better deal for larger lots and frequent work.
Detergent-Based Benchtop Unit
If you happen to be working out of a small garage, you may not need or have room for a large, expensive parts washer or dishwasher. A small benchtop unit may be the answer.
You can easily obtain water and detergent-based cleaners in a kit with a plastic-bodied benchtop washer. These are inexpensive and quite functional. It’s also nice that they are designed to sit on your workbench because you’re going to have to put in a bit more elbow grease with a detergent solution to remove the grunge.
Oil Eater makes a very afford-able and functional benchtop parts cleaner. The washer is compact, simple, well constructed, and stores out of the way when not in use. This washer includes a tube with a cleaning brush attached to the pump. The Oil Eater detergent solution flows through the brush, making it easier to clean off and wash away the dirt and grime, and does not emit much of a smell. The overall washer unit is made from high-impact industrial plastic and features a removable metal lid and a heavy-duty pump that resists corrosion.
To set up the Oil Eater washer, you just follow the instructions. In the tank, mix up 3 gallons of solution: 50-percent water and 50-percent Oil Eater. That is enough water/deter-gent solution for the pump to safely wash parts vigorously without get-ting the cleaning solution all over the counter and the floor.
If you do spill some, remember that it’s just detergent and water, so you can clean your bench and floor at the same time you mop it up. If you’re about to clean parts and you do not have your detergent mixed, use the hot water tap to fill your parts washer and immediately get to work. Heat really helps loosen greasy grunge.
Another plus with a benchtop unit is that it is completely portable, so you can pick it up and take it any-where. Just set it up on a table and plug it in. If you don’t have electricity, you only miss out on the pump. You can still soak and scrub as usual.
One of the most effective parts washers is an ordinary kitchen dish-washer. These combine detergent, very hot water, and spraying action to get parts extremely clean.
An old dishwasher can be found very cheap on craigslist, your local ReStore, or you may find a working unit from a friend. Ask around; people replace perfectly functional dish-washers all the time. If word gets out that you like old dishwashers, you’ll probably have people leaving them on your front lawn. At most, you may have to pay $20 for a good one. Make sure that the seller includes the drain line and inlet line with the unit, but if they don’t or the parts are not suitable for use, new lines are not expensive.
The main thing to look for in a used dishwasher is that the plastic tub is intact and that the door still seals. If the tub is cracked, keep looking. Ideally, the dishwasher would still be connected and the seller would be able to demonstrate it working.
When you have your dishwasher, look at the parts you want to wash. If you want to wash big things, consider cutting out the plate stands from the lower basket. The upper basket is usually removable, but keep it around in case you need to wash a bunch of small parts.
You can use any dishwasher detergent you like; I’ve heard rumors that some phosphate-free detergents discolor or damage aluminum parts, but reports are mixed. If that worries you, don’t wash any part in your dishwasher that you couldn’t bear to see stained.
Project: Cleaning Parts with a Kitchen Dishwasher
A kitchen dishwasher is an effective tool for cleaning parts in preparation for powder coating. It’s important to properly install the dishwasher in your workshop so be sure to install the correct water sup-ply hoses and drain hose. Once the dishwasher has been used for parts prep, do not use it for conventional dish washing.
Follow these steps:
Place your old part in the dish washer, bearing in mind that you probably don’t want water and/or soap to pool in it any more than absolutely necessary. The spraying action comes from below, so face the dirtiest side down.
Use your preferred detergent in the recommended amounts for a load of dishes. You don’t need to go overboard. I like Cascade dish detergent because it has an effective grease cutting ingredient.
Run the normal dishwasher cycle; you can shorten the drying cycle. You need to take the part out and completely dry it anyway. Remember to turn it over to make sure all water has drained out of all nooks and crannies.
For this project, I used an aluminum cam cover from a Mazda Miata. Like most such parts, it was pretty clean, but had some oil and dust on it from normal use. The part came out perfectly clean and without staining. After drying overnight, it was ready for powder.
Dishwashers are great for gunk that melts away and responds to detergent, but don’t expect it to get rid of baked-on hardened material stuck in corners and crevices. For that you really need to get in there with mechanical tools (dentist picks, wire brushes, and so on) to remove the material.
Use common sense. If you have a part with 1/2 inch of gritty, yucky buildup on it, chances are that a trip through your dishwasher won’t get it all off the part, but it will remove enough of it to clog the dishwasher drain! Scrape or brush your parts as well as possible and let the soap and boiling water dissolve the stuff you can’t clean off by hand.
One final note: If your part has crevices, sometimes detergent gets trapped in there. Be sure that you’ve inspected the part for excess dried detergent, which appears as a white powdery substance. It rinses away with clean water, so it’s easily fixed.
Project: Testing Different Cleansers
This project seeks to determine if any common household or garage cleansers work much better than others, or if any particular cleanser should be avoided. You can easily repeat this test in your own shop, although the results I obtained indicate that the matter is pretty well settled.
For this project, I sourced six different commonly available cleansers, and found a supply of identical, dirty steel washers. Each washer was about 3 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick, and was covered in old oil and grimy grunge.
I stamped each washer with a letter using a die, and then matched it up to a particular cleanser. I selected Windex, acetone, a carburetor cleaner, a foaming engine cleaner, a brake cleaner, and an oven cleaner.
Follow these steps:
Place six pie tins on your work-bench. You can label them, or just set the relevant cleanser bottle behind the tin to keep them identified.
Stamp each dirty washer (or similar part) with a letter (I used A through F). This helps you to keep track of the washers through the cleaning and coating process.
On a pad of paper, note which washer is cleaned with which product.
Wash each washer in turn with the product you selected. Give it time to soak, and then wipe the washer clean and dry.
Select a powder. I chose clear gloss so I could see through the powder to the metal underneath to inspect the adhesion. Then powder coat all six washers on both sides.
Hang the washers in the curing oven (a toaster oven worked well in this case) and bake the coatings according to instructions. When the curing process is finished, take the washers out of the oven and examine them for adhesion and finish.
My results were generally good. Each of these cleansers produced a surface suitable for powder coating and achieved good adhesion. I could have coated a seventh uncleaned washer as a control piece, but you already know what happens when you coat dirty metal.
The lesson here is that most household cleansers remove dirt, oil, grease, and grime. You don’t need expensive cleaning agents or elaborate processes; you just have to get the parts clean.
Project: Dishwasher Installation
Setting up a dishwasher is easy; the connections are simple, although getting everything connected and working properly can take some creativity and work. But once it’s set up, a dishwasher in your workshop should last a long time provided you use it and care for it properly.
Follow these steps:
Dishwashers are designed for installation under cabinets. They’re unfinished and ugly without something around them. Use lumber and plywood to build a simple cabinet around your dishwasher. You can also go to a used building supply store and buy a kitchen cabinet designed for a dishwasher; it serves as an additional storage shelf or a great little workstation for a benchtop parts washer.
You don’t need a dedicated circuit for your dishwasher, but you do need a functional 120-volt outlet, preferably on a 20-amp circuit. Make sure you have an appropriate electrical outlet for the machine. Most dishwashers have been hardwired into homes, but all should have connections to allow you to attach a premade plug cable, or you can use metal-clad cable and hardwire your dishwasher to the wires in the outlet box and omit the plug.
The dishwasher inlet takes cold water. Do not run a line from your hot water heater to a dishwasher; the dishwasher’s internal heating element heats the wash water. The inlet is generally a 3/8-inch compression fitting, and copper pipes are the usual water source, but you can get a flexible nylon pipe at any home supply or hardware store, and these are generally easier to install without leaks.
Note the format of the inlet pipe and make the appropriate connection to your water source. You can also supply water to your dishwasher using the same cold-water valve that supplies your washbasin by using a dual-outlet valve. You can buy one at your local hardware store.
The dishwasher outlet takes a flexible line with rubber ends; it’s a press-fit on a barbed fitting under the dishwasher. You can run the line over the side of the washbasin with an appropriate attachment, or into the tailpiece in the drain of your washbasin, or straight into your drainpipe, depending on how your plumbing is set up. If you run the drain into the tailpipe of your basin, you might need a hose clamp to get a good seal.
Written by Jeffery Zurschmeide and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks