A Love Letter to White Lightning Clean Streak Degreaser


A Love Letter to White Lightning Clean Streak Degreaser

When Travis still had his bike-shop job, the three favorite tools on his bench were his 5 mm allen wrench, his 4 mm allen wrench, and his can of White Lightning Clean Streak degreaser. And nothing’s changed, except that he now wears rubber gloves when using it.

Industrial solvents are usually pretty nasty. Especially the good ones. The ones you don’t want to use in an unventilated space. But if I got light-headed every time I went to de-gunk my derailleur pulleys, I’d probably just buy a gearbox bike. Maybe that’s why there are so many citrus degreasers in the bike industry. Or why Simple Green is so popular. I’d rather work amid the scent of Pine-Sol than the stench of turpentine. But ever since I unwrapped our first rack of White Lightning Clean Streak during my shop days, I haven’t looked back.

Of course, Clean Streak is a little nasty. I did spend over a decade using this stuff indoors with my bare hands, and have had no ill effects. But I’ve since started wearing rubber gloves when I know I’ll get a lot on my skin. And I have no choice but to work outdoors anyway. Heptane seems to be the main ingredient, which the NIH gives a carcinogenicity classification of “D,” meaning they have no data on whether it’s carcinogenic. Heptane does have a list of mostly short-term health risks, though. And given that this is an aerosol product, there’s also butane and propane in there. But only certain types of butane are known to be carcinogenic, and propane hazards mostly arise from burning it in unventilated spaces. The other two major ingredients (1-methoxypropan-2-ol and d-limonene) are generally not considered carcinogenic in humans.

And look, I’m way out of my depth here. Any chemists out there are welcome to chime in. I just wanted to do my due diligence and at least bring it up. I’m basically saying be smart and don’t worry about it. I mean, I review a lot of bikes with DOT fluid in their brake lines, and I don’t spend a paragraph citing studies on its toxicity. If you use Clean Streak carefully, it’s pretty great.

The first thing that stands out is how strong the propellant is. There’s a lot of volume and a lot of force behind every spray. One of my favorite uses for this stuff is breathing some new life into cable housing. About halfway through a cable’s lifespan, I butt the straw against one end of the housing and seal it as well as I can with a rag. Spraying for a couple seconds flushes out a lot of muck and debris. Unless the housing was too far gone, it almost always slides significantly easier after a burst of Clean Streak. Bonus points for immediately chasing it with an air compressor if you’ve got one. For a short time, I’d try to follow that up with a little drop of thin oil, but that sometimes made it worse. My theory is that the abrasions inside an old housing liner makes it likely to absorb the oil and swell or something. But I’ve already made it clear I’m not a scientist. Cleaning out your cable and housing simply might give them another few months before it’s time to replace them.

I also love how thin Clean Streak is. Even Simple Green is just a little oily, and doesn’t seem to penetrate as well. I mean, the best product for this was something Shimano used to make called “Powerful Release Agent.” That stuff was nasty. My shop only used it for special occasions. But Clean Streak is great at seeping into tight spots. That’s why I do a quick spray-and-wipe with it every third or forth chain re-lube. It cleans the outside, sure, but also cleans the inside. And not too well. I’ve never trusted those Rube-Goldbergian watchwork chain cleaners ‘cause once a chain is old, the legacy grease under the rollers seems to maintain a little of its structural integrity. Clean Streak is able to leave just the right amount of flavor on the pan.

And I think White Lightning’s main selling point for this stuff is quite fitting for a brand that was founded on “dry” suspended-wax chain lube. For the record, I’ve never liked dry lubes. In the words of Daniel Plainview, I’m an oil man. But I’d like my cleaner to evaporate, and Clean Streak evaporates quickly. So many other degreasers leave a film behind, so you have to be pretty diligent in wiping them off. But you’d never know the Clean Streak was there after one pass with a rag.

Of course, this is not the only cleaner I use. Can’t beat Dawn dish soap and warm water for a bike bath, especially when it’s been through poison oak. And I use alcohol on brake rotors and diluted Simple Green when I need to submerge something. But Clean Streak is kinda the nuclear option. And as a perk, the smell brings me back to my shop days. I just try not to breathe too deep.

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