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a homemade parts cleaner that actually works

hello i have been searching for days, driving myself nuts.,and trying different ways to clean a watch part..does anyone have a foolproof way to clean a watch movement..i been doing more watches and what i have been using isn't making the grade anymore.....i have an ultrasonic machine, a cheap one but still works...i just want to turn out a better product..and upgrade my work...ANY HELP ANY WOULD EXTREMELY HAPPY FOR...THIS MAJOR..i almost don't want to clean or repair another watch till i find something that works..

Posted February 5, 2012 - 2:49pm

You may find this thread helpful:

Posted February 5, 2012 - 6:30pm

thanks but the didn't give a recipe for a solution...

Posted February 5, 2012 - 6:36pm

Okay, so you're looking for a liquid cleaner, not a machine?  A liquid cleaner to use in your current machine, or not?  Sorry, but I'm just not quite understanding your question.

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Posted February 5, 2012 - 6:42pm

 I have yet to find a solution that works as well as the commercial ones by L&R or Zenith, which are available from Mat supply houses. I have seen and used various formulas homemade by various watchmakers, and they simply don't work as well. L&R's Extra fine watch cleaning solution, and the number three rinse are pretty much the industry standard. The results are excellent, and as you say, turn out a much better product. They are about $50 a gallon, but depending on how much cleaning you are doing, could last a very long time. 

Water based solutions just play too much havoc with movements and parts and should be avoided. Where you could get creative is with water based solutions, but these would be used for bracelets, cases, and jewellery, etc. Keep in mind, that the negative set winding stem of most American pocket watches is steel, and if you use water based solutions to clean the case, you absolutely must chase (rinse)  the water out with 99% Isopropyl alcohol or Methyl alcohol, then dry with a hair dryer. 

NEVER use any alcohol on movement parts. 

Posted February 5, 2012 - 6:50pm

yes i am looking for something to use in my machine...i just spend a good $800 in the last 3weeks and now i'm out of cleaner and out of cash right now...i don't mind taking the extra time to do things by hand with i did anyway so i have to scrub alittle harder or peg something then not a big deal...the website saids to use just  ammonia oxlic acid and dish soap then heat it..but i can seem to get that to work...

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Posted February 5, 2012 - 7:05pm

 I would not use ammonia and oxalic acid and dish soap or any combination of these. Heating it would yield some interesting fumes also. This is a water based solution, and again, water has no business anywhere near a movt. 

Depending on how dirty your movts are, you can re-use the cleaner over and over, until it looks really bad. In a three jar system, the first is the cleaner, the second and third are rinses. When the cleaner gets dirty, you replace it with fresh cleaner, when the rinse #2 gets dirty, you move #3 to #2, and toss the dirty #2 sol'n and fill the jar iwth fresh rinse, and this now becomes your new #3. I frequently get a dozen or so cleanings from the sol'ns. If you are using smaller jars, you can use less fluid and the system remains the same. 

Posted February 5, 2012 - 7:11pm

i see i see...well what did they use before l and r solutions? i just read that l and r #1 uses Ammonium Hydroxide (alias ammonia)
Distilled water
Oleic Acid
Isopropyl Alcohol
Pine Oil. 

L&R #112 Ultrasonic Watch Cleaning Solution is:
60-70% Stoddard Solvent (aka varsol)
15-20% VM&P Naptha
5-10% Oleic Acid
<5% Isopropanol Amine
<5% Ethylene Glycol Propyl Ether, EKTASOLVE
<5% Ammonium Hydroxi

Posted February 5, 2012 - 7:20pm
  • I haven't tried this yet but this is another popular home made solution I have seen on line allot.
  • 1 Pour 4 oz. of oil soap into an empty quart container.
  • 2 Add 8 oz. of acetone to the quart container.
  • 3 Take the quart container containing the oil soap and acetone solution outside. Put on rubber gloves. Pour 12 oz. of 26 percent ammonium hydroxide into the quart container.
  • 4 Screw a cap onto the container loosely, and let the solution sit for two hours.
  • 5 Mix the solution with 1 gallon of distilled cold water and store in a tightly covered container until ready for use.

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Posted February 5, 2012 - 8:28pm

 Interesting. they call it a waterless solution.  Maybe there is very little of it in solution? Even if left on steel, it never corrodes. Can't say that about any other solution with water in it, and that is the main point. I'm using the one that is called "Extra Fine Watch Cleaning Solution". I'm not sure if Acetone is a good idea, either. We often had discussions regarding various industry formulations and tools, and we invariably concluded that better minds than ours had already been making these products for decades, etc. This is not to say that it isn't possible to come up with a really good solution yourself. I just don't want to find out it isn't so good on some customer's watch. What you want to watch out for, is anything that dissolves or weakens shellac, which holds the pallet stones and roller jewel in exact position. 

You find water based ammoniated solutions far more often in clock cleaning applications, although I find these to be so horrifyingly ammonia off- gassing, that I can barely use them. I once cleared a large building by accidentally spilling less than one ounce of the concentrate. 

Posted February 9, 2012 - 1:12pm

I contacted L&R Ultrasonics and they put me in touch with a Canadian distributer. The gallon cleaning solution and rinse are $47 each. I don't know how much others may use but that amount will last quite a while for me at a decent price. So I think ill stick to the proven cleaners , at least for items I care about.

Posted February 9, 2012 - 2:37pm

I recently had my 60's model Accutron 214 completely refurbished and ask the watch maker what he used and he sold me a 4oz bottle of carbon tetrachloride which leaves no residue and evaporates vey quickly and I have been using it with great success. I have a friend who is a master chemist and he is seeing if MPK would be a reliable alternative since it is the new EPA replacement for MEK which I did not try. He is sending me a container of carbon tet so I should be ok for a while. I will let every one know what my chemist friend comes up with.

Elgin Doug
Posted February 9, 2012 - 10:13pm

Please tell me you're working with a fume hood, with nitryl gloves.


Posted February 11, 2012 - 11:41am

With the extremly small quantity it takes in a glass container with closed lid placed in my ultrasonic cleaner tank which is filled with water there are no fumes to speak of.  I never touch the parts directly until they are dry which is almost immediately. I have been dealing with hazmat chemicals and teaching hazmat classes to corporate end users for almost 30 years and am a certified hazmat specialist and have had no negative effects using carbon tet or mek or mpk ever. The informationn disseminated by the EPA and OSHA regarding the effects of using these chemicals is, as usual, overblown and when really looked into is easy to understand.  The negative effects only show up when used in very high quqntities and with no venting of fumes to the outside. In the small quantities, ie. less that .5 ounces for our purposes, the amount of ppm of toxic vapors is miiniscule. The VOC's  are likewise miniscule.

Elgin Doug
Posted February 11, 2012 - 12:41pm

That's good, I obviously was unaware of you qualifications.  Carry on!

It's just that I've known folks to disregard even commonsense precautions, like the guy who was finishing arrows all weekend, in an enclosed garage, using finishes that use MEK as a solvent, and wondered why he felt so funny.

I agree that the precautions urged on us by regulatory agencies are often oppressive, but I also knew guys who washed their hands a couple times a day in lacquer thinner!

Elgin Doug
Posted February 9, 2012 - 10:22pm

I have been using a cleaning solution I got from the Army TM9-1575 Technical Manual, a cleaning solution that I imagine they figured could be made from ingredients found pretty much anywhere, since watchmakers might not have always have access to the 'real stuff':

  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 oz mild soap (Castille soap is suggested)
  • 6 oz. 26% Ammonia
  • 12 oz alcohol

The suggest GASOLINE as a rinse!  I decided to go with a 1:4 mixture of Naphtha: Mineral spirits, since I don't want my hobby to blow up in my face!

I do a wash and two rinses, with the parts in fine-mesh teaballs, then lay the pieces out to dry on small paper-lined trays in a 37C incubator with a fan. (I do my watchcleaning at work, since we have a gazillion fume hoods!).  The pieces come out pretty clean, though I still have to peg out the jewel holes and the flat jewel surfaces.

BUT, I just ordered some Zenith cleaning and rinse solutions!  I'm anxious to try them out!!!

Posted February 11, 2012 - 6:04pm

Ingredients in Extra Fine Watch Cleaning Solution From Its Material Safety Data Sheet   Fom its Material Safety Data Sheetff

In brackets could use as replacement.

Mineral Spirits                                              60-65%

Solvent Naphtha Light Aliphatic                 15-25%

Oleic Acid                                                     1-5%            ( pretty much olive oil)    

Propoxyethanol                                             1-5%            (ink & varnish solvent, hydrolic fluid ) 

I haven't made it , Ill stick to the real deal. If your using large quantities why not call and talk to a salesman. Maybe get a deal.'s picture
Club 5000
Posted February 11, 2012 - 7:30am

I have always used the L&R products in my ultrasonics and one dip for manual cleaning. 


Posted February 11, 2012 - 10:13am

i too use one dip for balances and pallet forks and arbors...but thats great for you jay,thanks for adding to a topic on homemade cleaners


Posted February 11, 2012 - 5:01pm

After 25 years of cleaning watches, I have not found a succesfull substitute for watch cleaner or rince that does as good as job as what was designed for it.

Zeneth and L&R are both very good and dont harm shellacks, printing, or leave residue on the plates when finished.

 Yes at $50.00 a gallon, we all would like something, cheaper, but we also know cheap things are not good, and good things are not cheap. 




Posted February 11, 2012 - 6:10pm

i was just looking for something in the very short term anyway...but i wouldn't say its impossible to find something that works almost as good.since these companies use the same chemicals that everyone else is saying to use anyway,just in different forms and how much...if can find something like that and then do the rest by hand well then i would be happy..besides, doing different experements i have found something like that.that doesn' kill the shellacks printing or leaves a residue that i can't get off ...also i have heard what jp said works well and i found that in my watch repair if i can only find some..

Posted April 23, 2019 - 11:38am

A friend who's job was an anylizer for Texas Instruments came up with the following rinse:
90% Mineral Spirits
10% Toluol or Toluene (paint reducer). 

I was repairman for a Rolex dealer and switch to it. It worked about as well as L & R but seemed to need throwing out a bit sooner. As it cost 1/6th of the price, it still was a bargain.

He also talked about a cleaner made with 90% mineral spirits and a natural amin but I never found a source for that.

Now I am in S. Korea with the military community and cannot buy L & R cleaner or most chemicals. I can by Acetone, Mineral Spirits, and lighter fluid. Looking for something to mix in for a better cleaner.

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Posted April 23, 2019 - 12:15pm

Definitely stay away from any water, Alcohol or lacquer thinner, or anything that will dissolve shellac. The last thing you want is for your pallet stones to come loose or your impulse pin. I'm not sure if Acetone affects shellac, have never used it on a watch. I remember an old watchmaker told me that in a pinch, lighter fluid is safe, however I suspect it is not clean enough for hairspring cleaning. For that, nothing works as well as Trichlorethylene or Perchlorethylene. 

There are also parts of a watch movement that should NEVER be immersed in cleaner, and among these are dials and date rings. I clean plastic parts in an ultrasonic with a concentrated jewellery cleaner that is designed to remove polishing media. 

Posted April 24, 2019 - 10:09pm

Thanks, Rob. I'm well aware of what to avoid in a cleaner but it's good to remind us. Actually you can do a final rinse of a movement in alcohol, if (and this is big if) you only dip, soak off the excess using watch paper, and then quickly blow off the part, being very careful to blow slowly around the hairspring. I have a tiny amount of medical benzine (equivalent to carbon tet) left over from Germany. Unfortunately, I have not found a source in ROK for anything like it. I, too had training in Neuchatel and the basic rinse was another type of benzine. Unfortunately, the name benzine is used for many different chemicals in the U.S and the regulatory entities treat all as if they are the same as the worst of the lot. I'm sure there are probably chemicals I need here somewhere but I have not found them. It may be just as well to find alternatives now. I heard stories twenty years ago of  the EPA fining doctors offices and other small consumers in town if they could not prove what they did with leftover chemicals. At that time, I tried talking the Rolex dealer I worked for into buying a small distillery for the purpose of recycling cleaner and rinse. I think the EPA will eventually begin fining sources for the abuses their customers commit and then sources for small consumers will dry up.
I would like to hear a report on using MPK and wonder if it's easier to ship.