YoYo Wiki

Why clean a yo-yo bearing?[]

Most bearings come lubricated, as this helps preventing rust whilst the yo-yo is in storage before it is sold. This lubricant often makes yo-yos quite responsive. In order to remove the lubricant the bearing has to be cleaned. Cleaning allows the yo-yoer to make the bearing as responsive as he or she wants. It also removes grit or string lint that builds up in the bearing through play.

How to clean a yo-yo bearing[]

1. Before you start[]

It is helpful to know some bearing anatomy before you begin so you know which parts of the bearing are which.

2. Equipment needed[]

  • Some form of solvent for cleaning (such as methylated spirits, goof off/xylene or paint thinner/mineral spirits). Do not use rubbing alcohol (contains water which can make the bearing rust), acetone (can make the bearing rust and is corrosive), nail polish remover (contains impurities to moisturize skin etc) or anything containing ether such as brake cleaner (catches fire easily and damages skin quickly).
  • A glass jar to hold the solvent with the bearing in.
  • A pin to remove the bearing shields.

3. Safety precautions[]

  • Protective glasses should be worn.
  • Almost all the solvents listed here are highly flammable so keep the solvents away from sparks, naked flames, etc.
  • As many of the solvents give off unpleasant fumes, the bearing cleaning should be carried out in a well ventilated room with care taken not to inhale the fumes.

4. Remove the shields[]

To achieve a clean yo-yo bearing, you first have to remove the shields (the thin rings of sheet metal on the sides of the bearing), one side is usually enough for cleaning purposes, although removing both is recommended to produce the best results. Removing can be done by sticking a pin between the outer race and the shield, where a springy steel ring (known as the 'c-clip' due to its shape) is located. By removing the c-clip, the shield will tend to fall out. If it doesn't, tapping the bearing lightly on a surface should cause the shield to drop out.

Another way to remove the shields is to stick a pin between the inner race and the shield and carefully pry the shield off. Since the c-clip can jump out, it is recommended to wear protective glasses while doing it. This method is popular because it is quicker and easier to remove the shields, however the shields are often damaged so they cannot be placed back on the bearing later. As many yo-yoers leave the shields off for easier cleaning in the future, this is not a problem.

5. Clean with a solvent[]

Now soak the bearing in the solvent. A glass jar is ideal for this as the glass will not react with the solvent (some plastics are damaged by some of these solvents). Be careful not to inhale the solvent fumes, and since solvents are usually highly flammable, do this away from fire or heat sources. By either shaking or using a toothpick, turn the bearing a little in the bath to get the grease out from everywhere and let it soak for a few minutes, occasionally turning it again. Do not use the toothpick on your teeth afterwards.

6. Dry the bearing[]

Most of the solvents listed here evaporate very quickly. The problem with this is that a residue is left behind, slowing down the bearing. To prevent this, use an air compressor or a can of compressed air (you can buy these at office supply stores) to dry the bearing once you have take it out of the solvent, occasionally turning or spinning it. If you don't have access to compressed air it is still worthwhile spinning the bearing on a pencil as it dries.

7. Lubricate the bearing[]

Running a bearing without lubrication (often abbreviated to 'lube') is referred to as running the bearing 'dry'. This is very noisy, reduces the lifespan of the bearing and the bearing can rust. Yo-yoers used to use 3-in-1 oil if they wanted the yo-yo to be very responsive, and trumpet valve oil if the wanted the yo-yo to be unresponsive. However, trumpet valve oil can damage the plastic in a yo-yo (though this is normally not a problem since the lube is only on the inside of the bearing) and lube designed specifically for yo-yos is now available from manufacturers such as YoYoJam.

There are two types of yo-yo lube available, 'thick' lube for responsive yo-yos and 'thin' lube for unresponsive yo-yos. Examples of thick lube include 'Yoyojam thick lube' and 'Yomega brain lube'. Examples of thin lube include 'Yoyojam thin lube' and 'One Drop V4M Lube'. You can buy these from most online yo-yo stores.

Advanced Techniques[]

Ultrasonic Cleaning[]

An ultrasonic cleaner uses high-frequency sound to deeply clean objects in a liquid bath. Ultrasonic cleaners are commonly available for cleaning jewelery and are also used to clean eyeglasses at optometrist offices. Some people use ultrasonic cleaners to clean yo-yo bearings because of the effectiveness of the process.
Ultrasonic cleaners should never be filled with flammable solvents because of the high risk of fire or explosion as well as damage to the machine itself.
Using solvents in an ultrasonic cleaner should never be attempted by anyone under the legal age of responsibility in your area which is usually 18 years old.
It is important to carefully consider the risk to health and safety when choosing to use solvents in an ultrasonic cleaner regardless of your age or skill level.
Because of these risks it is important to know that you can safely use water-based ultrasonic cleaning solutions without harm to your bearings.They are designed to deeply clean grease, debris and proteins from valuable jewelry and it is reasonable to assume that an inexpensive bearing will be undamaged by these cleaners if used properly. It may seem like a bad idea but water is used to clean metal all over the world every day in many different ways without causing corrosion or harm.
Using Water-Based Cleaning Solution on Metal Bearings
To make sure your bearing does not rust after cleaning it with an ultrasonic cleaner follow these steps:
  1. Use a mild water-based ultrasonic cleaning solution sold for cleaning jewelry to clean your de-shielded bearing. Be sure to read the instructions with your machine and learn how to use it properly.
  2. After cleaning the bearing rinse it thoroughly with deionized(distilled) water. Do this several times to make sure the cleaning solution is completely rinsed out of the bearing.
  3. After rinsing, dry the bearing using compressed air to force all of the remaining moisture and debris from the bearing. This can be done with a can of compressed air normally used for cleaning computer equipment or by using an air compressor with a suitable nozzle.
  4. Once the bearing is dry immediately lubricate it thoroughly to prevent corrosion. Keep in mind that when using a thin lubricant such as valve or sewing machine oil the bearing will need to be re-lubricated more often to prevent corrosion.
Tips for Safely Using Solvents in an Ultrasonic Cleaner - Use the following instructions at your own risk!
These steps can be used to clean a bearing in an ultrasonic cleaner:
  1. Make sure your machine is properly grounded. This is important to do to help reduce the risk of igniting any solvent fumes. If you do not know what this means or how to do this please find out before you continue with the rest of these steps. It is beyond the scope of this wiki to teach you this important safety step.
  2. Place your de-shielded bearing in a small container suitable to the solvent you are using. A good size container for using mineral spirits is a small pharmacy pill bottle or a plastic photographic film canister. If you use any other solvents make sure to test the container you choose to see if it softens or dissolves in your solvent.
  3. Fill your container partially full with your solvent. Use no more solvent than what is needed to completely cover your bearing.
  4. Place water in your ultrasonic cleaner and stand the container in the center of the water. Match the level of water in the machine with the level of solvent in your container. This will help prevent the solvent container from tipping over into the water and is a safety precaution.
  5. Run your machine according to its instructions for use. Then turn your machine off.
  6. Remove your container from the machine and proceed to discard the solvent.
  7. Rinse your bearing in a fresh bit of solvent to flush out any debris that remain in the bearing.
  8. Dry the bearing using compressed air to force all of the remaining solvent and debris from the bearing.
  9. Once the bearing is dry immediately lubricate it thoroughly to prevent corrosion. Keep in mind that when using a thin lubricant such as valve or sewing machine oil the bearing will need to be re-lubricated more often to prevent corrosion.

Testing Solvents to Determine Suitability for Bearing Cleaning[]

Some solvents are suitable for the purpose of cleaning bearings and some are not. Solvents that evaporate too quickly can leave behind debris and residue and solvents that are too harsh will attack metal and cause corrosion(rust). Not all solvents are clean and some will leave behind contaminants when they evaporate. Some solvents contain additives that enhance their usage for certain purposes. An example is lighter fluid which is primarily a solvent called naphtha which contains additives to make it smell more pleasant and to prevent rapid evaporation when used in lighters.
Some examples of suitable solvents for cleaning bearings are mineral spirits, also called paint thinner, and nearly pure isopropyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol is not rubbing alcohol. While rubbing alcohol does have isopropyl alcohol in it, it also has oils to enhance its use on skin as well as perfumes to make it more pleasant to smell. These additives make it a poor choice to clean a bearing because they are left behind when the alcohol evaporates.
Please note: There are "Green" brands of mineral spirits and paint thinner that are highly unsuitable for cleaning bearings. These appear as white or milky in color and should not be used to clean a bearing. The additives in these solvents are of a nature that will not be easily removed from a bearing without using another more agressive solvent.
To test a solvent for its evaporation rate and purity you need a piece of sparkling clean glass and a stopwatch. Place a single drop of solvent on the clean glass and start the countdown on the stopwatch. When the solvent is done evaporating note the time it took to evaporate. Solvents that evaporate more quickly such as ether or acetone are less suitable for cleaning because they will not stay liquid long enough to carry debris and dissolved lubrication out of the bearing. Take a close look at the glass under a strong light. Did the solvent leave a residue behind on the glass? If it left clearly noticeable residue it is less likely to produce a satisfactorily clean bearing.
Objects that are required to be as clean as possible for scientific purposes are often cleaned many times using ultra-pure solvents before the results are acceptable. Mass standards such as the one used to define a kilogram are cleaned with ultra-pure solvents so that not even the dust that settles out of the air is allowed to adhere. This is not necessary for bearings used in yo-yos but is here to illustrate that common solvents found in home hardware and grocery stores may not achieve lasting results unless care is taken. Steps like using fresh solvent for each cleaning, checking labels to insure the solvent does not have additives and using specific solvents are important to insure a clean bearing is obtained.
These things may be considered overkill by some but are here to help represent the option of more advanced measures that can be taken to clean a bearing and to help you learn more about why cleaning a bearing properly is important to a player. A clean bearing is not only important to players but is also important to retailers as some have sold bearings that are different only in the method and purity of solvent used. These specially cleaned bearings have significantly longer spin times than similar and less expensive bearings packed with grease.