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Author Topic: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels? (photos added 2007-04-24)  (Read 14598 times)

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bleargh

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Before I delved into the cupboards for cleaning supplies, I thought I'd ask first and see what (if anything) people have used in the past to clean the stickiness/gunk off of old steering wheels...

I bought a lot of older Atari-style wheels (e.g. Sprint) on eBay and although some are fairly clean, several of them are quite sticky.  I'm not sure if its just surface gunk or if its actually the rubber/plastic finally wearing down and becoming sticky, but thought I'd ask first before I did something stupid and wrecked any of the wheels entirely.

Any idea (a) if this stuff can be cleaned up, and (b) if so, what's the best thing to use to get it off?
« Last Edit: April 24, 2007, 03:57:47 pm by bleargh »

SavannahLion

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2007, 02:19:12 am »
Is one of those steering wheels red?

This is what I learned from some research I did when trying to see if I could fix some 40 year old equipment.

The rubber/plastic breaks down in one of two ways. It "dries" out and turns brittle or the material essentially turns to goo. As far as I could find, if the material reaches either stage, it can't be recovered or halted. I couldn't find any reliable information on why this occurs, but the general consensus is that the only way to prevent it is to treat/clean the part with certain cleaners/moisturizers from the moment it comes into your possession. There seems to be some differing opinion on what, exactly, works to prevent the problem. I'll see if I can dig up the information I found at work.

I think I have a catalogue somewhere that deals exclusively in preservation. I'll see if there's anything interesting in there.

Edit: Made corrections to information
« Last Edit: April 19, 2007, 02:28:14 am by SavannahLion »

bleargh

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2007, 02:25:19 am »
Is one of those steering wheels red?

I don't remember what the steering wheels are made of. Does it have a rubber or plastic coating or is it some kind of baked on enamel?

Uh yeah, one of them is red... was that you I bought them from?  Or, did you just happen to see the same lot?

The red one is definately rubber and is quite sticky; I'm expecting that one to need to be shellac'd or coated with something else before it'd be useful.  Is a shame too, its the nicest looking wheel of the lot.

As for all of the other wheels, they're more like hard plastic than "rubber".  Don't think they're baked on enamel.

SavannahLion

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2007, 02:32:00 am »
No I didn't sell them  :P. I was giving serious thought to bidding on that particular auction since I want an Off Road cab. But I was trying to get a Simpsons cab at the same time and I wouldn't have been able to pay my debts if the Simpsons cab deal went through. Of course, it didn't, but by that time you won the auction for the wheels.  :cry:

Don't do anything to the wheels at this point. Don't clean them. Don't cover them in shellac, nothing. Those wheels have been sitting somewhere for 20-odd years. A few more weeks or months won't hurt them more than a mistaken attempt at preservation. Let me dig up my old research and share the results here.

bleargh

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2007, 03:26:17 am »
No I didn't sell them  :P. I was giving serious thought to bidding on that particular auction since I want an Off Road cab. But I was trying to get a Simpsons cab at the same time and I wouldn't have been able to pay my debts if the Simpsons cab deal went through. Of course, it didn't, but by that time you won the auction for the wheels.  :cry:

Well, if it makes you feel any better.... I only need two of the wheels.  The rest I'd be happy to sell and spread the good cheer...

Don't do anything to the wheels at this point. Don't clean them. Don't cover them in shellac, nothing. Those wheels have been sitting somewhere for 20-odd years. A few more weeks or months won't hurt them more than a mistaken attempt at preservation. Let me dig up my old research and share the results here.

That's about what I figured...  I did take one of the cleaner wheels and just wipe of some of the grime/gunk with a wet cloth and that one seems to be in pretty good shape.  Being one of the cleaner ones, though, it didn't have that much gunk on it.  The dirty ones, OTOH, have a pretty solid layer of sticky "whatever that crap is" on them.

shardian

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2007, 06:15:27 am »
If you clean them with anything, I would recommend goof-off2. If anything will work and not destroy your wheel, it will be this stuff. It is fairly mild, but works good great with adhesive residue and such. Having said that, always test in a small area before spraying the whole thing down.

bleargh

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2007, 11:21:44 am »
It is fairly mild, but works good great with adhesive residue and such.

That's part of my issue, though... I'm not sure this is adhesive residue, or whether its just the plastic/rubber breaking down...

Next time I'm in HD I'll pick up some anyways; I'm sure it'll find a use cleaning up other sticky things in the house... :)

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2007, 01:39:07 pm »
It is fairly mild, but works good great with adhesive residue and such.

That's part of my issue, though... I'm not sure this is adhesive residue, or whether its just the plastic/rubber breaking down...

If the entire wheel is sticky, it's not adhesive (unless the previous owner used one of those steering wheel covers and glued it in place for some bizarre reason). One would have to look at the wheel to make certain, but I would almost bet the sticky residue is from the rubber/plastic wheel itself. My Hang-On cab handle bar is also sticky in the "breaking down into goo" way sticky, not sticky with pizza grease and soda pop syrup.

Don't use GO2. It's designed to remove Latex paint and you're trying to remove sticky stuff from rubber. If the goo is the rubber itself, the GO2 would likely attack the underlying "good" rubber. Not exactly what you want. You're more than welcome to try GO2 though, I suggest a small inconspicous spot on each steering wheel and leave it alone for a few days for any problems to crop up before you go whole hog on all of them.

About the research I mentioned.

Months ago I was asked to find a way to repair and preserve our old reel to reel machines. One of the problems that cropped up (which later became moot) was the rubber wheels were either drying out and splitting apart or turning into a funky sweet smelling goo. That part of the rubber is permanently damaged, there's no recovering from it. However, you can preserve what's left if the remaining portion is viable (like your wheels).

The problem I encountered is that there's no way to tell what the rubber will do (dust or goo) so there is no a consistent method for preservation of the RtR machines. With RtR, the only universal solution is direct replacement with non-NOS rubber. A lot of potential chemicals get rejected because they damage the actual tape reels if they come into contact. Other chemicals are expensive, hazardous, illegal or all three.

Unfortunately, meet Murphy. After I did this research, everything became moot when the equipment needed to be moved out of the room it was in. During the move, most of the RtR's were shoved into boxes and stored in an empty cubical. Critical parts for the RtR machines were, "misplaced." Since it's SEP those got lost, I never bothered to try and recover the missing components. At the same time, my PC was upgraded and the HDD with the research data was externalized and stored... without a label. Again, it's SEP.  :dunno The best I can remember is Rubber Restore but I've read nothing but nasty things about it. The other chemicals have 36 character names.

So I decided to see if I can go back and retrace some of my steps and I came across something very interesting. Since an arcade steering wheel does not have the same preservation restrictions as say... a reel to reel machine used to transfer rare audio from famous assassinations, there's a little more leeway with what can be used on the rubber.

I stress, this requires more research and thorough testing.

I've spotted some of the following products that may work for this purpose.

Armor All. Used in automobiles, go to a car parts shop for a good selection. Avoid the generic, "knock-offs," they leave some sort of weird white film after a few months. THe only problem with this is it leaves rubber kind of slick. I figure that's no problem since most of my memories of playing arcade games is with greasy pizza/french fry fingers. I've heard some people say AA reduces rubbers life expectency, but I've found no solid information to back this claim up.

303 Protectorant. Used for slingshots and similar. I've used it on slingshots, but I don't know if it's an applicable product for our purpose. It doesn't feel as slick as AA though.

Gummi-Pflege. Brother recommended. Apparently it's a product put out by BMW as a sort of equivalent to AA. From reading about the product, this appears more for dry rubber, instead of gooey rubbers.

There's SRC (Synthetic Rubber Coating) paint. I don't think it'll work for the red, but it might be useful for the true blacks. It's a rubber paint used for inflatable boats. It's intended to "bond" to the sticky rubber residue and protect them. At $100 per kit though, it might be out for us. :( Maybe some samples or 1 pint cans are available?

Oddly enough, A wikipedia article cites Silicon Grease as a viable and common solution for preserving rubber. Huh.

leapinlew

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2007, 01:50:06 pm »
I'd recommend not getting them "sticky" in the first place. A car is no place for those kinds of activities. Get a hotel room.

bleargh

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2007, 02:20:52 pm »
If the entire wheel is sticky, it's not adhesive (unless the previous owner used one of those steering wheel covers and glued it in place for some bizarre reason). One would have to look at the wheel to make certain, but I would almost bet the sticky residue is from the rubber/plastic wheel itself. My Hang-On cab handle bar is also sticky in the "breaking down into goo" way sticky, not sticky with pizza grease and soda pop syrup.

My best guess at this point is that its more than the plastic is breaking down, rather than them being coated in grease and pop.  The stickiness is just too "all over" for it to just be sticky hands.

So I decided to see if I can go back and retrace some of my steps and I came across something very interesting. Since an arcade steering wheel does not have the same preservation restrictions as say... a reel to reel machine used to transfer rare audio from famous assassinations, there's a little more leeway with what can be used on the rubber.

That's about what I figured too... To be honest I'm not so concerned about restoring these things to their original glory as I know that once plastic starts to break down it'll never be the same.  My hope right now is to get them cleaned up enough that they'd be playable again, and to get a few more years out of them.  Lets face it, nothing lasts forever...

Armor All. Used in automobiles, go to a car parts shop for a good selection. Avoid the generic, "knock-offs," they leave some sort of weird white film after a few months. THe only problem with this is it leaves rubber kind of slick. I figure that's no problem since most of my memories of playing arcade games is with greasy pizza/french fry fingers. I've heard some people say AA reduces rubbers life expectency, but I've found no solid information to back this claim up.

Armor All had cross my mind for similar reasons; you'd use it in your car (and these are steering wheels).  As for it leaving things a bit slick when its on, that's not a big deal.  These are 360 degree wheels, and a bit of slickness never hurt when cranking the wheel and letting it spin in your hands while you whiz around in a circle. :)

303 Protectorant. Used for slingshots and similar. I've used it on slingshots, but I don't know if it's an applicable product for our purpose. It doesn't feel as slick as AA though.

Gummi-Pflege. Brother recommended. Apparently it's a product put out by BMW as a sort of equivalent to AA. From reading about the product, this appears more for dry rubber, instead of gooey rubbers.

Hmmm.... never heard of either of those.  Are they similar to AA, but built up from a different chemical compound?

There's SRC (Synthetic Rubber Coating) paint. I don't think it'll work for the red, but it might be useful for the true blacks. It's a rubber paint used for inflatable boats. It's intended to "bond" to the sticky rubber residue and protect them. At $100 per kit though, it might be out for us. :( Maybe some samples or 1 pint cans are available?

Uh yeah, at that price I don't think its worth my time.

Oddly enough, A wikipedia article cites Silicon Grease as a viable and common solution for preserving rubber. Huh.

Yup.  Works great on O-Rings.  Then again, so does Vaseline.  I use Vaseline all the time on the o-rings for the filters for our turtle tanks and water filters.  The o-rings still eventually break down, but it takes a whole lot longer with that on them.



From the info you've provided me with above, I'm thinking that Armor All is probably the easiest one to do a test with (and I've probably got some out in the garage).  I'm also expecting that the red wheel is really just beyond hope; I could imagine taking the hard black plastic wheels and at least getting the surface of those usable again, but the rubber just seems more porous and I'd expect that even if you managed to surface clean/treat it that you'd be fighting with it constantly trying to ooze goo out of its pores.

Thanks for the tips SavannahLion.  I'll take a test wheel and see what AA does to a small spot on it and will let you know what I find out...

SavannahLion

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2007, 02:54:18 pm »
No I didn't sell them  :P. I was giving serious thought to bidding on that particular auction since I want an Off Road cab. But I was trying to get a Simpsons cab at the same time and I wouldn't have been able to pay my debts if the Simpsons cab deal went through. Of course, it didn't, but by that time you won the auction for the wheels.  :cry:

Well, if it makes you feel any better.... I only need two of the wheels.  The rest I'd be happy to sell and spread the good cheer...

In that case, PM and let me know.  ;D

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2007, 02:10:59 am »
I was thinking about this a while back and it should've dawned on me much sooner.

There's always the option of hopping down the local car parts store and picking up those steering wheel covers. Full sized steering wheel covers probably won't fit, but there's this idea by the local kids that small steering wheels make you look cool. If you have the same retarded bunch of people living in your area, chances are good you'd find steering wheel covers that should fit.

Me, personally, I hate steering wheel covers.

Another idea, is if the rubber is too far gone. There's this rubber coating they use on tools. The idea is that you dip the tool handle into the rubber compound. The compound dries and voila! You have instant (less drying time) rubber handle. They have the stuff in jars and spray on can. I used to have a can of the stuff, but I misplaced it. I can't remember who made it, but the only thing I could find was Color Guard by Loctite. Unfortunately, I couldn't find much information on their website, much less any spray can, so I don't know if it's still manufactured or sold. Only thing I could find was some Literature :( From the description it's not what I had, but pretty damn close. build up few layers of that stuff and voila!.. I think.

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2007, 06:13:01 am »
When I was working for the op we suddenly noticed that some of the steering wheels appeared to be oozing some nasty sticky substance. You could clean it off okay, but it would be back within days.

There was nothing to be done.  You could see that it was oozing only in areas of the wheel that had wear.

Eventually he just bought all new wheels.  All plastic ones this time, no rubber coating.

shardian

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2007, 06:55:48 am »
The Armor All won't work. My wife's old car had a "sticky" steering wheel and Armor didn't change anything.

Something you might consider:
At Harbor freight, they have a kit that in which you dip your tools into a goo that dries into a latex rubber handle grip. They have multiple colors and they aren't too expensive. You may be able to coat your steering wheel in that to make a new grip.

bleargh

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2007, 01:19:22 pm »
There's always the option of hopping down the local car parts store and picking up those steering wheel covers. Full sized steering wheel covers probably won't fit, but there's this idea by the local kids that small steering wheels make you look cool. If you have the same retarded bunch of people living in your area, chances are good you'd find steering wheel covers that should fit.

Me, personally, I hate steering wheel covers.

I hate steering wheel covers too, particularly when the wheel is supposed to be kind of slippery and have lots of spin.  If these were 270degree wheels I might consider a wheel cover, but these are 360degree wheels and should be able to spin freely with that smooth feeling in your hands.

Another idea, is if the rubber is too far gone. There's this rubber coating they use on tools. The idea is that you dip the tool handle into the rubber compound. The compound dries and voila! You have instant (less drying time) rubber handle. They have the stuff in jars and spray on can. I used to have a can of the stuff, but I misplaced it. I can't remember who made it, but the only thing I could find was Color Guard by Loctite. Unfortunately, I couldn't find much information on their website, much less any spray can, so I don't know if it's still manufactured or sold. Only thing I could find was some Literature :( From the description it's not what I had, but pretty damn close. build up few layers of that stuff and voila!.. I think.

Hmmm... that's an idea.  I'd wondered if they made such a thing (and apparently they do).  Makes sense... if you can't keep the plastic from oozing, you'd clean it off and then re-seal or re-coat it.  Thanks for the tip!

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #15 on: April 23, 2007, 01:23:04 pm »
There was nothing to be done.  You could see that it was oozing only in areas of the wheel that had wear.

Pizza and hamburger grease perhaps?

Or perhaps the areas that aren't worn has some sort of non-porous surface that prevents the goo from exiting.

Too bad there isn't documented research about the longevity of rubber compounds. I guess we could talk to the Trojan scientists. See what they say.  :dunno

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #16 on: April 23, 2007, 02:19:59 pm »
Whoops, I didn't realize someone had already talked about the latex grip stuff. Well at least I gave you the name of a store to buy it at.
Here is a sprayable version

bleargh

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #17 on: April 23, 2007, 02:23:51 pm »
Whoops, I didn't realize someone had already talked about the latex grip stuff. Well at least I gave you the name of a store to buy it at.
Here is a sprayable version

Have any of you guys actually used this stuff before?  I'm curious to find out if the resulting grip is "no slip" or not; the original wheels were pretty slick and I'd prefer them to be that way again if possible.

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #18 on: April 23, 2007, 02:27:13 pm »
There was nothing to be done.  You could see that it was oozing only in areas of the wheel that had wear.

Pizza and hamburger grease perhaps?

No.  Definitely the wheel "rubber" breaking down.  I use rubber in quotes because real rubber doesn't break down like that.

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #19 on: April 23, 2007, 02:38:09 pm »
Whoops, I didn't realize someone had already talked about the latex grip stuff. Well at least I gave you the name of a store to buy it at.
Here is a sprayable version

Have any of you guys actually used this stuff before?  I'm curious to find out if the resulting grip is "no slip" or not; the original wheels were pretty slick and I'd prefer them to be that way again if possible.

No, this stuff produces a smooth finish. On your steering wheel, it might even produce a slicker surface than the original coating.

bleargh

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #20 on: April 23, 2007, 02:56:19 pm »
Have any of you guys actually used this stuff before?  I'm curious to find out if the resulting grip is "no slip" or not; the original wheels were pretty slick and I'd prefer them to be that way again if possible.

No, this stuff produces a smooth finish. On your steering wheel, it might even produce a slicker surface than the original coating.

Cool... I'll have a look for this next time I'm out...

bleargh

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Re: Tips on cleaning sticky steering wheels?
« Reply #21 on: April 24, 2007, 03:57:24 pm »
Finally got around to taking some photos of the wheels...

Here's the lot of eight wheels out of the box.  The two on the right are just hoops, while all of the others at least have stems on them.  Of the six with stems, three have old Atari style encoders on them.  The one in the far back-left looks like a Pole Position wheel (with gear), and two of them are smaller 10" wheels, all the others being 12".


Here's a close-up of the tacky/sticky stuff on the black wheels. 




And here's a close-up of the red "rubber" wheel.  This ones quite sticky, and after handling it you definitely need to wash your hands.




I called up a bunch of the local car restoration shops in town (and learned that we have several that specialize in just classic car restoration), and they all suggested the same thing... hand wash the wheels in a mild dish detergent, adding just a tiny bit of lemon juice or vinegar to the mix to help cut the gunk.  After that, they all suggested plain old "Armor All" to spray on top to help protect whatever is left of the wheel.  Their only complaint with Armor All on steering wheels is that it makes them slippery, but that is what I want these wheels to feel like; they're 360 wheels.

So, I took one of the wheels and gave part of it a wash in some Palmolive and warm water, using a toothbrush to help clean it up.  So far so good... it took the gunk/sticky stuff off.  Before putting any Armor All on it, though, I'm going to let it sit for a while and see how long it takes for that section of the wheel to get tacky again.