Years of working without a parts washer have led me to develop some effective dry techniques. They help reduce the use of potentially harmful solvents, as well as working around the lack of wet cleaning facilities.
An apartment dweller or home mechanic might have subsisted with basic dry cleaning for years. You can clean a lot with rags, paper towels and cotton swabs. But a shop mechanic generally has the advantage of compressed air.
When repair season brings me an endless parade of merchandise from Bent, Bashed and Beyond, I need to be able to process the victims quickly and effectively in a workshop that used to be the cocktail lounge of a seedy inn. I'm not kidding. My work stand is on the grimy remains of a hardwood dance floor. The management only removed the tattered border of carpeting a couple of years ago. We will never have a real parts washer in there, or any truly functional substitute.
Working into old bike boxes, which we often fill with rubbish anyway, I can soften the adobe encrusted on abused bikes, with a little citrus degreaser, Bike Wash or plain water. After the grime has soaked for a couple of minutes, I can use the squirt nozzle on the compressor hose to blow most of the dirt down into a box placed under the bike on the work stand.
Air works really well to dislodge stubborn dirt in crevices behind brake arms or down around the front dérailleur and crank. Just watch where you're blowing that little tornado of grit and crud. Hold a rag as a backstop or place cardboard to keep from scattering greasy grit everywhere.
A hard jet of air will dislodge greasy dirt as well as leftover dried mud. You can blow the last gunk from between freewheel or cassette cogs after flossing them, and scour out all kinds of reclusive leftovers in the hidden folds of drive train and brakes.
Speaking of freewheel floss, cardboard strips work well there. Pizza boxes seem to have just the right thickness and strength to scrub the whole space between cogs without jamming or collapsing. Order a pie, then clean your gears.
Beer makes lousy degreaser. Don't waste any on the experiment, even if what you already drank makes you think it might be worth a try.
Never aim the air at your face or blast into your unprotected skin. I hope I didn't need to say that, but I said it anyway.
If you don't have a real compressor, little electric models will provide some of the punch in a smaller package. I haven't tried using my home model, since I can do most of my industrial cleaning at work.
Next time you want to buy something for the home, think about a compressor instead of a DVD player or new vacuum cleaner.