Removing wool fiber from chair casters.
July 29, 2006 4:41 PM   Subscribe

What would dissolve wool fibers but not plastic? I have a bunch of office chairs on which the casters have become clogged with wool fibers from an oriental rug. The wheels do not come off the casters, and the casters are difficult to remove from the chairs. After spending an hour laboriously removing the wool fibers from just one wheel axle with a mat knife and tweezers, I'm looking for an easier way. Maybe some fluid in which I could set the wheels and dissolve the wool fibers without harming the plastic casters? Any ideas on this or other directions?
posted by Jackson to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
Wool fibers, like all hair, are primarily protein. Hair is made of much the same protein as fingernails and the beaks and feathers of birds, keratin. Long chain proteins that aren't folded up just don't dissolve in anything.

I can't imagine that there's any reasonable solvent that would help you. About the best you could hope for would be some sort of enzyme you soaked the fibers in (for hours) which attacked the protein, but even that doesn't sound very plausible to me.

Ecologically, hair and feathers are disposed of by particular fungi, who have a sheaf of enzymes to do it, but that's not going to do you any good.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:58 PM on July 29, 2006

Bleach dissolves wool. Get some regular strength bleach and put it in a bowl and add a few fibers. They should liquefy, or turn to goop. If they do, good, then your rug is 100% wool. Bleach shouldn't have any effect on the plastic, but to be sure, do a patch test first.

If for some reason that doesn't work, although I don't see why it wouldn't, try a depilatory, such as Nair. It dissolves hair in much the same way that bleach dissolves wool. Patch test first!

You'll need to swish the casters through soapy water a few times to get out the goop and then possibly oil them after they dry.
posted by iconomy at 5:02 PM on July 29, 2006

This link suggests that bleach might do the job, which does make sense if you think of the effect of a bad bleach job on hair.
posted by BishopsLoveScifi at 5:03 PM on July 29, 2006

I stand corrected.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:31 PM on July 29, 2006

Red Devil Lye
posted by hortense at 6:01 PM on July 29, 2006

Bear in mind that while the casters are plastic, they most likely have a metal axle which may rust when exposed to a corrosive.

If you do bleach them, give them a drop of oil afterwards to prevent this, but make sure it won't drip out onto your nice rug.
posted by tomble at 6:49 PM on July 29, 2006

Bear in mind that there are different types of plastic, and some are problably vulnerable to depolymerizing when exposed to a strong alkali, just like wool. O-chem is 15 years in my past, but I think Nylon might be a good candidate for an alkali vulnerability. I dont know what your casters are made of.

Id probably pare a little sliver of plastic off an edge and soak it in bleach before going all out.
posted by Good Brain at 9:34 AM on July 30, 2006

Can't the casters be vacuumed clean?
posted by orange swan at 10:30 AM on July 30, 2006

Late to the party, but since nobody else has chimed in with these suggestions:

Office chair castors are pretty cheap (as little as $3 or $4 each at Home Depot), so why not just replace these, and work on stopping the carpet damage? If you're willing to spend a bit more, you can choose larger or heavy duty castors that won't cut up your rug as badly.

posted by paulsc at 2:32 PM on July 30, 2006

Wool is hair. A hair solvent, such as Nair, should work.
posted by KRS at 5:00 PM on July 30, 2006

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