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Ammonia vs Detergent. Ammonia is winning

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by Skulltastic, Jan 23, 2017.

  1. Skulltastic

    Skulltastic Member

    I had a macerated white tail deer skull in a mixture of clear detergent (Palmolive) and 120F water for a total of 5 weeks. Multiple water changes when sufficiently murky . The fourth and fifth week had the same solution because it had stayed almost perfectly clear the whole time. Took it out, rinsed it off, let it dry for 10 days. Saw a small spot of obvious grease (looked translucent) on the top of those two long nose bones. In addition, directly above where the brain would be that whole top was stained a dark yellow, as well as other parts of the skull looked good but still had varying shades of yellow areas. I decided to put back in the degreaser, and for the first time try using ammonia. I ran about 5 cups of 10% ammonium hydroxide (Ace ammonia) in 5 gallons of water, heated to 120F with about a tsp of detergent. Within a day and a half the water turned a straw yellow and over the next 4 days there were numerous 1/4" round globs of floating fat. About mid way through I had added more ammonia because at 120F you could tell by the smell a lot of the ammonia gas had flashed off. Even with the water surface covered, a vent hood is needed.

    The bottom line is, I couldn't believe there was still this much fat still in the skull, and it appears the ammonia has done way more in 3 days or so than the detergent did in 3 weeks! I changed the ammonia water, rinsed. Now i have it in about 8% ammonia hydroxide, sitting for a few days at room temp. After a few days i will either heat this, or dilute it down like i did the last round @120F. Not sure if some of the results were due to the drying period.

    Do any of you only use ammonia and water heated to degrease? I couldn't see a difference in color of the still wet skull but i'm telling you i removed about a 1/2 tsp total of floating fat globs within 3 or 4 days of the heated ammonia/water mix. Who knows how much dissolved. The water was in a white 5 gallon bucket, with a good light i couldn't see down more than 8" when it was changed. I'll update this as it progresses. So far Im impressed with the heated ammonia solution.
  2. lokireptiles

    lokireptiles Member

    I use both - try switching to Clear "Dawn" if you can. Seems to work best for me.

  3. use some plastic and cover the liquid around the antlers. if you cover the antlers, mold will grow so just cover the liquid and you wont lose so much to evaporation clear dawn is number one and ammonia for trouble skulls
  4. Skulltastic

    Skulltastic Member

    Yeah i'm using small sheets of bubble wrap on the water surface, which helps tremendously on the fumes and water evaporation/heat loss. It's only allowing the antlers to poke out. Either way you need a vent hood if indoors. IMO.

    So i put the skull in 8% or so ammonium hydroxide solution at the end of my first post... First day left it at 60F for 24 hours. Solution looked clear, no change, no fat floating. Next day was 70F, same result. Next day was 80 or 90F i forget, I started to see some slight yellowing and a few tiny pieces of fat floating. Same result @ 100F. I said screw it and cranked it back up to 120F, within 7 hours, fat was pouring out of the skull, huge difference compared to 80/90/100F, and after a couple days i changed it out with a lot of fat on the surface and floating around. Now i have 1qt of 10% ace ammonia in a 5 gallon bucket, the remainder is just water, no detergent @ 120F. Everyday I shake the skull around and dislodge trapped air bubbles and tip it around in the water, and i'm getting large blobs/strands of fat pouring out of it. During all of this i have a small pump keeping the water moving so the heat is completely even.

    I know everyone raves about dawn, but the palmolive has the same ingredients and I have a ton of it already. I doubt i'd see a difference switching to dawn-they seem like direct competitors. Is this the stuff you are using? http://dawn-dish.com/en-us/products/by-line/sparkling-mist-scent I will eventually try it, but so far this ammonia is kicking some serious ass, i think in the future i will do the detergent thing for the first couple of weeks to get the initial maceration weirdness out of it, and after that go right to the ammonia. To think i was about to peroxide it but decided to try some ammonia out on it, haha so much grease i never would have thought was in it I'm amazed.
  5. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    This post is why you should be heating deer to 118 to 120. http://www.taxidermy.net/forum/index.php/topic,310906.0.html You can also use ping pong balls on the top. Might be less drippy than the bubble wrap. The Dawn I have been using is a clear, unscented one. As peroxide does little to alter fat I wouldn't be wasting it in the degreaser unless you want to dissolve or clear any small leftover bits of flesh. I just wait for the straight hit of peroxide in the end to do that without diluting it or tossing it away. Ammonia does kick ass. I recently posted about an ancient (boiled) bear skull that I got that was just a nasty mess with old grease. A straight soak in ammonia worked wonders but it was at room temp and took many months. The fumes are a killer for a lot of people. :)
  6. Skulltastic

    Skulltastic Member

    Yes i read that post about the fats melting points. I've also read numerous times that you have suggested unheated ammonia soaks, or ammonia heated to no higher than 100F, sighting the irritating fumes. Unless those posts were all tailored towards non-deer species, but i'm pretty sure some of those posts included deer? Note that the hotter the ammonia solution the faster it gives off its gas, which i'm assuming here is the active ingredient that we want to keep. So I tried a half hearted experiment to try to find the lowest temperature (which would have our solution stay as strong as possible for the longest time) that would still showing fast results. From what i've seen, i would test again starting at around 100F going up in 5F increments.

    The rate at which fat is coming out of the skull @120F with the current solution of 10% ace brand ammonia (1QT) and aprox 4 3/4 gallons of water, (no detergent) is quit simply amazing. I'm not sure what your "go to" method of degreasing deer is, but if you haven't tried it, please do and post up. I cannot get over how much fat still remained. When i mentioned peroxide earlier i was going to dry the skull and then peroxide it. Not add peroxide as a degreaser to my solution. Especially since the way i have it the bottom 3" of antler would start turning white!
  7. tomdes

    tomdes Me my dear and Fall BAZZ!!!

    Thanks Skulltastic for the info, I had a cleaned/peroxided hog skull in dawn mixture for 3 weeks at about 115 degrees to try and get the remaining grease spots, pulled it out last night, still greasy translucent in spots. I'll try the ammonia tonight, see if it can finish the job...
  8. Skulltastic

    Skulltastic Member

    One thing I have noticed is if you shake up the skull in the solution, and firmly and quickly tap the antlers on the plastic bucket rim to jar the whole skull in the solution...next thing you know all sorts of fat and grease that was clung to the skull that you couldn't even tell was there, suddenly breaks free and you go "wow!" to yourself haha. Also working it in an arching motion flowing solution through the nose and out the back of the head you will see large globs and strings of fat that were just kind of hanging out now release to the solution. Mind you i always have a circulation pump slowly going but it still kind of lightly clings to the skull.

    I also take a small piece of fiberglass screen, and sweep through the water with it to pull out most of the floating fats-works great. This also gives you a better idea what has happened since you last checked it. Every day when i check it, i think its going to start slowing down and it keeps pumping out large fat globules, mostly with a clear translucent fat, but sometimes it has a darker yellow bit attached to it.

    tomdes, please do post up on how it worked out, and remember to be mindful of the fumes they will quickly overwhelm indoors.
  9. cyclone

    cyclone Posts: 400001

    Oh the wonders of saponification. ;)

  10. myersoutdoors

    myersoutdoors New Member

    On the topic of Ammonia, has anyone ever used the lemon scented Ammonia? It is all that was in stock at Home Depot when I was there and made me nervous. It has a yellow tint to it and I was concerned of it possibly staining bone yellow. So I was wondering if anyone had any experience with it?
  11. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    I've always avoided the scented stuff due to the dyes and other additives. Check your hardware stores. That should have a 10% strength that is clear that will make you think about serious ventilation if you heat it. Very strong and will really burn your eyes if you get near it. It's what I use and it works great.
  12. tomdes

    tomdes Me my dear and Fall BAZZ!!!

    X2 Sea Wolf... I started using the 10% from True Value and boy does it work great!!
  13. Skulltastic

    Skulltastic Member

    So its been several weeks with the heated ammonia solution...it seemed like forever i was getting massive amounts of floating fat globs and some oil on the surface, finally it dwindled down, until the water stayed clear and there was nothing floating on the surface. There was this one spot that kept "blooming" fat, which stayed stuck to the skull. I would knock it loose and the next day it would be back. That last spot took about 5 days before it stopped producing, after that the ammonia and water didn't seem to have anything else to pull out of the skull. I went back to detergent and water for a week just to see if it more stuff came out. That solution looked brand new after a week maybe a tiny bit cloudy. I used fresh water for a day, changed it, and then let it sit another couple days and pulled it out. So far its only been drying two days but I have noticed something interesting....

    It seems like on the top of the skull above the brain used to be stained dark yellow before this ammonia process (when wet), and now its a much much lighter yellow(when wet). In addition to that, and most interesting, that same spot prior to ammonia would take days before it started to look like it was drying, now within minutes of being pulled it looks like it has many dry areas. This may be a clue that an area that was once loaded with grease is now degreased. I'm not sure yet, but its interesting to note and something to keep an eye out for.

    Since the final bucket of heated water rinse was in great shape, I added a quart of the 10% ace brand ammonia, topped the 5 gallon bucket up with water, and threw in an old deer skull. Here is the history on this deer skull.

    -it was boiled to clean
    -The deer was about 4 1/2 y.o.
    - 3 years ago it was killed, boiled when fresh, and degreased right afterwards.
    -Degreasing was 120F detergent and water for at least 10 weeks, the last 2 or 3 weeks the water stayed perfectly clear.
    -Once dry it showed a lot of grease low in the eye sockets and all over the forehead
    -its sat in this state since all the processes were finished 3 years ago.
    -It has NOT been peroxided

    So this deer skull now goes into the bucket, in 24 hours i checked it. WOW!! Bucket was loaded with grease, can barely see down into the water, and has yellow and orange oils on the surface! Dam this stuff works, and works good. I did notice that unlike the macerated skull, the grease did not form globs that floated on the surface, it was in small pieces and just kind of dissolved in the heated water when disturbed (forgot to put in the circulator pump for the day so the water was still). I'm sure this skull will take a long time based on its history, but right off the bat i'm seeing massive results.
  14. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Somewhere on here is a post I did on a very old Russian brown bear skull that I got. It was yellow orange from grease and had been sitting for years. It's cleaning history was unknown but probably boiled. It sat for over 6 months in straight ammonia (at room temp). It made quite a difference. It does work though the biggest issue for many is the fumes and getting it on you isn't good either. It can also be corrosive to metal parts of heaters. Are you heating the ammonia with a heater directly in it?
  15. Skulltastic

    Skulltastic Member

    Yes, it's a regular aquarium glass tube heater 200 watt. That and the circulation pump are directly in the solution. I remember reading that bear skull thread in my archived searches. The fumes are helped a lot by covering the top of the water however IMO you MUST use a vent hood heated or not it's just over powering. If it wasn't an antlered animal it would be much easier to deal with. Interestingly I've read that people soon become accustomed to the fumes. But just because you don't perceive them to be strong, doesn't mean that they aren't! Vent hood indoors or outdoors is the only option IMO.
  16. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    That might be after their nasal passages are melted out, their eyeballs fried and all the nerve endings in their face destroyed forever. Something that searingly nasty is telling you you need protection for a reason. The fumes from that even work their way around goggles.
  17. Jordan Park

    Jordan Park Active Member

    Thanks for the information skulltastic! I was always under the impression deer skulls weren't greasy and didn't need much degreasing. Some taxi's here have a 1-2 week turn around on European mounts, and although they look great I'm starting to wonder if the skulls are greasy in a couple years?
  18. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Deer are not normally bad. But there are hard ones to do every now and then. This can happen with all animals. A really well fed, fat animal is going to have more fat than a constantly hungry one that was in poorer condition.
  19. Skulltastic

    Skulltastic Member

    I feel that if i'm going to degrease something I'm going to degrease it until i feel I can no longer get anymore grease out of it. If I stopped short of this, would the limited amount of grease remaining in the skull be seen? Would it show in the future? I have no idea, probably not, but maybe so! Again I'm doing this for a couple skulls at most a year and for myself. I do not think this technique would work at all on a commercial basis, because of the material cost, time and dealing with the intense fumes. For my personal use its no big deal. Did my two deer have access to agriculture or really good food sources, no. The boiled one is probably a pain with the grease because it was boiled (in all likely hood with the brain still in it, it was not done by me so i don't know), was older, and sat for now 3 years still greasy. The macerated one, had I finished the detergent and water and then peroxided it, maybe i would have not noticed any grease in the future, and it was too little to effect it? I have no idea! but because of the small grease spot i decided to give ammonia a shot because the detergent water stayed perfect looking for weeks. Next thing i knew massive amounts of fat and grease were pouring out of this thing. Time is of no concern to me for these and I have fun doing it. I'd rather spend a bit more time and effort and know i can't get any more grease out of it, than say, "thats good enough it should be fine" and then it crops up with grease later on. Not worth it to me, and more importantly, i don't have the experience to say how much grease fat and oil can stay in the bone, and still look good long term.
  20. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    What you just stated above shows that you care for the quality of your work. A good job takes time. How much? When it's done, it's done. There will always be those customers that don't really care if you do a good job or not. They are just going to stick it on the garage wall and be done with it. Next season they will forget about it and have another to do. To be honest, I prefer not to have someone tell me they just want a quick job done and get it back so they can show it off. Yeah, I can knock out a good looking deer in a day or two but what is the point if it looks nasty in a few months to a year or so. I want something to look as good going out the door as when the clients kids start getting their own trophies and the next generation wants work done. Taking the time to do it right the first time is the key. Might be done in a couple of weeks, might not. I make sure that customers understand this and I do not give back work early to get rid of someone that keeps calling and asking every week. I have even had them come in while I pull their skull, dry it a bit and show them greasy areas and they are happy to have it stay. I simmered a skull in soda, then soapy water, whitened it and took good pictures of it. It looked great. Now, 5 years later it looks like crap with grease coming to the surface. I use this as a demo to show what the quicky way ends up looking like. I enjoy doing these and like seeing a well done piece go out the door knowing that the owner has a right to show it off and brag. Doing this sort of work can be tough when people want it back yesterday. Bubba down the road would boil it and it was fine. But when shown the Bubba skull and one done the slow way, it isn't a very big choice for them. They just have to get used to the wait time. For me, and a lot of others, it's not worth boiling and turning out a powdery skull when you are doing this for good money. The ammonia works and many times I switch around between ammonia, detergent and acetone. Each one hits grease differently and sometimes going from one to the other shakes things up a bit and gets it moving too. Heating the ammonia will also move more grease due to the heat alone. But in a shop environment, many are pressed for space and fumes like that in a shop can be very unhealthy .. as well as damaging. I soak horses in straight ammonia in a closed shed. Took a while to realize that the corrosion of the metal tools I had in there as well as the interior of the metal shed was due to the fumes from the ammonia.