Home
Chain cleaning made quick and easy

Why bother cleaning your chain? Easy; even if you don’t buy the argument that it saves money – and, depending on how you cost the time put into extending the service life of a chain by, perhaps, 10 per cent, it may not – riding with a filthy chain is asking for a ‘fourth cat tattoo’ down the right calf. Perhaps more importantly, a correctly cleaned and lubed chain that is still within its wear limit runs almost as smoothly and efficiently as new. And it looks nice.

When cleaning a chain, the primary aim is to remove the abrasive grit that finds its way inside the bushings. This stuff has an astonishing capacity to find its way into the smallest spaces, as can be seen when removing a spoke nipple from a used wheel. The thread will be found to be caked in fine silt, which is a good thing in this case as it helps seize the nipple to the spoke. It’s not a good thing to have between the moving surfaces of a bike chain.

Complicating matters, the grit is kept in place inside the chain’s inner workings by the residue of whatever lube was used last time it was lubed. A ‘wet’ lube of the sort preferred by most road cyclists readily picks up and hold on to grit particles, with which it then combines to create an effective abrasive paste.

Most such lubes won’t mix with water and resist being washed out by it. The quick and easy way to address the problem is to dissolve the lube/grit paste using a water-soluble de-greaser and then use water to flush the resulting solution out of the chain’s links.

Before going any further, check for chain wear; if worn close to its limit, the chain may not be worth cleaning before it is due to be binned.

Apply the de-greaser – a good example is Morgan Blue Chain Cleaner - to the chain and work it in by using a brush to agitate the rollers. Go around the inside and outside to ensure complete penetration. At the same time, use the brush and degreaser to soften dirt on the cassette sprockets and rear mech jockey wheels.

Next, rinse the chain. If one is available, use a hand-pumped pressure washer to flush out the degreaser with clean water while rotating the crank.

An alternative is to load a sponge with car wash shampoo (diluted, obvs) and wrap it around the chain, squeezing while running the chain through it. Follow this with clean water. Use similar procedures to rinse dirt off the sprockets and jockey wheels.

Now apply a water-dispersing product such as WD40 to the chain; this will disperse the water now inside the chain bushings. Wipe the chain dry of dispersant and apply your favourite lubricant before heading off for a well-deserved – and highly efficient – ride.

How often should this be done? As often as ‘necessary’…

Richard spends most of his time making bikes, writing about bikes and riding bikes in the hills of west Wales, while imagining how much more of the above he’d be able to do if he only had more time…

53 comments

Avatar
Colin Peyresourde [1819 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Good advice

Avatar
Colin Peyresourde [1819 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Where did you get the dummy hub?

Avatar
backflipbedlem [1200 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Cheers, Hadnt thought to use wd40 before applying lube, but suppose it makes sense

Avatar
Debush [15 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

What about using a chain cleaner tool like the Park Tool Cyclone? It's much quicker than than emulating Picasso with a brush.

Avatar
3mkru73 [54 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
Colin Peyresourde wrote:

Where did you get the dummy hub?

It's a Morgan Blue chain guide. Perfect for when cleaning your bike.

Avatar
gforce [57 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
Colin Peyresourde wrote:

Where did you get the dummy hub?

It's a Morgan Blue Chain Keeper - available for about a fiver from your favourite online retailer... An awesome yet very simple device!

The method above is how I clean my chain (although I don't do the WD40 step - will try that next time) - very simple and effective, and far better the various "chain cleaners" that are available (which just seem to make a big mess ime).

Avatar
fukawitribe [1946 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
Debush wrote:

What about using a chain cleaner tool like the Park Tool Cyclone? It's much quicker than than emulating Picasso with a brush.

They're good but you'll still want a brush or similar for the jockey wheels, cassette and crank.

Avatar
earth [363 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I recently used a chain cleaning tool filled with citrus de-greaser to clean the chain on my commuter. I ran the chain through the tool twice with clean de-greaser each time. I then ran it through a couple of times with water to get the de-greaser out. It looked nice and clean on the outside but...

I then put it in a large jar filled with methylated spirits (the clear type) and shook for two minutes. The meths turned black and I had to do it another three times before muck stopped coming out.

I don't believe the above instructions will get the grit out from the bushings and chain cleaning tools are only good for surface cleaning.

Avatar
arrieredupeleton [583 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

My tip is to use an old bidon, slice the top off and seat it in the bottle holder on the seat tube.

Looking at the Morgan Blue Chain Keeper, I will raid the shed for bits tonight and make my own. For the bling version, I'm looking for an 11t sprocket.  4

Avatar
3cylinder [97 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I've always struggled to understand cleaning a chain on the bike unless absolutely necessary. Get a chain with a quick link, then to clean you just remove and dump the whole chain in a container of degreaser (either a plastic bottle or leave it flat in a shallow dish). Agitate a lot, then leave to soak in the solution while cleaning the jockey wheels and cassette. Agitate the chain again, then decant and save the degreaser for reuse. Rinse a lot with water. Dry. Refit and lube

Avatar
Debush [15 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Anyone tried a parts cleaner? Toolstation do one for £50.

Avatar
Al__S [1254 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Ultrasonic bath you mean? MTB-ing mate has one, he say's it's ace.

Avatar
earth [363 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
3cylinder wrote:

I've always struggled to understand cleaning a chain on the bike unless absolutely necessary. Get a chain with a quick link, then to clean you just remove and dump the whole chain in a container of degreaser (either a plastic bottle or leave it flat in a shallow dish). Agitate a lot, then leave to soak in the solution while cleaning the jockey wheels and cassette. Agitate the chain again, then decant and save the degreaser for reuse. Rinse a lot with water. Dry. Refit and lube

I tried soaking one in citrus degreaser once. I thought if I leave it for a few hours the degreaser will get into the chain then I can give it a shake and it will come clean. Big mistake. Citrus degreaser is powerful stuff. My chain came out rusted as if it had been in a salt bath for a week. Had to buy a new chain.

Avatar
wrevilo [108 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Any advice for getting Green Oil Chain Lube off of a chain and everything else it has come into contact with? Even Green Oil's Clean Chain Degreaser doesn't seem to shift it. It is dreadful stuff and I wish I have never bought it!

Avatar
stevelo [8 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
wrevilo wrote:

Any advice for getting Green Oil Chain Lube off of a chain and everything else it has come into contact with? Even Green Oil's Clean Chain Degreaser doesn't seem to shift it. It is dreadful stuff and I wish I have never bought it!

I'm with wrevilo on this. IMHO Green Oil is the Devils chain lube. Hardens like 10 year old chip pan oil. Any environmental benefit is wiped out by the vast quantities of solvent needed to remove it. I can't believe the good reviews it gets. I did the environment a favour by binning mine.

Best value degreaser I know of is Screwfix No Nonsense Heavy Duty Degreaser. I have found nothing which removes Green Oil though.

Avatar
KiwiMike [1307 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Ok, this is kinda religious to me, so bear with.

Firstly, buy a 5L pack of Swarfega Degreaser from B&Q for £9. Fill an old bidon with it, so you've got a handy dispenser.

Use a plastic peanut butter jar or a cut-down bidon in the seattube cage, if you have one. Get a stiff brush - not a paint brush - not stiff enough.

Use a flat-bladed screwdriver to scrape the crap off the jockey wheels.

Then go to town with the brush on the chain, both sides and top/bottom. Likewise the rings and mechs. Also attack the cogset, keeping the wheel vertical so degreaser don't run into the hub.

Leave everything to sit for 5-10 minutes.

Go over it again.

Rinse the bejesus out of it.

Leave to dry, or use a dry cloth to hasten drying.

Apply lube one drop per link, properly OCD-like.

Wipe excess off an hour later.

Personally I'd be very hesitant to use anything like WD-40 before applying lube. WD40 is both a water displacer and a degreaser of considerable merit in its own right. Putting that in your chain before applying lube is counter-intuitive.

Noting I follow the above regime every 100-200km depending on weather. My £9 KMC9.93 chains last about 5,000km a go, and never miss a shift or squeak.

I've gone through maybe half a dozen 'chain cleaners' in my time. I'm not at all convinced that they got anything cleaner than a stiff brush. Saying 'oh look the fluid's still dirty after using a brush and then a chain cleaner' is nonsense - you could run a chain through one ten times and it would still come out black.

The law of diminishing returns and quick efforts says brush is best. You need it anyway for rings/mechs, it's 30 seconds tops to deal to the chain at the same time.

Here endeth the lesson  1

Avatar
jacknorell [972 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Mine's just a good wipe, add Finish Line Dry, run through about 30 revolutions (of the entire chain), wipe off again...

About weekly.

Seems to work, takes 5 minutes at most.

Avatar
earth [363 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
KiwiMike wrote:

Ok, this is kinda religious to me, so bear with.

Firstly, buy a 5L pack of Swarfega Degreaser from B&Q for £9. Fill an old bidon with it, so you've got a handy dispenser.

.
.
.

Here endeth the lesson  1

After doing this put the chain in a medium size jar with a rim wide enough to allow you to get the chain out again. I use an empty 907g Crespo olive jar. I understand there are people in this world who don't like olives  13 so they will have to find an alternative jar. Fill the jar with clear methylated spirits until the chain is fully submerged. Put the lid on and shake it for a few minutes. Observe how much gunk comes out of the chain that appeared to be clean. If your technique works the meths should be clear. If not the technique does not work.

Avatar
Simon E [3097 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

If degreasing is fine why do SRAM and KMC (who also make Shimano chains) tell you not to do it?
http://www.kmcchain.eu/maintenance

"Observe how much gunk comes out of the chain that appeared to be clean"

Plus the grease that you can't replace by slapping it on the outside.

Avatar
crikey [1251 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

 21

None of the above jiggery-pokery has ever been shown to do anything except allow you to spend time in your shed away from the wife.
Time spent fannying about with chain cleaning is like time spent fannying about cleaning the soles of your shoes.

I use dry lube, I wash the bike as little as possible, it works.

Avatar
KiwiMike [1307 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
crikey wrote:

 21

None of the above jiggery-pokery has ever been shown to do anything except allow you to spend time in your shed away from the wife.
Time spent fannying about with chain cleaning is like time spent fannying about cleaning the soles of your shoes.

I use dry lube, I wash the bike as little as possible, it works.

A lot of bike mechanics and component salespeople thank you for that advice  1

Avatar
crikey [1251 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

My pleasure.
It's just another bit of trainspotterish nonsense that cyclists indulge in rather than actually riding their bikes.

(...and embarrassingly enough I used to do it, and used to buy 6 chains, then change them after every 2 months riding, then spend time cleaning them in between. I was commuting and racing the same mountain bike.
Did it make a difference?
Only in a negative way, and only to my sex life...)

Avatar
The Handmade Cyclist [2 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I have tried just about everything.

Then, a while back I read an interview with the Bissell team mechanic in the US, who recommended this routine... and it bloody well works.

Use Prolink Progold lube - it also acts as a degreaser. Used in a chain bath / chain cleaning device it gets your chain cleaner than you would believe.

So -

Step 1 - quick spray of Morgan Blue degreaser on derailleurs, cogs, chainset.

Step 2 - wash bike

Step 3 - clean chain in chain bath thingummy filled with Progold. Chain will gleam like precious thing. Wipe off excess then backpedal like billyo to get rid of the rest.

Step 4 - pour progold back into bottle, use to lube pivot points on bike.

Put bike in shed, leave to dry. The Progold then dries like a dry lube and is the best I have ever used at not picking up dust and crud, so chain stays clean and shiny for longer.

And because the chain is super clean, you don't have that thing where it looks clean but it actually makes your cassette and chainrings grimy as soon as you the bike again (which can happen when just using the brush method above).

Whole process prob takes less time that it took me to write this...

Avatar
stephen connor [49 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I follow a strict regime for cleaning my drivetrain. During the winter when the road a mucky and thus the chain, I degrease the chain and drivetrain after every second outing or if its very foul weather each spin. In the summer it gets degreased every 150-200km.
Procedure is pretty simple but methodical:
1. Apply diesel (sparingly) to chain, cassette, derailleurs (front and rear) and chainrings. Use a small paint brush or like.
2. Leave for 5-10mins while filling bucket with hot water and your chosen bike wash/detergent.
3. Pre-Rinse bike. Wash/Soap complete bike and rinse. With remaining soapy water (or neat dish washing liquid if you like) wash chain, cassette, derailleurs (front and rear) and chainrings using an old dish washing brush. Rinse drivetrain thoroughly.
4. Back pedal cranks while gripping chain (beneath chainstay) with rag / garage strength paper towel to remove remaining dirt and old lube.
5. Dry chain with rag or air line (if available). Chain should look factory clean after this. Re-lube sparingly with chosen lube (my favourite is Rock Oil Motorcycle Chain Lube). Allow to dry and wipe off excess.

This method has resulted in chain lifespan of ~8000km for Campag chains and -6500km for Shimano/Sram. I tend to use Campag chains all the time even though I have shimano grouppo.

Avatar
crikey [1251 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
Quote:

I follow a strict regime for cleaning my...oh give over...

You are a trainspotter and I claim my free GNWRS badge. You know how many kms before you degrease the chain and keep a record of the km lifespan of the chains. Weak lemon drinks all round!

Avatar
KiwiMike [1307 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Folks, let's not be hating on what people find works (apart from mixing a degreaser with a lube - that's just daft  3 )

Time spent (and I mean only a few minutes) up close & personal with your drivetrain every few weeks is essential to spot stuff starting to go wrong, that could go wrong with nasty consequences.

e.g. some people don't check their tyres after every ride. Takes 20 seconds for both, max - and could save you a flat, blowout or major crash.

It's a broad church.

Avatar
Colin Peyresourde [1819 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I used to use the chain cleaning tools you can buy. In the case of the Park Tools one I thought the magnet was a good idea. But each of the tools has broken in one way or another. The brush method was a revelation and actually quicker and cleaner.

GCN have a video which gives a great breakdown of the process.

I have always been curious as to the exact properties of wet, dry and ceramic lubes available. I use a 'wet ceramic' lube, but only understand that a 'wet' lube is for wet weather, not why it is better.

I also worry about whether I have too much or too little lube on the chain. As I understand it the chain should feel lubed/sticky to the touch, but otherwise appear 'dry'.

Avatar
mp31 [25 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
Simon E wrote:

If degreasing is fine why do SRAM and KMC (who also make Shimano chains) tell you not to do it?
http://www.kmcchain.eu/maintenance
.

KMC just want you to buy more new chains. I'm guessing the markup on chains is huge hence their farcical suggestion that using a chain cleaner with solvent will ruin the chain.

Avatar
notfastenough [3725 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
crikey wrote:

 21

None of the above jiggery-pokery has ever been shown to do anything except allow you to spend time in your shed away from the wife.
Time spent fannying about with chain cleaning is like time spent fannying about cleaning the soles of your shoes.

I use dry lube, I wash the bike as little as possible, it works.

This. It's difficult enough to get sufficient time away from my other duties to spend 6-9 hours on the bike - yes, actually riding it - every week. OCD cleaning: Er, no.

Avatar
stephen connor [49 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
crikey wrote:
Quote:

I follow a strict regime for cleaning my...oh give over...

You are a trainspotter and I claim my free GNWRS badge. You know how many kms before you degrease the chain and keep a record of the km lifespan of the chains. Weak lemon drinks all round!

@crikey I'm just sitting on the platform waiting for the Dublin - Belfast enterprise to pass. Strava and other web apps keep records of your bike components life span. I'm really enjoying this refreshing lemon flavoured beverage by the way.

How do you like them apples!!  103

Pages