Wear eats bicycle chains for breakfast. The most mobile and most frequently changed wear part (after the hose) is the chain. It rusts, squeaks and stretches. But if you take care of it, you can increase the mileage by only 1,000 – 2,000 km up to 5,000 km. And save yourselves in the year well and gladly times a bicycle chain. We show you how to care for them optimally for the perfect mileage.
Not to mention all the power that is uselessly converted into friction. If the chain is rusty and makes noise. Especially those who are out for performance (road bike) should devote a lot of love to the chain.
How to Clean Bike Chain?
You need to follow the following steps to clean bike chain easily.
- Move gears, so the chain is on one end of the cassette. Add soap to the brush and rub all the cogs, and leave the one with the chain. Carry the chain down and scrub the rest of the gears.
- Add a lot of soap or degreaser to the brush and scrub the chainring.
- If you have multiple chainrings, move your chain onto the biggest one. Apply a massive amount of soap or degreaser and rub all sides of the chain. Rub the chain’s side plates with the help of chainring as a surface to push the chain against.
- Wash it out with a gentle stream of clean water and dry your chain off the best you can before adding a fresh coat of chain lube to make it corrosion-proof.
- In the end, apply your favorite oil and leave it for a few minutes before you decide to clean the extra lube. Remember to leave the lubricate between the plates and rollers and clean it from the outside where it is prone to dirt.
Lubricants And Detergents
First of all, let’s clear up the basics of chain maintenance. Lubrication and cleaning are the be-all and end-all. While this sounds obvious, it should always be remembered: You can’t lubricate and clean at the same time. We don’t recommend miracle products that promise to lubricate and clean at the same time.
Nor should you aim for an all-time effect. The chain must be cleaned in fact with frequent use (1x the week) also about once a month. Who drives more frequently should plan these cycles even significantly tighter. Provided that the time permits it. But it pays off!
A Lubricated Chain Is Necessarily Also A Greasy Chain.
Why are these two processes of cleaning and greasing categorically mutually exclusive?
Quite simply, it is the lubricating film of the chain that simultaneously ensures the smooth running of the chain and, on the other hand, attracts the dirt that sticks to the lubricating film and gets stuck. A lubricated chain is necessarily also a greasy chain. This means that all effective cleaning agents simultaneously attack the lubricating film of the chain, dissolve the chain oils or dilute them.
This follows: After you have applied a cleaning agent on the chain, it is urgent to apply a new lubricating film (by new grease/oil/wax) afterward!
Optionally, a superficial cleaning is always possible and useful. But it depends on whether you attack the existing oil film or actually remove only superficial contamination.
But Manufacturers Often Write That Their Product Cleans And Lubricates At The Same Time? Isn’t That True?
Some oils do have self-cleaning properties. This means that dirt particles are “thrown off” by friction as they move. In theory, this is possible and correct, and some agents actually stay clean longer than others. However, this has nothing to do with the proper care and cleaning of the chain.
On the subject of chain oiling and greasing, we have written the following separate instructions. If you are through with the cleaning, then think of greasing!
New Chains – Apply Cleaning Agent As Late As Possible Or Not At All
Therefore, you should also wait as long as possible to apply for a cleaning agent when you have a new bike or chain. For optimal longevity, one should maintain the original oiling for as long as possible. This is because when applying a new chain oil, practically only the outer lubricating film can be restored. The oiling between the rollers is difficult to replace again – to bring a chain back up to industry standard, even after prolonged use, you would have to disassemble it into all its individual parts and oil them one by one. However, that would be highly impractical.
Some cyclists even advise not to use chemical cleaning agents at all. You should leave it on a mechanical cleaning, that is: remove the dirt particles with a washcloth or a chain brush (or an old toothbrush). However, we think that the use of detergents on the bicycle chain has its purpose: just be very careful and use the detergent only in small quantities!
Finally, however, the following also applies: the quantity makes the poison. And who is already poisoned should go all out. Means: if you already undertake a “deep cleaning”, with various agents and cleaners which dissolve the inner oil film, then take extra time to let the new oil act.
Bicycle Chain Cleaning Tips
- Maintain the chain more often and always apply a little to no oil instead of rarely and a lot – this is better than any cleaner.
- Clean the bicycle chain with a rag, toothbrush, or specially designed brush – mechanical cleaning does not destroy the internal lubricating film of the chain. This gives the chain a longer life.
- Should you use a cleaner (anything that dissolves grease, i.e. washing-up liquid, WD40, or a special chain cleaner), then the life of this chain will be short. This cleaning is the last resort if the chain is already carrying rust or the links are already getting stiff. Try this only as a last resort.
Grease Dissolving Or Gentle
Cleaning agents for the chain can generally be divided into two camps:
- Grease Dissolving Cleaners: Attack the existing lubrication of the chain
- Non-Grease Dissolving Cleaners: Maintain the existing lubrication of the chain
It is recommended to have two different cleaners at home for cleaning. One as light as a possible cleaner, which is given to the rag for “quick inspection”. The chain is cleaned only mechanically and superficially. The lubrication remains intact.
And a deeper/grease-dissolving cleaner that you unpack for tough cases. This can also be WD-40 or another stronger cleaner.
Which Agents To Take For Chain Care?
Now the question arises: Which cleaning agent do I use? Which lubricant do I use? There are various agents circulating on the market. We provide an overview. In the further course of this article, we also clarify controversial topics such as WD-40.
Detergent – Bicycle Chain Cleaner
As mentioned, it is also conceivable not to use any cleaning agent and to rely purely on the mechanical removal of dirt by cleaning cloth and brush. Because a chemical cleaning agent has it by the principle inherently that it attacks the lubricating film of the bicycle chain. But this is the only way to achieve a continuous cleaning effect – because only the coarse dirt particles can be removed by mechanical cleaning (brush, rag).
In any case, you should be very sparing and careful with the cleaning agent – only a few drops on the cleaning cloth at a time. We present as possible cleaning agents commercial petroleum, WD-40, and the environmentally friendly Green Fizz bike cleaner from ‘Pedro’s’, ‘Muc-Off’ or ‘F100’. Many of the newer means of Pedro’s consist entirely of environmentally friendly raw materials and are specially designed for long-lasting use of the bike. In addition, whether with or without chemical cleaners, we recommend using a special chain brush.
Cleaning Agents – Bicycle Chain Cleaner
Once you’ve found your tool of choice, then you can clean the chain as follows. As already mentioned at the beginning: not always a “deep cleaning” must take place. In general, it is always recommended to clean the chain briefly and only mechanically. Apply cleaner only to the rag. Only in the worst case, the chain should be completely submerged in the cleaner, directly processed with water and solvent.
The tool “Cyclone Chain Cleaner” from Park tool works very well for the last case. It has a mechanical and chemical composition, as the tool is filled with cleaner. Therefore, it is only a choice when the chain is already heavily attacked and the inner oil film can be deliberately attacked.
Dust and dirt increase wear. As the most moving part of the bike, the chain is a wearing part. In order not to replace it too often (saves the environment and your wallet) it requires proper care.
Shift to the smallest sprocket at the rear first. For standard dirt, use a cloth soaked in solvent or bicycle cleaner. The best way to do this is to take the bicycle chain with the cloth in your hand at the rear derailleur and let the chain run backward. Do this for two or three chain revolutions.
Clean for example with a toothbrush or a special brush the rear gaps of the sprockets. Finally, clean the front sprockets on both sides. Also, clean the chain itself with a brush. Scrape off stubborn dirt with a fine screwdriver.
Derusting A Bicycle Chain
As soon as a chain is ridden more often in wet conditions or in the rain, it happens faster than you think. The chain squeaks and carries rust. This doesn’t mean that the chain is dead. With a cleaning cure, you can get even a slightly rusted chain back in shape.
As already mentioned in the chapter cleaning, cleaning is a strong intervention in the important lubricating film inside the chain (between the rollers). After each cleaning must of course be greased, but you will never reach the original condition inside the rollers again. So the cleaning itself also contributes to the fact that the total lifetime of the chain will be shorter. Therefore, cleaning agents should be used as late as possible.
Quick Guide – Derusting Bicycle Chain
Try to remove the rust with a brush or rag. Then grease the chain with a few drops of oil. If the chain runs well (all links are movable, no squeaking) then you are done.
If the chain still carries a lot of rust and squeaks after mechanical cleaning, then you need to clean the chain thoroughly. Either with a cleaner (read tips on cleaners in the chapter above) or by taking the chain off and soaking it in a degreasing bath and brushing it off.
Remember to grease the cleaned chain again. Read more in the chapter on greasing the chain.
Detailed instructions as a video are also available in the GCN Tech Workshop.
Is WD-40 Good For The Bicycle Chain?
WD-40 is a very well-known and widely used all-around oil. It was developed in the 1950s for military purposes. WD-40 was intended to protect weapon parts and missiles from rust, among other things, or served as a solvent. Because of its protective and cleaning properties, it was quickly used in the household for all sorts of things (squeaky doors or even as a cleaning agent).
It is not suitable for lubricating the bicycle chain, because it is moved too quickly. WD-40 is one of the creeping oils. This means it is more liquid than other oils and can “crawl under”. The oil can not live out its lubricating property and thus remains without effect. Even worse, the oil dries out the chain on the bike, so to speak – it attacks the thicker lubricating film of the bicycle chain and thins it. Since it would be almost better not to use any bicycle oil or lubricant at all.
For this reason, we recommend you buy normal chain oil from the bike shop. This is not expensive and also has partially good water-repellent properties. However, WD40 can be used to clean the bicycle chain. Because it protects against rust and degreases. Like the other cleaning agents, you should then just use it carefully and not apply too much of it! Just like petroleum or special bike cleaners, you would destroy the inner lubricating film if you apply too much of it.
Conclusion On WD-40:
- For Lubrication: NO, absolutely not.
- For Frequent Use: Also no, because it attacks the inner lubricating film that needs to be preserved.
- As Deep Cleaning: Possible use, but there are more environmentally friendly alternatives.
- Heavy Rusting: Recommended. Afterward, however, the chain must also be thoroughly re-greased.
FAQ – How To Clean Bike Chain
How to Derust Bicycle Chain?
First, you should thoroughly clean the bicycle chain. With a good brush, rust can already be fought. But effectively fighting rust on a bicycle chain is a tricky business – because if you use too much solvent or detergent, you risk washing out the internal lubrication of the chain links, causing irreparable damage to the chain. WD-40 is most likely to be recommended to loosen rust. But you should be as careful and conservative as possible with it because of the aforementioned danger! And afterward, be sure to apply new chain oil!
Why Does a Bicycle Chain Rust? Why will a Bicycle Chain that is well Oiled not Rust?
There is no such thing as steel that is completely rust-free and at the same time can withstand large mechanical loads and is as light as possible. However, the lubricating film of the bicycle chain should prevent oxygen from coming into contact with the steel. This prevents oxidation from taking place, which is what causes rust in steel. By oiling, again and again, you maintain the lubricating film. Especially if the bike has been used in the rain or has been standing in the rain, you should re-oil – because the dirty water displaces the lubricating film and serves as a catalyst for the oxidation of the material (→ rust).
Why Oil a Bicycle Chain?
A bicycle chain wants to be regularly re-oiled! It is the lubricating film of the bicycle chain that ensures smooth running, efficient power transmission, and a wear-free ride. At the latest when the bicycle chain rattles or squeaks, you should re-oil. In any case, you must apply new oil after you have applied a cleaning agent to the chain – because every cleaning agent has it in itself that it attacks and dissolves the lubricating film of the chain. If the bicycle chain is already jumping off or has other mechanical problems, it may already be too late – use the chain gauge to determine if the chain is worn.
How to Clean Oil OR Lubricate to Maintain Bicycle Chain?
No matter what you plan to do with your bicycle chain – in principle, it is always either cleaning or lubricating. And it’s best to always lubricate after you’ve cleaned – it’s actually mandatory. Because every cleaning agent removes the lubricant from the chain – which you, therefore, have to reapply with the lubrication! How you should proceed with the cleaning, you will learn here: Cleaning a bicycle chain.
What Household Items Can I Use to Clean My Bike Chain?
Household items such as dish soap, water, brushes, rags, lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda are used to clean the bike chain.
How Do You Degrease a Bike Chain At Home?
To degrease a bike chain at home, you need to degrease the bike chains. You can mix distilled vinegar, water, lemon juice, soap, and baking soda. This homemade mixture will do wonders on your bike chain.
Is WD-40 Good For Cleaning Bike Chains?
WD-40 is one of the best bike chain lube water-based lubricants and will make the chain smooth and rustproof. It also reduces the stack of dirt which diminishes the overuse of the chain.
How Do You Clean a Bike Chain Without Degreaser?
To clean the chain without a degreaser, you need to backpedal your chain with a clean, lint-free rag. Just cover the chain with a clean, fluffed cloth, and then backpedal the drivetrain with it to clean the dirt.
What Can I Use to Clean My Bike Chain?
Diluted dishwashing soap or preformulated bike wash cleaner can clean a bike chain. A bike degreaser will help you in cleaning the greasy parts as well. Apart from that soap, brushes, soft wet cloth, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda can also be used.
Can I Use Dish Soap to Clean Bike Chain?
Yes, you can use dish soap to clean the bike chain and it works perfectly fine.
How Do You Deep Clean a Bike Chain?
- To deep clean a bike chain, you need to go for a chain cleaning machine. Change the degreaser and cover the brakes with a cloth to prevent dust.
- It would be easier to clean the bike chain if you take off the chain from the bike and then leave it in a degreaser before you are about to scrub it with a toothbrush.
- Clean the degreaser by using water, and leave it to dry before you refit.
How Do I Make My Bike Chain Look Like New?
- You need to drop the chain into a jar of fresh degreaser or dish soap and shake the jar properly.
- Mix it until the fluid stays clean. You also need to let the chain to soak for a while.
- Change the degreaser with denatured alcohol and repeat the above steps till the fluid remains clean.
- Leave the chain to dry and then apply oil of your choice.
Can You Soak A Bike Chain?
Yes, you can soak a bike chain. You need to use hot water with dish soap and a degreaser to do it. Then place the removed bicycle chain into the plastic tub and leave it for a while.
How Do You Clean a Dirty Chain?
- Remove the chain and look for an old plastic food container before placing the chain in the jar. Now pour in the chain cleaner. If the chain is lengthier than one width high as it is coiled in the pot, just swirl the liquid around, getting it thoroughly soaked. Then take a clean rag to clean the pulley wheels.
- Take out the chain from the jar and wash it.
- Apply a piece of the master link on the ends of the chain and gather them together in the bottom, where the chain would move backward. You will see that the master link will hold together on its own but not reengage. Just move the crank backward until the master link is at the top. Then grasp the wheel from moving, put stress on the cranks, and it should enlarge into place.
Can you Use Vinegar to Clean a Bike Chain?
Yes, vinegar can be used to clean a bike chain. Just dip the chain into the white vinegar and let it get soaked into the brush’s bristles.
Do you Need to Degrease Bike Chain?
It is better to degrease your bike chain after running it for 100 to 150 kilometers. You can clean and re-lube your bike chain as well.