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How to Clean and Lube Your Bike Chain – 9 Easy Steps

Somebody cleaning a bike chain

If you are like me, you love your bike and you’re very careful with it.

You can make your bicycle last longer and perform better if you take proper care of it.

One of the simplest ways to do that, cleaning the bike chain, requires little time and minimal cycle maintenance skills.

What Dirt Does to Your Bike Chain

The drivetrain and chain get the dirtiest of all bike parts. That degrades the cycle’s longevity and performance in many ways, including:

  • making the chain wear more quickly,
  • reducing the flexibility of the chain’s links,
  • causing additional wear on the drivetrain cogs and derailleur assemblies,
  • impeding shifting performance.

Your bike needs regular chain cleanings.(1) You can do this with the chain on the bike or by taking it off. The following instructions will help you learn how to clean a bike chain.

Cleaning with Your Chain On the Bike

Things you will need:

  • an old toothbrush or other firm bristled small brush,
  • a clean, dry cloth,
  • chain lubricant.

Stand beside your bike and examine the entire chain. Lift the rear wheel off of the ground with one hand and rotate the pedal nearest you slowly.

Visually inspect each chain link rust and dirt. Also, look for tight links – those that bend poorly while passing through the rear derailleur.

Listen for squeaks while turning it. Get on for a moment and ride it, listening for squeaks. Dirt, rust, tight links, and squeaks all signal that your chain requires cleaning.

Clean it by:

  • Brush each chain link using a firm bristled brush.
  • Use chain lubricant to re-lubricate the chain links.
  • Using the clean cloth, wipe off any excess lubricant.

Sometimes, this will not provide enough cleanliness. You can pick up a chain-cleaning tool at the bike store. It attaches to the bike chain to conduct a deep cleaning that takes little time.

If you lock up your cycle outside, even under a bike cover or tarp, you should conduct this inspection once per week, especially if you ride daily. If you park your bike inside a garage or indoors, you can inspect it every two to three weeks.

Lube a bicycle chain with oil
Use a good chain oil to re-lubricate the chain links

Eventually, it will require more than this to clean it. You will need to remove the chain to accomplish this.

Cleaning with Your Chain Off the Bike

Things you will need:

  • a chain-removal tool,
  • a bucket or large bowl,
  • chain solvent,
  • a clean, dry cloth,
  • chain lubricant.

Every three months, remove a hybrid or road bike’s chain using a chain-removal tool.

TIP: You find a complete buying guide for buying a cheap road bike. Right HERE. 

For BMX and mountain bikes (buying guide) you will need to remove the chain for cleaning more often, typically every six to eight weeks.

Clean it by:

  1. Use a chain-removal tool to remove the bike chain safely.
  2. Fill the bucket or bowl with a chain solvent.
  3. Completely immerse the chain in the solvent.
  4. Remove the chain from the solvent when the dirt has floated free.
  5. Dry the chain using the clean, dry cloth.
  6. Allow the chain to dry and any remaining solvent to evaporate.
  7. Use chain grease to re-lubricate the chain links.
  8. Using the clean cloth, wipe off any excess grease.
  9. Reinstall the bike chain.

The solvent removes grime that the brush cannot. It frees the muck from the chain links through the soaking process.

This chain removal cleaning should follow up the brush cleaning you give your bike chain at least once every three months.

A dirty bike chain
Clean a dirty chain regularly for the best riding experience

Choosing the Right Bike Chain Lubricant

A chain with no or too little oil or other grease wears out more quickly. Lubricant stops muck from accumulating.

Avoid the urge to use whatever you find handy in the garage for this. Although many people see WD-40 as a lubricant, it is not. It does help clean hinges and stop squeaking but does not lubricate a bike chain.

You should visit your bike store or purchase a bike chain grease or oil online. The best choices for these include oils specifically made as bicycle-chain lubricants. Typically, these contain Teflon and help repel dirt and water.

You will use your lubricant at least once per week to keep the chain working effectively. Lubricant helps the bike chain move easily and reduces the work you must do to pedal and change gears.

Choosing the Right Bike Chain Cleaner

Again, avoid the household cleaners since they aren’t for your bike chain. Some articles online suggest household cleaners, such as Orange Citrus Degreaser, Shelite, and kerosene, but these can harm your bike chain.

Visit the bike store to pick up a cleaner made for bike chains.

Other Helpful Materials

You can make bike maintenance even more effortless by purchasing a bike stand. These nifty gadgets let you suspend your bicycle so that you can easily reach all of the cycle’s parts.

A basic kit of bicycle wrenches and other tools will also serve you well. A drop cloth for underneath the stand will catch spills and ensure that you do not stain your carpet, floor, or garage/carport slab.

Check your bike chain for a master link. Many bike chains come one, but if your bike chain does not have one, you can purchase one.

Adding a master link to the chain costs little. They’re about $15. If you are handy with your bicycle maintenance, you can probably install it yourself.

Otherwise, you can have your local bicycle repair shop do it. The master link makes it easier to take your chain on and off.

Conclusion

You can easily extend the life of your bicycle by cleaning your bike chain regularly. It takes only a few minutes and can also make it more enjoyable to ride.

You will benefit by making the chain work more efficiently and last longer. That means you will not need to buy new bike parts, and you will also cause your other related bike parts to last longer.

TIP: If you are interested in more articles about biking tips & advice, reviews or buying guides, please start here.  

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