How To Clean Bike Chain?

As a cycling enthusiast, you know the joy of a smooth ride, the rhythm of the pedals, and the thrill of the open road. But there’s a common issue that often goes unnoticed, yet can significantly hinder your riding experience – a dirty bike chain. It’s not just an aesthetic concern; a grimy chain can lead to poor gear shifting, reduced efficiency, and even costly damage.

You might feel the frustration of hearing that annoying squeak or experiencing a rough gear shift, not to mention the dread of potential mechanical problems mid-ride. These issues can turn an exhilarating ride into a challenging ordeal, leaving you questioning the joy of cycling itself.

Fear not, for this article is your beacon of hope. Here, you’ll discover the art of cleaning the bike chain, a crucial skill that’s often overlooked. I’ll guide you through simple yet effective methods to keep your chain in pristine condition, ensuring your rides are smooth, efficient, and, most importantly, enjoyable. So, let’s embark on this journey of maintenance together, transforming a potential problem into a stride of pride in your cycling adventures.

Why Clean the Bike Chain?

When you own a bike, you need to clean the chain and lube it regularly. It is because the bike chain is coated with grease that helps to run the bike smoothly. But the grease attracts dirt and grime from all over the place.

Suppose you went for a ride in a sandy area or a muddy area. After coming back from the trips, you will find sand or mud in your bike chain. The main concern here is that this dirt will damage your bike chain.

Therefore, you cannot even ride your bike like the way you used to. It is necessary to clean the bike chain, right?

Related reading: Can i use olive oil on my bike chain?

How Should You Clean Your Bike Chain?

When it comes to cleaning the bike chain, you must be thinking, how can you do that? Doesn’t it take too much time? Can you even do it at home? First of all, cleaning your bike chain is not a tough job to do.

You just need the right tools for the task. It takes 20 to 40 minutes to clean the bike chain in any method. You can also do it at home. Let’s start with the easiest method that you can try and try to learn all the methods so that you do not have to depend on only one way to clean your bike chain.

The Easiest and Simplest Way

Do you have limited time and space? Here is an easy cleaning method for your bike chain. You will need a clean, lint-free cloth. Now simply wrap the bike chain with the fabric and backpedal the drivetrain through it.

In this way, the exterior muck will be wiped off immediately. You should repeat the process until most of the dirt goes off, and the rag stays clean. The rag can also be used for cleaning the crud off from the chainring and wheels.

When the chain is clean enough, you can lube the bike as needed. This method is for quick cleaning after any heavy ride. Based on the lubricants, you can use this method after every ride. It will always keep your bike in better condition even if you do not ride on rough roads. But when the chain is too dirty or muddy, this method will not help you clean it.

Moderate Drivetrain Cleaning

In this method, you do not have to remove the chain from the bike. Professional race mechanics use moderate drivetrain cleaning because it is a quick way to clean all the dirt effectively.

Some Tools You Will Need

  • A stiff-bristled brush
  • A container that will hold degreaser
  • Citrus-based degreaser or similar kind
  • Another larger brush to clean the cogs
  • Spray nozzle or garden hose
  • A chain keeper
  • Gloves if you wish to use during cleaning
  • A chain cleaning tool

This stuff is available in any supermarket or nearby shops.

How Can You Proceed

  1. First of all, you have to take off the rear wheel and install the chain keeper in its place. It will limit the degreaser amount into bearings and braking surfaces.
  2. The chain keeper will also allow more space through the cassette cleaning. Then use the brush and degreaser that will remove the junks from the chainring.
  3. Then get a brush degreaser on the surface of the chain while you are backpedaling the chain. Get the brush on it with various angles.
  4. You will also have to brush cassette pockets with the degreaser. Use the larger brush for this because it will give speed to clean.
  5. Now, you have to rinse off the whole set like a cassette, chainring, chain, and pulleys. Use water or steam of low pressure to rinse off the parts.
  6. But make sure you do not squire some water directly into bearings.
  7. Now the cleaning is done, and it is time to let it dry. The drying process will speed up if you get a clean rag and wrap the bike chain. You can get help by compressed air if you want to dry your bike quickly instead of a natural process.
  8. You have to remove the chain keeper and reinstall the rear wheel. It is because you have to apply lube of your choice.

Detailed Cleaning

The detailed cleaning includes removing the chain from your bike along with chainrings and cassette. But it will give you perfect periodic maintenance opportunities.

Some Tools You Will Need

  • Tools that will need to remove cassette and chainrings
  • Citrus-based degreaser or similar kind
  • A stiff-bristled brush
  • Water to rinse
  • Container to use as degreasing bath
  • Gloves
  • An air compressor (consider it as optional)

You can use a plastic storage bucket or ice cream container while doing a degreasing bath.

How Can You Proceed

  1. First, you need to remove the cassette, the chainring, and the chain from the bike.
  2. Now, you have to clean the chain, the chainring, and the cassette manually. Get them into a degreaser bath and use the thin cog brush to clean them.
  3. If you use a brush of a larger size, the task will not be completed properly.
  4. Get the container and fill it with a degreaser. The chain might not be cleaned yet. Place your dirty bike chain into the container that is filled with degreaser and shake it vigorously.
  5. The shake will remove most of the tough grime from the chain.
  6. When you clean most of it, it is time to rinse them thoroughly with water. It helps clean the rest of the dirt if any of them is left and gives proper finishing to your task.
  7. Double-check the chain while you are rinsing off. It is because once it has been dried off, the grime will not be removed easily. You will have to repeat the whole process or apply a moderate cleaning method.
  8. It is time to dry the components of your bike. The air compressor will help in the drying process if you can afford it. A hairdryer might also come in handy for the job.
  9. Get all the parts and reinstall them on your bike.

Obsessive Cleaning

When your chain is not clean enough after completing detailed cleaning because the chain is very old, then this method is suitable for you. Obsessive cleaning will make your old, chunky chain looks like a new one.

Some Tools You Will Need

  • A strong degreaser for initial cleaning
  • A small jar or bottle
  • Denatured alcohol for final cleaning
  • An air compressor or hairdryer
  • An ultrasonic cleaner (consider it as optional)

How Can You Proceed

  1. To try this method, you have to clean the chain as described in the detailed method. You can also drop it into a fresh degreaser to shake thoroughly and do the initial cleaning.
  2. You have to shake again and again with a fresh degreaser until you see the fluid says clean.
  3. To ensure the chain would clean enough, you have to soak the chain for some time.
  4. Now, replace the degreaser with the denatured alcohol and again soak the chain. You should repeat the process like before one to three times. After that, the fluid will remain clean.
  5. When the cleaning is done, hang the chain to dry.
  6. You can use a dryer or air compressor to exceed the drying process.
  7. Lube the chain after it is completely dry and you are ready to go.

Homemade Degreaser Will Do the Job!

Yes, you can prepare a degreaser at home. All you need to know is the ingredients and the ratios.

How to Make Homemade Degreaser?

There are many ways to make a homemade degreaser.

  1. You will need to mix two cups of warm water, one tablespoon of baking soda, and 20 drops of essential oils that should be lemon flavored. Then shake it properly, and your degreaser is ready.
  2. You need to mix 4 ounces of baking soda with 2 ounces of castile soap in a container to form a paste. Then add 20 to 25 drops of orange oil and shake it. Your degreaser is ready to rock.
  3. Boil 2 to 3 cups of soap nuts in one cup of water for 30 minutes. Then mix half cup of homemade soap, half cup of baking soda, one-fourth cup of apple cider vinegar, 2 to 3 drops of citrus essential oil, and water to make the solution thick. Then, your degreaser is ready to apply.

How to Clean a Bike Chain with Household Products?

When you make a degreaser from homemade products following process number one, you can use a spray bottle or a container to keep the solution. If the spray bottle is ought to be used, remove the chain from the bike and spray the solution repeatedly. Suppose you do not have any spray bottle.

Then get the solution in a container and soak the chain into the solution. If the second method is used to make the degreaser, then you will get a paste form. All you need to do is to apply the paste on the chain and backpedal while wrapping the chain with a towel or cloth.

Let it be for some time, and then wash the chain with warm water. Suppose you want to make a degreaser by following the third one. After that, you will get a thick solution. It can be used in two ways. The first one to soak the chain into the solution and let the dirt be removed automatically.

The second one is to make a layer over the chain. After that, you can wash it thoroughly so that the dirt can be removed along with a thick solution.

Frequesntly Asked Questions

Can You Clean Without Degreaser?

Yes, you can clean the bike chain without a degreaser. Dish detergents or distilled vinegar can be an excellent option to replace the degreaser. Even sodium bicarbonate or borax can be used for degreasing the bike chain.

How to Clean Bike Chain without Degreaser?

Well, if you try to use dish detergent, it will not degrease very well. But it is safe to use in bike chains. You just have to make a solution with detergents and soak the chain into it. If the work is not done, then scrub the chain a bit. It will remove the rest of the dust and grime.

If you use sodium bicarbonate or borax, you will need a little bit of scrubbing. It would be best to mix some detergents while you are using bi-carbonate solutions.

Can you use WD-40 to clean the bike chain?

Most mechanics do not prefer it as a degreaser. But it can be used as a solvent to clean the drivetrains from the chain. You have to ensure that you should apply a fresh coat of lube after you use the WD-40 on the chain.

How often should I clean my bike chain if I ride in wet or muddy conditions?

Riding in wet or muddy conditions can cause your chain to get dirty much faster. In such scenarios, I recommend cleaning your chain more frequently, ideally after every ride. This helps prevent the buildup of grime and protects the chain from corrosion. A quick wipe down with a rag and a proper application of chain lube can make a big difference in maintaining your chain’s health and your bike’s performance.

Is there a risk of damaging my bike if I clean the chain too often?

Cleaning your bike chain regularly is essential for maintenance, but overdoing it can potentially lead to wear. The key is to be gentle and use the right tools and methods. Avoid using harsh chemicals or overly abrasive brushes. Instead, opt for a mild degreaser and a soft-bristled brush or rag. This way, you can keep your chain clean without the risk of damaging it.

Read more: Can You Use WD40 On A Bike Chain?

Final Words

Reflecting on our journey through the nitty-gritty of cleaning the bike chain, it’s clear this isn’t just a mundane task—it’s a ritual that enhances the very essence of cycling. Every turn of the pedals, every mile covered, is influenced by the condition of the chain. Through this article, we’ve explored various methods, from quick cleans to deep scrubs, each tailored to different needs and scenarios.

I’ve always believed in the philosophy of ‘care for your gear, and your gear will care for you.’ This rings especially true for bike chains. A clean chain isn’t just about a squeak-free ride; it’s the cornerstone of efficient performance and longevity of your bike. In my years of cycling, I’ve learned that a well-maintained chain can be the difference between a good ride and a great one.

The discipline of regular maintenance instills a deeper connection with your bike. It’s an act of respect, a nod to the countless adventures and challenges you’ve tackled together. As we wind down this guide, remember that cleaning your bike chain is more than just a chore; it’s a commitment to the joy of cycling.


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