How To Clean A Bike Chain - Do It The Proper Way!
July 17, 2024

How To Clean A Bike Chain – Do It The Proper Way!

Whether it is a means of transport to get you to work or just part of your daily exercise, riding a bike brings joy and convenience to many of us, not to mention a good way to get some solid exercise in your routine. When it comes to maintenance however, it can be a different story.

The bike chain and the drive train are said to be the most difficult parts of a bike to clean, it is also the area that accumulates the most dirt and therefore requires most attention. Being an essential part of the bike, dirt on the chain is the last thing you want sitting on them as this could greatly compromise their life span.

To avoid issues such as increased chain wear, reduced flexibility, added wear to the derailleurs and impaired performance when shifting gears, you must take precautions to keep the chain clean.

So, do you know how to clean a bike chain properly? To make things easy for you, we’ve put together and listed everything you need to ensure you get your bike chain sparking clean.

All the tools you need to clean your bike chain

  • Citrus-based or similar degreaser: a degreaser is necessary when you need to remove debris stuck within the chain and are hard to get to.
  • A stiff and bristled brush: if you want to do a quick clean of the chain or remove visible build-up dirt, you’ll need one of these.
  • Get a larger brush for the cogs: cogs are easier to clean than the chain itself, a larger brush should work perfectly on these.
  • A container to soak the chain: the degreaser is what removes debris that the soft brush cannot get to so you need a container to soak the chain in the degreaser.
  • A chain keeper: this makes it easy to clean, pull, stroke and grease the chain during cleaning or maintenance.
  • A source of running water: since you’ll want the job done right, you’ll need a clean source of running water.
  • Gloves: you would be safer and avoid mess with a pair of these on.
  • A chain cleaning tool: ideal when cleaning the chain while it’s on the bike
  • An air compressor: ideal to speed up the drying process of the bike components.

When it is necessary to clean and lube

This can be done either regularly or occasionally. Let’s start with how you should go about with regular cleaning.

On-bike cleaning/regular cleaning

Every once in a while, you could inspect the entire chain while it is still on the bike. Simply stand at the side of your bike and lift the rear wheel off the ground.

The next thing you should do is use your free hand to rotate the pedal and while doing so inspect the chain links. At this point, you should watch out for build-up of debris, dirt, tight links or even rust.
You should also listen for any squeaks while rotating the pedal to determine whether the bike needs any lubrication. If you notice any of the mentioned issues, you should do a quick cleaning of your chain by doing the following:

  • Using a firm brush, brush off the debris or dirt in the links.
  • Next, relubrication of the links with a chain lubricant.
  • Remove any excess lubricant to prevent the accumulation of dust while riding your bike.

If you want to do a more intensive clean with the chain still on the bike, you should get a chain cleaning tool for this.

Of-bike/occasional cleaning

After a few months, we recommend that you take your chain off the bike completely. You can use a chain removal tool to do this.

Once it is off, brush it thoroughly after which you should immerse it in a chain cleaning solvent. This should get rid of built-up grime which couldn’t be removed by brushing alone. Leave the chain to soak till most of the dirt is off the links.

How to clean a bike chain – The step by step process

Once you get used to doing this, the cleaning process will be quick. After you’ve gathered all the tools, here’s how you should clean up the chain.

Step 1: Take off the rear wheel

First, you need to take off the rear wheel. It will be easier if you have a quick release. After it’s off, have a chain keeper sit in its place. This will allow for an intensive cleaning of the cassette. At the same time, you will be able to limit the amount of degreaser that could go into the breaking surface or the bearings.

Step 2: Remove the gunk

Next, spray the chainrings and the derailleur with a degreaser, take your soft brush and then remove the accumulated gunk.

Step 3: Thoroughly brush the chain

Since more attention should be on the chain, brush the degreaser into the chain at various angles while backpedaling

Step 4: Work the cassette with the degreaser

Using a larger brush, brush the degreaser into the cassette. This should be quite fast and you shouldn’t take too long.

Step 5: Rinse the grime off

With a low-pressure water stream, rinse off the degreaser from the cassette, chain rings, chain and the derailleurs.

Step 6: Dry everything

You could air dry the chain, dry it with a clean rag or use an air compressor to speed up the drying process. Either way, the chain needs to be completely dry before the next step.

Step 7: Reinstall the rear wheel

Remove the chain keeper and replace the rear wheel. Here, ensure the brakes are well in place and the tyre is properly aligned if you are using the quick-release mechanism. You should then apply your preferred lube on the chain.

Wait for the lube to soak into the chain and wipe off the excess to prevent the quick accumulation of dirt once you set out on the road again.

How to clean a bike chain with household products

As an alternative, you could use products that are readily available at home to clean your bike chain. Here is what needs to be done.

Have all the tools at hand

You’ll need to have some soft rags, a pair of gloves, a reputed degreaser, a chain lubricant and a tarp which you will be working on.

Step 1: Remove the chain from your bike

It could prove to be a little tricky so it’s important to be careful with this if you’ve never done it before. Once you get it done right, this should be the only difficult part.

Step 2: Pour the degreaser to a container

You should then pour enough degreaser to cover the chain into a container. Next, drop the chain into the container, cover up the container and shake it to allow the degreaser to get into the chain links.
If the degreaser is in a spray bottle, you could spray it directly on the chain and let it settle for a few minutes.

Step 3

After the chain is soaked, the next thing would be to clean the chain. You can use kerosene or turpentine. Repeat the process until the chain is completely cleaned up. If either of these two are unavailable, go ahead and use dish soap which will effectively get rid of the degreaser.

Step 4

Let the chain air dry but not for too long since it could result in rusting. Alternatively, you can use an air drier to get it clean.

Step 5

Next, carefully put the chain back on the bike. At the same time, watch out for any bundles or wraps.

Step 6

Lastly, lubricate the chain. Ensure you do this on all parts of the chain as you rotate it. You can then test the chain to ensure everything is working smoothly.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Question: Why should you clean your bike chain?

Answer: Cleaning the chain prevents debris accumulation and rusting which ensures the pedal strokes are smooth and consistent. When done right, cleaning also increases the chains rate of wear.

Question: How often should you clean your bike chain?

Answer: It is recommended that you clean the chain after every ride. Depending on the nature of your ride, you can do a thorough or light cleaning.

Final verdict

To wrap things up, a clean chain is very important. From durability to giving your bike optimal performance, cleaning the chain comes with lots of advantages. It is however, important that you be mindful of the degreasers and lubes you use on your chain- only go for the best.

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