Thankfully there are many different ways to clean a bike. Some people use sudsy foaming cleansers, which will remove some of the grime from the chain. Others use degreasers, dry lubricants, or oils to clean their bike chains. Let look at the following content to find out more ways to clean your bike chain.
How To Clean A Bike Chain?
Get Protective Gear
You will need to protect yourself from getting cut or scraped while cleaning the chain. This includes putting on some chain oil, not just for lubricating the chain itself but also on your hands and the bottom of your shoes. A good rule of thumb is to put some oil on everything except your face because dirt can settle into it really quickly.
Preparing Your Bike
The bike that has been cleaned must be prepared for its next use, which means getting it back in working order again after a cleaning session. Make sure that everything is tightly fastened, including the quick release lever on the bike’s seat post. If you have a bike rack, place it on it and tighten all of the screws on it to make sure that they are secure. This is especially important with a bike rack because if one of those screws came loose, it could slide out and damage your bike.
Get Your Cleaning Equipment Ready
You will need to get your cleaning equipment together before you begin to clean the chain itself. It is important to have everything ready so that you can avoid losing time. First of all, you will need a bottle of dish soap. You can get this at any supermarket or grocery store. You can also ask a bike mechanic to buy some for you if you do not have one close by. Some areas have bike repair shops that sell this product as well.
Next, you will need some chain cleaning brushes. These are specially designed to clean chains very efficiently and effectively. There are quite a few types on the market right now, so make sure that you get the ones that match your type of chain made specifically for those chains as well as those made for those chains from other manufacturers.
It is important to have a chain cleaning machine on hand as well. There are a lot of models available for cleaning chains, but you must have a machine that can break down your chain into much smaller pieces, which means that there will be less work for you to do with them.
Get the Chain Cleaned
Now that everything is ready and prepared, it is time to get the chain cleaned with the two following options:
When The Chain Is Removable
If your bike chain has already been removed to give you easier access, then you can skip this step, but it is still generally recommended that you clean any white spots off of your drivetrain to prevent corrosion and protect performance in future rides; otherwise, please follow these steps for a thorough cleaning:
- Unhook the rear cog by pressing in on its release button with one hand and pulling back on its lock ring with another hand.
- Loosen and remove the front derailleur.
- If there are any chainrings or chainrings with derailleur hangers on the bike, put them in the chainring bag.
- Loosen and remove the chain’s quick release with a coin or screwdriver.
- Find the master link, which is generally located near or on top of the front derailleur. Loosen it with a coin or screwdriver.
- With one hand, push up on two of the pins on the pedal side of the master link, which pulls it out of any grooves inside its housing. On the other hand, push up on the third pin, which helps to lubricate the chain by pushing it through its teeth.
- Pull your chain along backward to remove any excess grease from the chain’s moving parts.
- Rinse the chain in a bucket until the water runs clear or until you have removed all oil or grease from it.
- Wash out your bike-side pump with hot soapy water. Allow it to dry before reusing it for future lubrication.
- Lubricate both sides of your gears by applying a light coat inside each of them with a light lubricant such as WD-40 or Super Lube.
- Reassemble your bike and replace your chain back on its chainset with a pin or a quick link.
However, if you have never cleaned your bike before, then it is generally recommended that you take off all of the parts from your bike and clean them with hot soapy water. Then, lubricate all of them with light oil or lubricant. Lastly, reassemble your bike and replace your chain back on its chainset with a pin or a quick link.
If you have a bike with removable chain, you can easily clean it using household products like vinegar or degreaser. For a step-by-step guide, check out our removable chain cleaning section.
When The Chain Is Not Removable
- Purchase a bottle of degreaser:
- If you want to start this simple job with a bottle of degreaser, you can go to any grocery store or hardware store and find the very cheapest stuff they have. Don’t get anything with “chemicals” in it. Get dish soap, Dr. Bronners’ Castile soap, whatever you want – just make sure it is made of simple ingredients that are safe for humans to use on bikes.
- Soak the rag in the degreaser
- The next step is just following the directions on the bottle – soak the rag in the degreaser and wipe down all surfaces of your chain that are exposed to dirt.
- Drying and cleaning
- Let it dry completely before you clean off the excess with a cloth. Once it is dry, the remnants of the degreaser will be gone, and dirt will have been removed from your bike’s chain.
- Option for mineral spirits
If you want to clean more thoroughly with a solution that is as close as possible to what is used in a bike shop, you can do this by going out and getting a bottle of mineral spirits. Waste oil is commonly used as a degreaser in bike shops, but not many people have that kind of stuff around the house. Mineral spirits are also a good option for this – they will remove all residue left by the dish soap or other degreasers you might be using at your house.
Mineral spirits can be purchased at most hardware stores or in the paint section of most grocery stores. Make sure you get the kind of “mineral spirits” that comes in a spray can – not the stuff that is used in an aerosol can like hairspray (which is really more like rubbing alcohol and won’t work on chains).
Cleaning The Master Link
- Get an old towel and a rag.
- Put it against the center of the bike chain so that it’s facing up.
- Pour a little white vinegar onto one side of the towel so that it starts to soak up some of the greases from your bike chain.
- Use your fingers to clean all around the Master Link by moving them along one side of it as you pour white vinegar on that same area. Once you’ve cleaned off as much as possible, use your fingers to feel for any oily residue left behind and clean those areas with another section of the towel.
- Use the same way to clean the other side of the Master Link.
- Once you’ve cleaned both sides, take the rag and wipe the outside part of the Master Link with it. Then take an old toothbrush and start brushing it around. This will help remove unnecessary dirt that was picked up off your bike chain during cleaning, as well as any remaining white vinegar residue.
- Let the Master Link sit for at least an hour to allow the white vinegar to soak into the chain links. This will help remove rust and dirt.
- Rinse off your chain with water. You can use a soft brush on your bike chain for further scrubbing. Just make sure to handle it gently so as not to damage your bike chain. Then dry it off with a rag until it’s completely dry; make sure it’s completely dry before placing it back on your bike, or it will rattle when riding (which is something you don’t want).
Cleaning The Drivetrain
- Remove the bike chain from the bike. Don’t toss the pins and bushings! They are reusable. Put them back on later after you make sure all the gunk is gone.
- Then you can clean them up (with kerosene or some other motor oil solvent) or if they are still crusty, just toss them in the trash.
- Grab an old toothbrush, set aside a small bowl of soapy water, and get started by dipping your brush into it and swirling it around half full of water. Step on the pedal wrench while keeping the chain in one hand, and turn the link while scrubbing it with the other for 5 minutes to get rid of all the gunk. Take your time! This is very important that you get into each link of the chain. If you skip a link, it will build up into a crusty, hard-to-remove layer of gunk.
- Grab an old toothbrush or something similar and dip it into some dish soap/liquid dish soap and swirl around halfway full of the sudsy water on it before scrubbing each link of chain. Get into each link and wipe up all the excess moisture that drops onto it from the previous step. Incorporate all of the pores on the link by scrubbing off any excess moisture.
- Keep scrubbing every link for a minimum of 5 minutes to make sure it is completely dissolved. This is very important. If you skip a link, it will build up into a crusty, hard-to-remove layer of gunk.
- Use a bicycle chain cleaner tool to clean out the rest of the droppings from the soap at the previous steps
For a squeaky clean bike chain, it’s essential to clean the drivetrain regularly. Check out our Can You Ride A Mountain Bike On The Road? article to learn how to maintain your bike’s drivetrain through proper cleaning and lubrication techniques. It’s important to know this to ensure that your bike’s performance is always at its best.
Degrease Your Bike Chain
- Empty out the contents of the bottle into a basin or bowl that is large enough for cleaning your bike chain. Most of the ingredients that you will find in this article are commonly available at grocery stores. If you can’t find them, ask around for alternatives.
- Shake the contents of your chosen degreaser into the basin or bowl.
- Wet your cycle chain with cool water. Wetting is important because too much heat can damage the chain and make it tougher to clean later on! Put a little more than half of the contents in the basin (about half a bottle) and mix it together with your fingers or mixture stick. You want to create a liquid that is thin enough to be used as lubrication but thick enough for scrubbing purposes!
- The liquid will be called a degreaser mixture after this step.
- When the degreaser mixture is ready, wet your bike chain with it. Make sure that you cover the entire area that you want to clean! There will probably be a few drips leftover in the basin or bowl after degreasing your bicycle chain.
- Rub the degreaser mixture into your bike chain using a cloth. Rub in a circular motion until every part of the bicycle chain is covered with a degreaser mixture. Be careful when scrubbing because too much pressure can cause you to damage your bike’s delicate parts!
- Let everything settle for about five minutes. The metal surface will become shinier and cleaner.
- Rinse the degreaser mixture off your bike chain with cool water. Rub off any leftover degreaser mixture using a dry cloth. This will ensure that there is no residue left on your bike chain!
- That’s all there is to it! Your bicycle chain will be glistening and gleaming in no time at all! You can also use these steps to clean your bicycle, so you can get back on the road more quickly than ever before!
Lubricating The Bicycle Chain
- Get some dish soap and some hand sanitizer
- Fill up the dish soap container with some water
- Put about two drops of hand sanitizer in the dish soap mixture
- Pour some of the mixtures onto a rag or sponge
- Get your bike chain and wipe it on the rag, scrubbing it until it becomes completely clean.
Clean the chain after every run. Waiting too long make it harder to get off and will build up dirt quicker. Wipe it down until it is clean and shiny. This process takes about 10 minutes to do and can be performed at home or anywhere there is water nearby.
Another great tip: Don’t always use a good ol’ rag; use a toothbrush! This can be more effective than using a rag and will remove any tougher residues stuck to the back of your chain. This process does not take very much time or money but gives great results.
Household Products You Can Use
Cleaning an old, gunked-up bicycle chain is hard work that requires some serious elbow grease and special tools, but you can do it with these four simple household items: dish soap, old shirts, rags, and homemade degreasers.
If you’re in a pinch with a dirty bike chain and don’t have specialized bike chain cleaner, try using some household products like baking soda, vinegar, or even dish soap. These can all effectively remove grime and buildup from your chain. Learn more about cleaning your bike chain with household products for a quick and easy solution.
Dish soap is the simplest and most practical solution, as it’s inexpensive and readily available. Use dish soap as a scrubbing agent to loosen up dirt and grime, then follow with a rag soaked in degreaser; use the rag to remove excess residue from the chain. The degreaser will leave behind a scent of citrus, but it’s not toxic and won’t harm your bike’s finish. Dish soap is also effective for cleaning other greasy fixtures such as windows and outdoor grills. Allow dish soap to dry completely before using your bike or any other greasy equipment again.
For more thorough cleaning, brush the chain with stiff-bristled brushes made specifically for this purpose. This action should be repeated several times, scrubbing the dirt and grit from the chain by hand.
Clean your brushes by using your household cleaning products such as dish soap and white vinegar. For particularly stubborn dirt or mud, try using a soft-bristled brush along with your soap mixture to really get in there. Check out how to clean muddy shoes quickly for more tips on using brushes to get your shoes clean.
Old Shirts or Rags
Several layers of old t-shirts work well to remove dirt and grime from the chain, although they may leave behind some residue. Place a dry rag or old shirt on top of the chain to absorb excess moisture, then use a degreaser to further clean the chains. Although homemade degreasing products are easy to make, you’ll need several ingredients, including petroleum jelly, soft soap flakes, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), vinegar or lemon juice, or alcohol. Softsoap flakes are preferable for their ability to dissolve fat and grease without damaging the metal.
If you don’t have access to a homemade degreaser, try using oven cleaner. This one-step chemical solution works perfectly for removing dirt and grime from the chain, although its sweet scent may not be ideal for sensitive noses. To use oven cleaner, wash the chain in hot water with dish soap to remove any leftover grime, then scrub the chain with a stiff brush made for this purpose. Allow the chain to dry completely before using it again.
For an eco-friendly option, try out a homemade degreaser to clean your bike chain. Simply mix baking soda and vinegar to create a paste, which can be applied directly to the grease and grime on your chain. Then, use a stiff brush to scrub it clean. For more simple cleaning methods, check out this article on how to clean white mesh shoes.
There are many different types of lubricants that can be used for bicycle chains. Many of these lubricants are either automotive or industrial-based products, while others are designed specifically for bicycle chains. They can be found at bike shops or online. Petroleum-based lubricants are the most commonly used type of lubricant, including motor oil and WD40. These petroleum-based oils contain high viscosity liquids that get into the gear teeth and prevent the metal from grinding against each other. There are also special types of lubricants designed to work specifically on bicycle chains, such as chain wax and dry lubes. Chain wax is a thick substance made from petroleum-based oil with a wax additive for extra protection against moisture and rust.
Purpose of cleaning bike chain
The purpose of cleaning a bicycle chain is to remove any dirt and residue that can damage or slow down your drivetrain. Dirt can be transferred from the chain to the face of your cassette and derailleur pulleys, causing problems with shifting. Dirt can also damage the outside of your cassette, which will reduce its lifespan if not cleaned regularly. You can use a variety of cleaners on your chain to remove dirt and grime. They include oils, degreasers, soap-based solutions, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and more. Depending on the dirt types you’re dealing with, some may work better than others.
Can you use dish soap to degrease the bike chain?
Yes, but make sure you are using only dish soap- no detergent. Dish soap has a pH level of 7, which is alkaline. If your chain is corroded on one side more than the other, it could be because of an acidity imbalance on that side of the chainring. Detergents have alkalinity that can neutralize this acidity and makes the metal more susceptible to rusting on that side of the chainring.
Yes, you can use dish soap to degrease the bike chain. In fact, it is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to clean your bike chain. Just mix dish soap with hot water and soak the chain for a few minutes before scrubbing it with a brush. Check out these tips on how to get oil out of boots for more household product hacks.
How do you make homemade bike chains cleaner?
Most people use the pre-mixed dish soap called Dawn. 1/4 cup Dawn will do 2 1/2 gallons of water. You can do the same thing with just about any other dish soap if it has 1-4% phosphate. (the higher the phosphate, the more alkalinity, and corrosive it is)
What household product removes rust from a bike chain?
Most household cleaners will work to remove rust from a bike chain; however, they will not take out all of the rust or be as effective as a dedicated degreaser.
Can you clean a bike chain with vinegar?
Yes, but can you use vinegar only? Yes, you can! Vinegar is an excellent rust dissolver. It isn’t suitable for bicycle chains, though, because of its high PH level. It will dissolve the rust, but not the carbon deposition leftover on the chain, making it ineffective to clean your chain with.
What can I use instead of a bike degreaser?
Dawn is good if you don’t have a dedicated degreaser. You can also buy commercial chain cleaners such as O’Reilly’s Bike Degreaser, Topeak Bike Degreaser, and Motorex Bike Chain Cleaner at most bike shops.