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How to properly clean your bike chain

Learn how to clean your bike chain properly and why cleaning your bike chain will ensure top performance of your bicycle.

Your bicycle’s chain and drivetrain tend to be the parts of your bike that get the dirtiest. Keeping these two parts clean will ensure longevity and performance of your bike.

Frequency of cleanings

It is recommended you spot clean your chain on a regular basis. Every few months you’ll want to completely remove your chain for a deep cleaning. If you ride your bike every day, a deep cleaning of your chain and drivetrain may be needed once per month.

Recommendation on how to spot clean your chain and drivetrain

Your chain remains on your bike for a spot cleaning.

  1. Soak a rag in solvent. If you have a master link, start cleaning that first in order to keep track of where you are in the process of cleaning. Pedal your bike backwards and wipe all the dirt with the rag. Keep pedaling it backward and cleaning a section at a time until you have reached the spot where you started.
  2. To get to the hard-to-reach spots, use a firm toothbrush dipped in solvent. Use the same technique of pedaling backward to clean all the links. Always use a cleaner designed for bike chains and drivetrains.
  3. It is recommended to clean the other parts of your driveline (chain rings in the front, sprockets in the back, and pulleys on your rear derailleur) first before applying oil to your chain and shifting through all of the gears.  If this is not done, any dirt on the driveline components could transfer onto the chain, causing it to require cleaning/oiling all over again.
  4. To lessen the accumulation of dirt, lubricate the links with a chain lubricant. You can usually tell if your chain needs lubricant if you are hearing squeaks while riding. Use one drop of lube on each link. Oil does a good job of spreading itself. This helps to decrease the wear of the chain. Shift through all of the gears to spread the lubricant evenly through the drivetrain. Use a lubricant that is specifically made for bikes as these contain Teflon, which helps to repel dirt and water.
  5. Wait a couple of hours for the lubricant to penetrate the chain then use a clean, dry rag to wipe off excess lubricant. Too much lubricant on the outside of the chain can attract new dirt. If you are concerned you will wipe too much off, don’t be. Lube inside the roller is the only lube that really matters, which you won’t be able to get to with a rag.

Recommendation on how to deep clean your chain

For a deep cleaning, you will want to completely remove your chain. You can do this by using a chain removal tool.

  1. Once the chain is removed from the bike, use a toothbrush to brush out the links and remove dirt.
  2. Fill a bucket with chain solvent (just enough to cover the chain) and soak your chain for as long as it takes to loosen the caked on grime.
  3. Take a clean rag to dry the entire chain.
  4. After all the solvent is off, lubricate the chain and reinstall it.

Properly cleaning your bicycle driveline components and chain will help reduce wear and make for a much smoother ride for you.

*The cleaning methods above are recommendations. Please consult your bicycle’s manual or your local bicycle shop on the proper way to clean your bicycle’s chain and drivetrain.