You’ve probably wished that your bike chain was similar to a self-cleaning oven. You pressed a button, walked away, and it was clean again the next time you needed it.
That doesn’t happen with a bike. When you want it to shift well, ride smoothly, and last a long time, you must clean a bike chain regularly.
The problem with cleaning chains is that there are tons of resources online, and each one says different things about bike chains. Some say you should only use household products because it’s safer. Others claim that commercial chain cleaning items are better. You might be told to remove the master link and chain or clean it with the chain intact.
What’s the truth? If you want your bike chain to be clean, then you’re in the right place. You can find out the methods available for cleaning your bike chain and decide what’s right for you.
Why You Should Have a Clean Bike Chain
The bike chain is coated with factory grease to ensure that it moves smoothly. However, that grease attracts debris and dirt. If you looked at the grime under a microscope, it could tell you where you’ve ridden in the last few months or weeks.
If you go to sandy areas, the dirt contains sand. However, if it was muddy, that’s shown, as well.
Regardless, that dirt causes friction, which works to slow down the bike. As you pedal the bike, the chain transfers energy to the wheels. If the chain is dirty, the bike becomes inefficient.
Dirt on the bike chain also reduces its life expectancy. The grit wreaks havoc on the components!
How Often to Consider Bike Chain Cleaning?
Chain cleaning isn’t a science, and there’s no set rule on how often to clean your bike chain. Some people say you should clean it after each ride, and others say it’s okay to do it once a month.
The answer depends on several factors. Usually, a visual inspection of the bike chain is all you need to determine when to clean it.
How Often Do You Ride?
The more you ride the bike, the more often you should clean the chain. It gets dirty as you go, so if you’re riding every day, it’s bound to get grit between the links.
Most bicycle experts do agree that you should clean the chain once a month at the very least. If you ride more often, clean it frequently.
Where Do You Ride?
Where you ride your bike makes a difference, too. If you do a lot of off-road cycling, the bike chain gets dirty faster than if you’re on a tarmac. It’s best to use common sense and clean it accordingly. You know where you tend to ride most and understand how those surfaces can damage the components of the bike.
Type of Lubricant Used
It’s easy to see that there are many lube types out there. You should go with a good quality lubricant because they offer protection for longer. That means you can clean your bike chain less frequently. However, a cheap lubricant bottle indicates more frequent cleanings.
What Does It All Mean?
If you’re a beginner cycler, all of these things probably don’t mean much. How do you know when your chain really needs to be cleaned?
The best way to do that is to estimate the distance you’ve cycled and use your eyes. Set your bike on the ground and stand behind and slightly to the side of it. Lift up the back tire to inspect your chain. Notice the color of the lube as you put it on. Has it changed color? This indicates that it has gathered debris and dirt and should be cleaned.
Likewise, the distance you cycle can determine when to clean the chain. Most manufacturers claim that it should be cleaned after 200 miles. Remember, the surfaces you ride on are also a factor here.
Tips for How to Clean a Bike Chain with Household Products
1. Household Products to Clean the Bicycle Chain – Yes or No?
Most people have different opinions on if you should use household products at all to clean the bike chain. Some experts say that household products are ideal because there are no harsh chemicals to damage the chain. They’re also better for the planet.
While this is true, it’s only to a certain extent. Household items are safer for the environment and the bike, but commercial preparations are also tested for safety.
If you choose household items to clean the bike chain, here are the tools you need:
- Clean rag
- Maintenance gloves (for the bike)
- Bike degreaser
- Chain lubricant
- Tarp (to protect your floors)
- Bike stand to make it easier to get to the master link of the chain
2. How to Clean a Bike Chain with Household Products – The Steps
Here are the steps to take to clean your bike chain:
- Remove the chain from your bike. This could be challenging if you’ve never done it before. Consider taking pictures of your chain before you take it off and as you do it. That way, you can ensure that each chain link is in the right place. To do this, you should slide the top middle pin holding the link to open the master link. Feed the chain through your drive train. That pulls the chain fee. Collect the nuts, bolts, and smaller pieces and keep them where you can find them easily. This is where a bike stand can be helpful. It’s best to put on protective gear now.
- Add some bike degreaser into a plastic container. Ensure that there’s enough to soak the chain thoroughly. Drop the chain into the degreasing bath, cover your container, and shake it well. That way, the solution gets into every link.
- Leave your chain to soak for at least 20 minutes. You might have to soak it longer to remove all of the dirt and grease.
- Some degreaser products come in a spray bottle. That way, you can directly spray it onto the bike chain and let it sit.
- Once the degreaser does its job, you can clean your chain. Use kerosene or turpentine. This is important, so continue scrubbing until the chain becomes completely clean. You could use dish soap for this, but it’s a last resort. Ultimately, dish soap doesn’t remove the degreaser as well as the other products.
- Let the chain dry in the air for about an hour. That lets the turpentine and kerosene evaporate. If you can’t wait or don’t want to risk oxidation, dry with compressed air. You want a dry chain, but you don’t need rust.
- Put on the bike chain carefully. Ensure there are no buckles or warps starting at the master link.
- Applying lube is the next step. The right lubricant is important. Ensure that you put the lube on all chain parts while rotating the pedals to cover the drivetrain components.
- Test your chain by doing a few complete revolutions with the pedals. Do a visual inspection, and you know you’ve completed the job properly.
While this can seem like a lot of work, it’s important. However, there are easier ways to clean the chain of your bike. Purchasing an ultrasonic cleaner could be a great choice.
Ultrasonic cleaners use agitation to remove a lot of the grit and dirt from the chain links. In a sense, it’s like using the container of degreaser.
3. Cleaning the Chain without Removing It
If you don’t want to remove the chain to clean it, you require a bike chain cleaning device. There are some great chain cleaning devices, such as Park Tool Chain Scrubber, JBM Bike Chain Cleaner, Muc Off Bicycle Chain Cleaning Kit, and others. Make sure you research your options to get the right chain cleaning device for your needs.
With these devices, you get rotating brushes to spread the degreaser along the entire bike chain. You must slowly pedal one rotation to get it all over the bicycle chain.
Some experts say you should use a chain keeper (Dummy Hub). This is a small device to keep the degreaser from the disc rotor (if the bike has disc brakes), rear hub bearings, and freehub. If you don’t have chain keepers, you can use tape and a plastic bag to protect those parts.
Along with that, you can easily access the derailleur pulley wheels. This is where much of the grease stays. Plus, you don’t have to remove the master link at all with this method. If you’re worried about taking off the master link, these devices are great.
The cleaning devices feature specific instructions, so you must read them thoroughly. After using the stiff-bristled brush, you should rinse off the degreaser with warm soapy water. It might take two or three times. Once you’re done with all that, wipe the chain using a lint-free cloth.
Ultimately, this is a great choice if you don’t want to worry about the chain being properly fastened afterward.
Bike Chain Lubricants
Knowing how to clean the chain is crucial, but now you must think about bicycle chain lube. You want to properly lubricate it to ensure efficiency and protect the parts.
Most companies now offer drip lubes because they’re easy to apply and make quick work of the task. When using a drip lube, you want to keep a thin steady stream of it to ensure that it evenly covers everything. They are often quite similar to factory lube options that came with the bike.
However, molten speed wax lubes can boost efficiency, too. They’re hard to apply and might not be accessible in your area.
Quick Ways to Clean the Bike Chain with Household Products
Even if you don’t want to take off the chain and use the chain cleaner device instead, the process seems long. You’re tired after your ride and don’t want to take hours to clean a bike chain.
There’s a lazy way to do it. You can use chain lube with a clean cloth. Make sure it’s lint-free so that there’s nothing on the chain. This is a quick and simple process, and you can do it anywhere.
Apply some of the chain lube to your rag and run over the chain. Repeat the process with a clean cloth until it comes away clean.
Though they can be used after a ride or two, they’re not a permanent solution because they don’t protect the drive train. Using them continuously could damage the chain.
Is It Possible to Lube Dirty Bike Chains?
You’re getting ready to ride, see the dirty chain, and don’t have time to clean it. You can just lube it up, and you should. It’s better to lube up a dirty chain than to ride it without any. This is sure to reduce damage from friction and ensure a smooth ride.
However, when you do have more time, set aside some of that to properly clean your chain.
Do You Need to Clean the Bike Chain if You Rarely Ride?
Your bike’s chain is similar to a vehicle. Even when you don’t use a car that much, you still need to check the brakes and other components, change the oil, and use appropriate fuel.
Ultimately, each time you go for a ride, you should perform a visual inspection of the chain. Then, use a brush and wipe the chain periodically. Just make sure you lubricate it well. Though chain replacement is cheap, it’s not ideal.
You could also hire a bicycle repair shop to clean the bike chain and inspect the parts. That way, you get the work done without taking so much time out of your day.
However, be aware that these places charge you each time. If you’ve got the money and no time, this could be beneficial for you. Do it once a month if you ride a few times.
Also, remember to lubricate the bicycle more frequently in winter. The cold, dry air can use up all the lube each time. This could cause the chain to jerk or do serious damage.
It’s important to keep the chain clean on your bike. That means it’s easier to shift, and there’s more efficiency for a smoother ride.
Bicycle chains can be cleaned with household products you probably already have. However, you should ensure that you have a decent lubricant and degreaser. This also means understanding how to remove the chain and put it back.
While it’s best to remove the chain, you don’t always have to, and some manufacturers don’t recommend it. Still, you can achieve a clean chain with various devices. Remember that a thorough cleaning is crucial. Now that you’ve learned what you need and how to do it, consider cleaning your chain now!