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A clean chain is the heart of a smooth-running bike

Keeping your chain clean and lubricated makes for a better-running, more efficient bike, and prolongs the life of your sprockets and chainrings as well as the chain itself. Here's how.

Our guide below shows you what we believe is the best method to clean and lube your chain.  We've included a list of the tools and materials that you will need to complete the job and in some cases where you can buy them. If there are others that you prefer then feel free to let everybody know in the comments.

Tools & Materials

•Chain cleaning device such as Pedro's Chain Pig (see review) or Muc Off X3 Dirty Chain Machine (see review)
•Degreaser such as Morgan Blue Chain Cleaner or Green Oil Clean degreaser
•Chain lube in dripper style bottle such as Hunslet Cycles chain oil or Muc-Off C3
•Small flat bladed screwdriver
•Lint-free rag
•Hot soapy water
•Sponge
•Brush
•Old toothbrush

How to clean and lube your chain 01

1. Wash the bike, not just the chain. All you need is a soft brush and sponge and hot soapy water — the hotter the better for shifting greasy oily marks. Pay attention to the chain, working the brush into the derailleurs and rubbing the links to dislodge lumps of dirt and oily grime.

 

How to clean and lube your chain 10

2. Use a thin, flat-bladed screwdriver to carefully remove any dried on grime that has caked around the jockey wheels of the rear derailleur. Try not to let the bits fall into the chain. The aim is to remove not redistribute the dirt.

 

How to clean and lube your chain 02

3. A purpose-made chain cleaning device is the simplest way to get the rest of the grime out of your chain. You fill it with degreaser, clip it on to the chain and turn the pedals to pull the chain through the solvent bath and brushes. A chain cleaner won't always get the chain spotless, though, so read on for how to shift the rest of the crud and grime.

 

How to clean and lube your chain 04

4. Soak a lint free rag with degreaser and massage each individual link until spotless. To clean the inner link plates, use a toothbrush to agitate the stubborn bits until they fall out. You might need a spot more degreaser on the head of the brush to help soften it up. Another run through a new bit of rag and the chain should be spotless. Run your fingers over it, you shouldn’t have any oil on them.

How to clean and lube your chain 05

5. If your chain has a reusable master link, remove the chain and put it in a container such as a 500ml fizzy drink bottle that's half full of degreaser. Top it up and shake bottle to dissolve and dislodge the grime. If you're feeling adventurous put it in a dishwasher-proof plastic container and let the high temperature of the dishwasher rinse it spotless. Once you've washed it, hang it up to dry thoroughly.

 

How to clean and lube your chain 08

6. Once it's dry it’s time for the lube, which needs to be on the rollers of the chain and not the outside. Lube on the outside of the chain just attracts dirt, which in turn forms a gungy, oily paste.

 

How to clean and lube your chain 07

7. The trick is to apply the minimum amount of lube specifically to the inner link rollers only – anywhere else is a waste of lube. Don’t be tempted to use a spray. Even with a straw, it goes everywhere: all over the chain, the frame, brakes, floor. Instead, find a lube in a dropper bottle, one where a single drop is dispensed at a time.

Rotate the cranks backwards and allow a single drop to penetrate each of the rollers which separate the link plates. You’re looking to allow the lube to get inside the roller and form a protective barrier between the moving metal surfaces. You need a drop and not more. More will only lead to a chain that attracts more dirt, more quickly.

 

How to clean and lube your chain 09

9. When the lube has been applied, give it a minute or two to settle into the deepest recesses. Then slowly rotate the cranks for thirty seconds to help get the lube into the rollers. Continue to rotate the cranks and use a clean, dry, lint-free rag to clean away any excess lube. Pay attention to the outer plates which should be more or less free of any lube.

 

How to clean and lube your chain 06

10. Ride the bike for a few minutes, then wipe the chain down with your rag again to remove any lube that has dribbled out of the rollers. Wipe clean the sprockets and chain rings. You’re now carrying the least amount of lube necessary to do the job, in the cleanest and most efficient places in the chain.

66 comments

Avatar
Alibrown [17 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Put it in the dishwasher!!! Do I look like I have a death wish.

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vbvb [622 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I'm having some success with the simple Wipe technique (wipe, lube, wipe).

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BBB [501 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Chains can cost as low as £10-15 so in many cases it makes no economical sense whatsoever to spend time cleaning them (other than just an occasional wipe) especially on all year round commuting / training bikes...

Avatar
hawkinspeter [3591 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
BBB wrote:

Chains can cost as low as £10-15 so in many cases it makes no economical sense whatsoever to spend time cleaning them (other than just an occasional wipe) especially on all year round commuting / training bikes...

You're not counting in the extra wear on your chainrings and cassette by running a dirty chain. If you're only running cheap components then you might not mind, but if you've just spent lots of money on your gears then it saves money in the long run to prevent your chain grinding away on them. I suppose it also depends on how often you replace your chain as stretched chains cause hooking on your gears and affect your shifting.

Avatar
Geraldaut [63 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
Vegita8 wrote:

Madness, could not do this to my bike. The cost of cleaning products and time spent on cleaning cannot be justified. I guess the majority of us just clean their bike once in a fortnight with some cloths and degreaser..

 

same for me - the little time I have left from family and work is preferable used to ride and not to geek out on detailing my bike (or car)...

Avatar
Xena [27 posts] 3 weeks ago
0 likes

I use Yban self lube chains. I also use fibrelyte carbon  53t chainring . So I don’t use any lube . Very rarely I may just touch a bit of ceramic lube round the carbon chainring . My bike stays pretty much spotless ,if i get caught in the rain I just hold a baby wipe while spinning the chain until it’s clean and sometimes give my jockey wheels a quick wipe as well but that’s hardly ever.  I used to try all the fancy lubes etc ,all they do is pick up dirt .  By the way one of my jockey wheels is carbon the other is plastic made by AFC weighs 2grms ( can’t get them any more, shame ) .  My bike stays pretty much spotless and no shifting issues whatsoever.  Been running both my bikes with this set up for years without any problems.  The yban chain on my most used bike is still going good no stretch gaps etc all good . It’s been on my bike for nearly 3 years .  I don’t tend to shift as much as other riders i know but in my opinion keep things simple ,buy good quality products and they will do a good job . 

 

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