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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

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yingyang20 [16 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

This is a great method - Thanks for this post!

I will spending my winter evenings cleaning my chain to look sparkling new!

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yingyang20 [16 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

This is ALL wrong!

The bike industry needs our support. Cleaning chains is dirty and time consuming.

As soon as the chain starts to look dirty and black......simply change it.

Make sure you always buy at least five chains at once to ensure you have plenty on the go.

This supports the bike industry and will satisfy your natural human hoarding mentality. As for throwing them away, well the Earth's core is molten iron so metal back to metal, right!?

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Zermattjohn [344 posts] 3 years ago
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I can't stand that strange sticky lube that is on new chains - 1st ride it will just get a sticky layer of dust on. I put a little Morgan Blue chain cleaner on (with a paintbrush - a little goes a long way) to remove this, and then dry and lube with Finish Line before I fit a new chain. This is probably awful news and against many rules, but that's the way I roll. Same thing when it comes to cleaning it, 5 seconds added to the normal bike wash routine to paint-brush a bit of Morgan Blue on the chain before cleaning everything.

Chain cleaning devices are no good IMHO. After 1or 2 uses all you are doing is washing the chain using oily brushes. Hot water, washing up liquid, tight grip on the chain and whiz the pedals backwards to clean the whole chain.

I guess there are as many ways to clean a chain as there are cyclists, so its a never ending topic!

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BikeBud [262 posts] 3 years ago
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imaca wrote:

...Also some very thorough and detailed tests by a German bike mag (can't remember the name) a few years back seemed to suggest that degreaser is a very bad idea because it removes the original (apparently very good) lube and shortens the chain life.

Once put a chain in a bottle with degreaser and gave it a shake, then left it to soak. After lubing it and replacing it I got a rusty chain within a couple of weeks. Never done that again. I agree that it removed the original grease, which was doing a good job of protecting the chain.

Now I regularly (weekly) use a chain cleaner with diluted degreaser, and a rag to wipe it off quickly, then relube (dropper, not spray). This is enough to keep it in good working order. For a thorough clean I'll take it off and use a toothbrush, and also remove and clean the cassette, jockey wheels etc.

Geekery over. Sorry about that.

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Darren C [119 posts] 3 years ago
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These are very helpful in cleaning the cassette in particular, or the jockey wheels without removing them:

http://www.cyclingshorts.uk.com/2014/02/05/review-purple-harry-bike-floss/  16

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TheScotsman [37 posts] 3 years ago
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All you need is a cheap packet of baby wipes. They'll have your chain sparkling in no time, and as an added bonus they'll remove all the oil & gunk from your hands afterwards too.

Simple.

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joemmo [1163 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Thanks to this article I have developed a massive anxiety issue about chain hygiene and, as a result, have just converted all my bikes to run chainless. It's very much like having an adult sized balance bike and although there has been a more-than-marginal loss in efficiency at least I can sleep soundly at night.

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vonhelmet [1353 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
joemmo wrote:

Thanks to this article I have developed a massive anxiety issue about chain hygiene and, as a result, have just converted all my bikes to run chainless. It's very much like having an adult sized balance bike and although there has been a more-than-marginal loss in efficiency at least I can sleep soundly at night.

Have you removed your whole drivetrain? Think of the weight savings!

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Minty [34 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I like the way in stage 6 we are told to lube the inside of the chain, which is good, but it's next to a picture of someone lubing the outside of the chain.

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joemmo [1163 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
vonhelmet wrote:
joemmo wrote:

Thanks to this article I have developed a massive anxiety issue about chain hygiene and, as a result, have just converted all my bikes to run chainless. It's very much like having an adult sized balance bike and although there has been a more-than-marginal loss in efficiency at least I can sleep soundly at night.

Have you removed your whole drivetrain? Think of the weight savings!

good idea, its only a matter before the major manufacturers cotton on the 0x0 trend and produce a completely transmission free groupset.

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vonhelmet [1353 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
joemmo wrote:

good idea, its only a matter before the major manufacturers cotton on the 0x0 trend and produce a completely transmission free groupset.

The Emperor's new groupset?

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Darkhairedlord [57 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Dr Browns baby bottle vent brushes are your friends  26

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tatsky [42 posts] 3 years ago
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I like number 10. How much Rage do you use? And what methods do you use to achieve a suitable level of Rage?

Quote:

10. Ride the bike for a few minutes, then wipe the chain down with your rage...

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CXR94Di2 [2625 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
stefanitely wrote:

Ahhh yes ingenious to use the ultrasonic bath - something which everyone has lying around their house...  29

They should have one if they are a proper cyclist hairy chested man  4

They are very useful for cleaning items which have inaccessible parts aswell as delicate items. Small ones are very cheap

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surly_by_name [570 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
joemmo wrote:

... have just converted all my bikes to run chainless. It's very much like having an adult sized balance bike and although there has been a more-than-marginal loss in efficiency at least I can sleep soundly at night.

Aaron Gwin shows us all how to do chainless here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEfbkHrjvjo

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surly_by_name [570 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
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Darkhairedlord [57 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
CXR94Di2 wrote:
stefanitely wrote:

Ahhh yes ingenious to use the ultrasonic bath - something which everyone has lying around their house...  29

They should have one if they are a proper cyclist hairy chested man  4

They are very useful for cleaning items which have inaccessible parts aswell as delicate items. Small ones are very cheap

Pefect for cleaning jewellery, or at least that's how I sold the idea to er'indoors  3

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bikedoc2 [4 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Agree entirely. Dont use degreasers. A little and often is the best way with cleaning, using a dry old towel or similar. Once degreaser gets inside the chain it is virtually impossible to remove and will prevent lube getting inside .
Dismantle the pulley wheels and clean by hand , reassemble with a little lube on the bolt shank.
Clean derailleurs similarly with patience and relubing each of the eight pivots in the parallelograms.

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Big Ron [9 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Or just have your mechanic sort it after each ride...........  44

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ianrparsons [18 posts] 3 years ago
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Wow so much feeling. I commute and have a routine that keeps me happy. Wet weather, hose dirt off with cold water OR use WD40 or similar to clean the worst of the grit from the chain. Relube before heading home and basically repeat when home. Having ruined a chain, sprockets and rings in 3 weeks due to build up of grit I found this works. It isn't practical to wash my bike twice a day. But once a fortnight yes practical (100 to 150 miles approx.) Chains now last ages. Longer rides clean after after each ride. SImilar method. use white spirit on a paintbrush and/or a chain cleaner periodically. Then detergent. Keeps my chains etc in good order for ages.

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military_boots [8 posts] 3 years ago
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I have an ultrasonic cleaner too. It's bloomin' great. Pick them up on eBay for a reasonable price. Buy degreaser from here in bulk too rather than paying a fortune for dedicated 'chain cleaner' : http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/B004V3QIJY/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1442426797...

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Toshi San [10 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

those are all just the lazy, quick fix methods of cleaning a chain. here's how to do it properly: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/chainclean.html

I wanted to try this but couldn't find Phil Wood green grease in the UK and was worried about not doing it properly....... so I just stopped riding my bike! I now have a BMI of 32!

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Simon E [3748 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Ultrasonic cleaners and bulk degreaser?  13

Are you a pro mechanic? Seems a lot of effort for a £10 consumable item.

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Walo [47 posts] 3 years ago
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A clean and shiny chain is turning me on above every thing else installed on the bike! To get a chain clean and shiny requires a bit of an effort and most people seem to know how to achieve that. However, going through all the comments in this blog, I am surprised that nowbody knows the absolute burner how to keep the chain clean and smooth running for long intervals. It is not oil, not grease nor wax! The ultimate treatment is by applying little drops of Dry-fluid polymere lubricant. Following the application on a clean chain you simply clean the chain after the first ride with a rag and re-apply one drop each side of a link. After the third treatment that way you just have to clean the chain between rides without lubing for at least 400km. The chain will stay very clean compared to any other method and, very important, it runs fantastically smooth. But frankly speaking, it took me over two decades going through dozens of lubricants until I discovered that burner!

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BikeJon [211 posts] 3 years ago
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Hey Simon E - I'm going out on a limb and trusting you on this one. I've ordered two bottles. http://www.dry-fluids.com/dryfluid-gear-lube-1.html
My beautiful Ti bike looks in a sorry state with a dirty transmission and I've failed to find a decent lube to fend off the dirt (and I've tried them all...well apart from the above).

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Flustercluck [17 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
Minty wrote:

I like the way in stage 6 we are told to lube the inside of the chain, which is good, but it's next to a picture of someone lubing the outside of the chain.

I think it means inside, as in, between the outer plates, not the top/bottom of the chain (depending on its position). Inside means, on the rollers. Which is what is being done in pic 6.

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Walo [47 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

You won't regret, promise!

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CXR94Di2 [2625 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Dry lubricant is a good idea if your riding is in dry weather. Chains are made of steel and will rust if exposed to water and left even for a night. Function over form

Clean throughly which ever way turns you on
Degreaser/ultrasonic/wrags/licking clean

Lubricate
Grease/oils/wax

Chains are a disposable item, but life can be extended significant ly if cared for. I have five bikes to look after in my family and with chains costing from £14-£35 each I would like to extend the period before I need to replace them

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hawkinspeter [3741 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
Walo wrote:

A clean and shiny chain is turning me on above every thing else installed on the bike! To get a chain clean and shiny requires a bit of an effort and most people seem to know how to achieve that. However, going through all the comments in this blog, I am surprised that nowbody knows the absolute burner how to keep the chain clean and smooth running for long intervals. It is not oil, not grease nor wax! The ultimate treatment is by applying little drops of Dry-fluid polymere lubricant. Following the application on a clean chain you simply clean the chain after the first ride with a rag and re-apply one drop each side of a link. After the third treatment that way you just have to clean the chain between rides without lubing for at least 400km. The chain will stay very clean compared to any other method and, very important, it runs fantastically smooth. But frankly speaking, it took me over two decades going through dozens of lubricants until I discovered that burner!

Walo, I'm intrigued by your recommendation. I typically use the wax dry-lube and I think I must apply too much of it as I still get my chain/gears getting covered in oily black gunk. I looked up to see if there's any reviews of the DryFluid, but my o-level german isn't up to the task of reading the only reviews that I could find.

So, like BikeJon, I've ordered 2 bottles of http://www.dry-fluids.com/dryfluid-bike-2.html to see how it works. I hope you've got shares in the company as your post seems to be driving up their sales. If it's as good as you say it is, then I'm surprised that it's such a secret.

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Walo [47 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Peter, I wish I had shares in this company. I used to order one bottle at a time, just to make sure to be ready to change again to another product. After three seasons I ordered 4 bottles (should last me 2 years!). Just find out your own way of how to apply it best, but don't use too much (drops only).

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