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
•Hot soapy water
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.