Apr 4, 2023 Claudia Krug
Apr 4, 2023 Claudia Krug

How to clean a bike chain

Cleaning a bike chain can be as simple or as tedious as one wants to make it. Let’s take a look at the most practical and time-efficient methods to do the job.

How to clean a bike chain How to clean a bike chain

Cleaning a bike chain can be as simple or as tedious as one wants to make it. Let’s take a look at the most practical and time-efficient methods to do the job.

Why Do Bike Chains Need Regular Cleaning?

Why should a bike chain be cleaned regularly? It boils down to two main reasons – performance and longevity.

A mountain bike or gravel bike that spends all its time on dirt tracks is going to gather a lot more grime on its chain than a road bike that is being ridden exclusively on bitumen. The type and quality of lubrication that is used will also play a factor.

Grit on a chain will cause friction, affecting ease of pedalling and gear shifting. In the long-term, the build-up of grit will wear away at the chain and damage it, meaning it will have to be repaired or replaced much sooner than if it had been regularly maintained.

What Kind of Cleaning Agent Should Be Used?

Again, this question creates a lot of disagreement in the cycling world and essentially comes down to personal preference.

A good quality degreaser or specialist chain cleaner will be the choice of many, while some will say that these solutions are too harsh, and strip too much lubrication from the interior workings of the chain links.

An alternative is simply to use a bucket of warm water mixed with a few drops of liquid detergent or soap, and this will generally be sufficient to clear surface grime from your chain.

Should the Chain Be Removed Prior to Cleaning?

For those who take their cycling and maintenance seriously, the preference can be to remove the chain before scrubbing it meticulously. Most chains are not designed to be easily removed though, and this method requires more effort and mechanical know-how than the average person can be bothered with.

This is particularly true with electric bikes and hybrid bikes, which include electronic components and casing around the drivetrain, and a chain that is not as accessible as on conventional bicycles.

For most, leaving the chain on is perfectly acceptable and you can still achieve a thorough clean.

 What is the Best Method for Cleaning a Bike Chain? What is the Best Method for Cleaning a Bike Chain?

What is the Best Method for Cleaning a Bike Chain?

Most common techniques are effective, and it is just a matter of deciding what works best for you and your setup. The following methods have been suggested because they are flexible, easy to apply and can be used for most bicycle types, including electric bikes and hybrid bikes.

How Does a Chain Scrubber Work?

Perhaps the easiest and least messy way for you to clean your chain while it’s still on your bike is to use a device called a chain scrubber. It’s a small tool that attaches to your chain and has a reservoir which you fill with your cleaning solution of choice.

When backpedalled, the chain passes through the rotating brushes in the scrubber, clearing it of grit and sludge and working the cleaning solution into the moving parts. Most of the grime ends up being collected in the scrubber’s chamber, and the dirty water can simply be poured out once the job is done.

For optimal results, the scrubber can then be filled with some clean soapy water and the process of backpedalling the chain through the device can be repeated. This second run should eliminate any gritty residue that was left behind, and the bike chain can then be wiped with a clean, dry cloth.

In addition to conventional bicycles, such as mountain bikes, road bikes and gravel bikes, chain scrubbers can be used on most electric bikes and hybrid bikes as well, making this a great option. It would be advisable to check with the manufacturer prior to using a scrubber on an e-bike to ensure that it is compatible.

Can the Chain Be Cleaned Using a Bucket of Soapy Water or Degreaser?

Yes, and it can be done with the chain either on or off the bike. Simply fill a bucket with warm water, add a cleaning agent of choice (whether it be a liquid kitchen detergent, degreaser or another bike cleaner), and use a stiff-bristled brush to scrub the chain.

Once that is done, a second go-over with a clean cloth and a fresh batch of soapy water should have the chain looking perfectly clean. As always, complete the task by drying the chain thoroughly and applying a high-quality lubricant to each chain link.

Will a Simple Wipe Suffice?

For bike owners who are not particularly concerned about keeping the chain immaculately clean, simply giving it a wipe with a clean cloth after a ride will suffice in most instances.

This method will still keep the chain in relatively good working order and prolong its life, provided that there isn’t a significant amount of grime involved, and a good-quality lube is being applied to the chain after each ride and wipe.

Some Useful Tips to Remember Some Useful Tips to Remember
Some Useful Tips to Remember
  • High-pressure water cleaners should never be used on bicycles, even when cleaning a filthy mountain bike or gravel bike. Such cleaners can cause grit and grime to become deeply embedded in moving parts.
  • Under no circumstances should a chain be soaked in degreaser. If left for too long, the cleaning solution can corrode the metal and cause cracks.
  • Use cleaning solutions or degreasers that are especially designed for bicycles, and avoid harsh chemical cleaners.
  • After being cleaned, chains should always be thoroughly dried then lubricated with a high-quality product. Apply a small drop of lube in the joint of each link rather than drenching the chain in oil, and wipe off any excess residue prior to riding.

While a little bit of dirt will not affect performance too much, it builds up over time. A clean bike chain will help keep your bike in good working order for as long as possible. Follow the above tips to keep your chain in top condition for easy gear changes and enjoyable rides.

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  • Claudia Krug
    About the author

    Claudia Krug

    Meet Claudia, our SEO copywriter who switched from horseback riding to the excitement of exploring the wilderness and mountains of Europe on her bike. The passionate bikepacker, history buff and craft beer enthusiast dreams of one day riding The Great Divide. Join Claudia on her after-work rides around Leipzig, Germany, as she continues to explore the world on two wheels.

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