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Bike chain cleaning: How to keep your bike running (…or cycling)

Bike chain cleaning: How to keep your bike running (…or cycling)

A bicycle’s chain is one of the most used parts of your bike, but it rarely gets the attention it deserves. Any time is a good time for a new resolution, and the more regularly you clean it, the faster you’ll get it done in future. We’ll show you how to go about cleaning your bike chain thoroughly and how to care for it properly!

When you pedal your bike, the chain transmits power to the drivetrain - which puts a lot of strain on it. In addition, dirt and dust often settle on the chain - especially if you ride on sand and gravel. Just like anything that puts a lot of hard work in, bike chains need some TLC. To keep your bike functional for longer, it is smart to clean it regularly. Here are our tips for bike chain cleaning:

Cleaning a bike chain: Clean first, oil later

Lubricating a bike chain is a good idea on occasion, and can help it ride smoothly, but doing so constantly is (unfortunately) not the solution. Dirty and oiled is still better than too dry - but every now and then you should clean the chain thoroughly. There are now products on the market that clean and grease the chain in a single step. However, if you haven’t cleaned your bike chain in a long time, you’ll have to put in some elbow grease before you can add the bike grease back into the chain!

Chain cleaning is a greasy business - so before you get started, you better take off your favourite shirt (although we do have an article on getting oil off clothes if the worst should happen). Here’s how to clean a bike chain at home:

  • Remove coarse dirt
    Lubricants, dust, and dirt form sticky deposits and solid lumps on the chain over time. You'll have to deal with these if you care about your chain. Usually, it is enough to remove the coarse dirt with an old toothbrush or a dry cloth. Then run the chain through a clean cloth until you can no longer see any black smudges.
  • The nitty gritty
    If you use a cleaning agent, you should only apply a little of it. If you are too generous with it, you may also loosen the grease between the chain links - to undo this, you would have to disassemble the chain later. So, use grease solvents sparingly and only if you can't get rid of the dirt any other way. A small drop of liquid detergent is usually enough. Dirt or light rust can often be removed by soaking in a little lubricant and then wiping off.

Post clean care: Oiling the chain

Whilst cleaning the bike chain, the chain will lose most of its protective, greasy film. Just like a squeaky door, bike chains need oiling. Therefore, it is important to carefully grease the chain after each cleaning. This is the only way to ensure that the chain is protected from dirt and weather and continues to run smoothly. You can choose between oil and wax. The difference lies primarily in the application. Chain oil spreads slowly and is therefore applied to the inside of the chain, while wax must be applied to the outside. Here’s how we do it:

  • Starting out
    Put your bike in a position where you can easily reverse the bike chain for cleaning and maintenance.
  • Slow and steady…
    Apply the oil or wax sparingly while running the chain through.
  • A round trip
    Rotate the chain a few more times without applying more grease. It is also recommended that you do a short test run, shifting through all gears once.
  • Home and dry
    After a few minutes, wipe off excess oil and run the chain through a dry cloth again.

Important Note: Be very careful when applying the lubricant and make sure that it does not accidentally get on the rims, brake discs, or pads - this could damage them.

Post clean care: Oiling the chain

For the best way to clean a bike chain, it is generally recommended to buy a special oil from a specialist shop. Multifunctional oils, motor oils, Vaseline or coconut oil are not a good idea, as they form a sticky film on the chain, which traps dirt too easily. It is also better to avoid aggressive cleaning agents such as petrol. If you want to do the environment a favour, buy an oil based on renewable raw materials instead of a mineral oil-based product.