How to Clean a Bike Chain?

Regularly maintaining your bike’s components can go a long way in ensuring the longevity of your bicycle and positively affecting its performance and the overall ride quality.

One of the crucial parts of your bike’s componentry is the drivetrain, which transfers your pedaling effort and energy to the wheels. Arguably, this is also the dirtiest part of your bicycle and one that demands frequent cleaning, thanks to the road grit accumulated over time from rides on dry, wet, and muddy terrains.

How to Clean a Bike Chain

The chain is a key component of your bike’s drivetrain system, and keeping it clean and in a good condition can prolong the life of the drivetrain and enhance your bike’s shifting performance. Moreover, periodic cleaning of the bike chain can help prevent rust, delay chain wear, and boost pedaling efficiency.

How Often Should You Clean and Lube Your Bike Chain?

This depends on how often you ride and in what conditions. If you cycle regularly or routinely ride in wet conditions or on dirty roads, you should clean and lube your bicycle chain every week or at least fortnightly. And even if you don’t ride that often, performing a monthly chain cleaning is highly recommended.

using lube on the bike chain

A noisy drivetrain, squeaky rides, impaired shifting performance, rough pedaling, etc., are invaluable cues and tell-tale indicators of a grimy chain/drivetrain.

A proactive visual inspection of your chain can also alert you to any build-up of dirt along its length and the internals of the links. You can even use your fingers to feel the chain for dirt crusts. If the chain feels caked in mud, you know a cleaning session is due.

Is It Necessary to Use a Bike Stand?

Although not mandatory, a bike stand is recommended for the job as it ensures the bicycle is off the ground and makes it more convenient to inspect and clean the parts. Moreover, a bike stand is designed to firmly hold the cycle in place. So, you don’t have to worry about accidentally knocking the bike to the ground while working on it.

Easy Cleaning or Deep Cleaning?

This will vary, depending on the state of your cycle chain and the thoroughness and regularity of your preventive maintenance routine. If you undertake periodic cleaning, a full clean may not be required frequently.

cleaning bike chain with sponge


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    Also, a quick chain clean after every ride can minimize the need for effort-intensive cleaning, particularly helpful when you are short on space and time. That said, it is advisable to opt for the occasional deep cleaning, every few months, to get the best results.

    How to Clean a Bike Chain With Household Products?

    Likely, a majority of the supplies needed to accomplish the job at home will be lying around the house already. Anything else can be easily purchased from your local bike shop, hardware store, or a shop selling bike cleaning accessories/maintenance products.

    Easy cleaning:

    • A clean, lint-free rag
    • A firm brush
    • A bike chain lubricant
    • A quality degreaser
    • A chain cleaning device (optional)
    • Warm soapy water
    • A couple of old newspapers, drop-cloth or tarp (to prevent mess when cleaning indoors)

    Steps to Spot-Clean the Chain

    There are several ways to remove exterior muck from the chain while it’s still on the bike. Some of these on-bike methods are ideal for cleaning the chain just about anywhere. The following are three ways to achieve easy to moderate chain cleaning.

    bike chain covered in mud

    Wipe away the dirt:

    1. Wrap your bicycle’s chain with a clean, dry lint-free cloth and slowly backpedal to wipe down the chain – one section at a time
    2. Repeat as necessary until the chain is visibly clean
    3. Once clean, apply lube to re-lubricate the chain

    Scrub the chain clean:

    1. Use a chain brush, paintbrush, or an old toothbrush to brush out the chain links and loosen collected grease and dirt from areas that a rag can’t reach
    2. Lube the chain with a dry or wet lubricant, depending on the conditions you ride in
    3. Use a clean, dry lint-free rag to wipe off any excess lubricant

    Degrease the bike chain:

    1. Take a chain cleaning tool with rotating brushes and fill its reservoir with a bike-specific degreaser
    2. Wrap the designated cleaner tool around the chain and pedal backward to allow the degreaser to work through the chain
    3. As the chain passes through the brushes, the brushes will scrape accumulated crud off the chain’s nooks and crannies
    4. If you don’t have a chain cleaning device at hand, you can use an old toothbrush to degrease the bike chain
    5. Apply some degreaser to the toothbrush and backpedal while you hold it to the chain at various angles to remove gunk completely; a larger brush may be needed for cleaning the cogs
    6. Rinse off any leftover grit with warm soapy water
    7. Dry the chain with a clean rag
    8. Apply lube onto the chain’s rollers and wipe off any excess

    Deep cleaning:

    • A bike-specific degreaser
    • A bidon to hold the degreaser
    • A good-quality bike chain lubricant
    • A dedicated parts washer (degreasing bath)
    • A designated chain cleaner tool (optional)
    • A stiff-bristled brush
    • A clean lint-free cloth
    • Gloves
    • Warm soapy water
    • A couple of old newspapers, drop-cloth or tarp (to prevent mess when cleaning indoors)
    • An old coat hanger

    Steps to Deep Clean the Chain

    The detailed cleaning of a bike’s chain is not limited to the chain alone but also encompasses other parts of the drivetrain, such as the cassette and crank chainrings.

    cleaning bike chain

    This process is best performed outdoors to avoid spoiling the carpet or messing up the floors. If you do need to do this indoors, use old newspapers, a drop-cloth, or a tarpaulin sheet to soak up/collect the mess.

    1. Determine whether your chain has a reusable master link or quick link. If so, unclick it and pull the chain free. If not, use a chain removal tool to remove the chain
    2. Take off the rear wheel, cassette, and the chainrings
    3. Use a rag to clean the derailleur pulleys
    4. Use a thin cog brush in conjunction with a degreaser bath to thoroughly clean the chain, cassette, and the chainrings
    5. You can even clean the dirty chain by putting it in a bottle of degreaser
    6.  Shake the bottle vigorously and leave for about 20 minutes
    7. Use an old coat hanger to take the chain out of the bottle after the time has elapsed
    8. Place the clean chain in a bottle of warm water, give a quick shake and remove
    9. Dry the wet chain with a clean piece of cloth
    10. Wipe off the other components as well and reinstall
    11. Re-lube the chain with a lubricant of your choice

    Alternative to Using a Degreasing Bath

    An ultrasonic cleaner offers you a simple, efficient, and hands-free approach to the removal of stubborn dirt and road grit from the internals of the links, including the chain’s rollers.

    Follow the process that best suits your needs and the state of your chain and you are ready to hit the road with a well-maintained and sparkling clean chain.

    About the author
    How to Clean a Bike Chain? A Begginers Guide — Bike Hacks