How to clean a bicycle chain: 12 steps

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How to clean a bicycle chain: 12 steps
How to clean a bicycle chain: 12 steps

The chain of a bicycle is the main component that transfers the energy of pedaling to the wheels. A poorly maintained chain can impair the efficiency with which this energy is transferred, making a bike ride less fluid and more tiring! To ensure a smooth and enjoyable ride, you need to make sure that the bike chain is kept in good condition. With the right materials and knowledge, your chain can be clean in half an hour or less.


Part 1 of 3: Inspecting the Bicycle Chain

Clean a Bicycle Chain Step 1
Clean a Bicycle Chain Step 1

Step 1. Secure the bike

A kickstand will not be enough to keep the bike in place while you work with it. A push or bump can cause the bike to fall to the ground and cause damage. If possible, use a stand that supports the bike well, lean the bike against a wall, or place it upside down on the ground so that it rests on the seat and handlebars.

  • Orienting the wheels of the bicycle upwards is a great advantage. This will make the chain and transmission more accessible, raising them to a more comfortable level so you can work and inspect.
  • A bike stand is a simple stand that you can buy or build from spare parts. It usually consists of hooks attached to an elongated structure. You must hang the bicycle by the wheels, on the hooks, but be careful when doing so. Cheap easels may not be very sturdy.

Step 2. Evaluate the state of the chain

If you notice that your bicycle chain is extremely dirty and grimy, with a crust of dirt and environmental grime, it is probably time to clean it. People who cycle regularly will probably want to do a chain cleaning once a week, or at least once every 321 km (200 miles).

  • A quick visual inspection should be enough to know if you need to clean the chain. However, if you are not sure, feel the chain with your fingers. If you have the feeling that the chain has clumps of dirt or that its movement is limited by the chain, it is time to clean it.
  • Preventive maintenance can extend the life of the chain and keep the gear teeth in good condition. By cleaning the chain regularly, you will also be able to detect changes that occur in the chain over time, such as stretching or damaged links.
  • While you are checking the condition of the chain, you will have an excellent opportunity to find the master link. This link (like a Connex or SRAM Powerlink) allows you to easily remove the chain from the drivetrain. Most have a clip-to-slot configuration, where you can slide a small clip out of a slot to open the link and remove the chain.
  • If you don't have a master link, you can install one yourself or order it from a local bike shop. This is usually very cheap. Usually it will cost around $ 15 or less.
Clean a Bicycle Chain Step 3
Clean a Bicycle Chain Step 3

Step 3. Examine the transmission

It is important that you know how the chain works and how it fits into the transmission, especially if you are not experienced in bicycle maintenance. The transmission connects the engine (in this case you) to the wheels. The chain fits into the transmission, transferring the pedaling force to the wheels.

More complex or variable-gear bicycles can have complicated gearshift mechanisms on the wheels. You may want to take some photos of these parts with a cell phone, so that you have a reference when it comes time to put the chain back on

Part 2 of 3: Cleaning the bike chain

Clean a Bicycle Chain Step 4
Clean a Bicycle Chain Step 4

Step 1. Gather your supplies

Most of these are household items, but you may have to go to a local bike or hardware store to buy some, such as a quality chain lubricant. Having the materials on hand will make your job easier. In general, you will need:

  • a clean cloth
  • a quality lubricant for the bicycle chain
  • a quality degreaser or isopropyl alcohol
  • a wire hanger
  • gloves (optional)
  • a bottle

Step 2. Clean the chain with isopropyl alcohol using a cloth for quick cleaning

Pour enough rubbing alcohol on a cloth to get it wet. Then hold the cloth against the chain. As you do this, pedal the bike slowly to move the chain across the cloth.

In most cases, this is all you need to do to clean a chain. However, you can do a more thorough cleaning, if you wish


Step 3. Fill a bottle with degreaser, if you plan to soak the chain

To clean it thoroughly, first soak it in a degreaser and then wipe off any grime with a cloth. Fill a bottle with enough degreaser to completely submerge the chain.

  • With excessively dirty chains, you may want to double rinse with the degreaser. To do this more effectively, prepare another bottle of degreaser just like you did the first one.
  • The first degreaser rinse will be quick, breaking down the stubborn grime. The second bottle can be used to soak the chain for deep cleaning.
  • If you don't have a degreaser formulated for bicycle chains on hand, you can use an equivalent you find at home, although it may not be as abrasive or fast-acting. Some options are paint thinner, kerosene, and rubbing alcohol.

Step 4. Remove the chain from the bike

Since you have already seen the position of the master link while examining the chain, you should be able to find it easily. Slide the clip, which holds the link closed, out of the slot to open it. Once it's open, you should be able to easily release the chain by running it through the transmission.

To prevent damage to the shifting mechanisms and gear teeth, press firmly but gently to pull the chain out of the drive. Pulling the chain to release it can damage the bike


Step 5. Degrease the chain

Insert the chain into the bottle containing degreaser and replace the cap. Shake the bottle for several minutes to make sure the degreaser removes even the thickest, most stubborn layer of dirt. For best results, after shaking the chain, allow it to soak for up to 20 minutes.

  • Note that this will remove even the factory wax from the chain, so you'll need to lubricate it well after you're done.
  • Allow the chain to soak so the degreaser has time to penetrate the nooks and crannies between the links. Soaking also gives the degreaser time to break down thicker or stubborn grime.

Step 6. Remove the chain from the bottle and clean it

To avoid getting your hands and clothing dirty with abrasive degreaser, you can use a hanger to hook the chain and remove it from the degreaser bottle. Wipe off the degreaser and any excess grime with a dry cloth.

  • Slide the chain through the cloth and use your hand to apply pressure to make sure the chain is free of degreaser.
  • Make sure to re-lubricate the chain if you've soaked it for a long time.

Part 3 of 3: Reattach the bike chain


Step 1. Reattach the chain to the transmission

There are many different types of bike, so the specifics of how to reattach the chain will be unique to your bike. Use the photos you took of the wheel mechanisms with your phone to insert the chain into the transmission correctly.

If you find it difficult to put the chain back on even looking at the photos you took of the transmission, you can probably find a tutorial or manual for the bike online. Do a quick internet search, and use the tutorial or manual to put the string back


Step 2. Reconnect the master link

It will be easier to reconnect the master link if the ends of the chain meet midway between the wheels. To ensure this, you may want to position and thread the chain into the drivetrain, with one end extending to the upper or lower midpoint, between the wheels.

Slide the clip back into its slot to close the master link and reconnect the chain. Feel the master link with your fingers to make sure it is properly connected. If the link is twisted and sits unevenly in the groove, it could be deformed


Step 3. Lubricate the bicycle chain

A good quality lubricant will help your bike chain run smoothly, but it will also help protect it from the elements of nature. Hold the lube bottle above the top midpoint of the chain and squeeze out a fine, regular stream, rotating the pedals to move the chain. When you've made the chain one full turn, the chain is fully lubricated and ready to go.


Be careful what lubricant you choose for your chain. Some products, such as the WD-40 or the CRC, are not suitable for lubricating a bicycle chain and could shorten its useful life


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