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How to Clean a Bike Chain

how to clean a bike chain

Who has not experienced it yet? After a few weeks off, you finally get the bike out of the basement, step on the pedals and … the otherwise so comfortable feeling of smoothly rotating pedals does not want to occur. It rattles, cracks and creaks. The slightly rusty chain sounds pitiful and looks accordingly. A life for a dash of chain oil – that’s what the bike lovers think, who are already slightly annoyed by the sound from the drive. The strife would have been avoidable – if the rider concerned had only read this article in advance …

Why should I clean my chain before I oil it?

In fact, simply oiling the chain is not enough – especially not in the case outlined above. But even after you have gone on a tour, it makes sense to clean the chain first. Over time, dirt accumulates on it and if only oiled, it moves further and further into the limbs until it finally destroys it. The wear on the chain is much higher.

This also applies to mountain bikes: dust on the road or salt in winter are poison for the chain and should be removed as soon as possible before even a drop of oil touches the chain.

How do I clean a bike chain?

As for the rest of the bike, the same applies to cleaning the chain: as gently as possible! So please do not use a pressure washer. This can generally damage the moving parts on the wheel.

It’s best to take a bucket and a rag or sponge. You fill the bucket with water and chain cleaner. The latter reliably removes all dirt and especially the old grease. Make sure that the chain cleaner is biodegradable – we don’t want to pollute the environment more than we absolutely have to. An official washing station is suitable for this, since they have special collecting containers for water with oil residues.

After cleaning, you can rinse the chain again with clear water. Then you dry them well  – if left to dry for a long time, rust can build up again.

Do not use the following to clean your bike chain

High pressure cleaner

As the name suggests, the device works at high pressure. Not a good feature when it comes to cleaning the bike with its many moving and sensitive parts such as sealing rings and derailleur. With a high-pressure cleaner, the parts can quickly be damaged and greases can be sprayed out of the bearings. When used on the chain, old dirt can also get into the bearings.


Detergents are non-flammable and can be used by the little ones for bike washing, including the chain. In addition, it can easily be rinsed off without worrying about correct disposal. But all the advantages are already mentioned. If you look at the effectiveness, detergent cannot compete with special chain cleaners or benzine. The agent that ensures clean dishes in the household does not penetrate deep into the chain links and is therefore less suitable for professional or intensively used bikes. If you use the product anyway, the chain should be oiled immediately afterwards.

Brake cleaner

Can be used, but we do not recommend. Because: A brake cleaner degreases very strongly and is highly effective. Therefore, after treatment with brake cleaner, the chain is completely unlubricated both on the outside and inside and no longer has any rust protection. The chain must be immediately lubricated after cleaning.


If you have absolutely nothing else at hand, you can also clean a bicycle chain with petrol or diesel. Gasoline also has a strong degreasing effect. In both cases, however, there is a high risk of fire, which is why you should never smoke when handling diesel or petrol! If you have cleaned the chain with diesel or petrol, you should immediately lubricate the chain again.

Which oil is best for bike chains?

Before getting down to business, the question arises as to which oil should actually be used? Normal oil, with PTFE, wax, maybe a spray or the good old WD40?

To start with: You should never use WD40. The reason for this is that it is much more a liquid oil than conventional chain oil and the “thicker” lubrication of the chain displaces over time. The thin film of the WD40 is not enough to lubricate the chain sufficiently and, in the worst case, can lead to greater wear. If no special agent is stored at home, WD40 can be used for cleaning, because it degreases and protects the chain from rust.

Commercial chain oil from the bike shop is therefore the first choice. It is available in different variations, e.g. for wet weather with PTFE, which improves the water-repellent properties.

Chain wax occupies a special position. It dries on the chain and thus forms a kind of permanent protection for the original grease. I.e. you can also put it on a new chain. However, it must be borne in mind that wax can hardly be removed without chemical degreasers, since it has a very long-lasting effect.

For the cooks among you: Vegetable oil is not suitable for lubricating the chain.

How to oil a bike chain?

Let’s get to the heart of the matter: how do we apply the oil on a bike chain now? Maybe on the inside or rather on the outside? Upside down or pirouette turning?

It is not that complicated. The best thing to do is to apply oil to every link – if possible on the inside. This is possible with a spray as well as with a drop applicator. You can simply place the latter on the chain with the tip, press out oil with slight pressure and move the chain. Of course, it is also possible to use a spray that is easy to dose – but you should be particularly careful here that there is no grease on the brake, brake disc or brake flank. It’s best to hold a cloth behind it.

You can then use the same to wipe off excess oil from the chain. But wait 5 to 15 minutes so that everything can be distributed well. Optimally, the chain is located in the front and rear in the middle or lower sprocket.

How often do I need oil a bike chain?

There is no general answer to this question. Ultimately, it depends on how often the bike is used and how heavily the chain is exposed to dirt. It can happen after 100 km, sometimes it takes longer. For example, if we drive to work every day in wind and weather, the chain will be happy to receive regular maintenance. This can even be daily.

One thing is certain: As soon as the chain no longer runs and rattles noiselessly, you should urgently think about a new lubrication.

How much does good oil for the bike chain cost?

The good news at the end: the whole thing is not that expensive! A good base oil usually doesn’t cost more than $15 and you can work with it for a while before it ends. Even the special oils are often not much more expensive. And chain cleaner is also available for little money.

So there is no excuse for the next ride. If it squeaks annoyingly, go cleaning after the ride!