How to Clean and Lube Your Bike Chain? 4 Tried-and-Tested Ways

Every part of the bike is essential to its function, but there are others that carry more weight. 

You can ride a bike without brakes or even a saddle, but without a chain, it’s nothing but a dud with wheels. No chains, no ride.

To ensure that your chain works efficiently and stays for long, you have to clean and lube it regularly, especially if you live in areas with muddy conditions. Fortunately for most bike owners, cleaning a bike chain isn’t a complicated procedure—you might even have fun while at it.

We’re going to look at the products you’ll need to lube your bike, clean a bike chain, the cleaning and lubing process, and the reasons why cleaning and lubing are both necessary.

4 Ways to Clean and Lube Your Bike Chain

Knowing how to clean and lube the chain is critical. Every bike owner has their own way, cleaning tools and products, and style of cleaning their drivetrains after a ride, and there are many types of chain cleaners—there’s no standard formula for this.

However, all the cleaning processes can be grouped into four main methods;

  • Easy Chain Cleaning
  • Moderate Chain Cleaning
  • Detailed Chain Cleaning
  • Obsessive Chain Cleaning

1. Easy Chain Cleaning

This is a superficial type of cleaning that can be done quickly when you are short on time after a ride. It can be conducted anywhere using the most basic chain cleaning tool as all you’d need is a clean rag and your preferred lubricant brand of chain lube or drip lubes.

  • Step 1: Start by wrapping the bicycle chain with a lint-free rag cleaner followed by the backpedaling of the whole drivetrain to get rid of the muck and gunk.
  • Step 2: Repeat that process until the rag cleaner stays clean at the end of the process.
  • Step 3: Apply store-bought chain lube as needed. If you see dirt still floating then wipe off the lubricant and clean some more.
  • Step 4: Keep repeating this until the outside of the chain is up to the standards you want.
  • Step 5: As much as a degreaser will get you better results, there’s a risk of it mixing with the lube and diluting it, which isn’t good for your chain.

2.  Moderate Chain Cleaning

This is a lot more detailed and thorough method to clean and lube the chain that uses more than one chain cleaning device. It can be described as a preventive type of cleaning as it’s used on a chain that has been cleaned not so long ago.

You’ll need a citrus degreaser, a bristled brush cleaner, a chain keeper, a garden hose and some soapy water, and a good pair of clean park tool gloves.

  • Step 1: Start by removing the rear wheel then install the chain keeper to give room for the cassette to be cleaned nicely while preventing the degreaser from getting into bearings and brake areas.
  • Step 2: Using a brush as the chain cleaning device, get rid of the accumulated gunk inside the rear derailleur and chainrings.
  • Step 3: Brush some degreaser into the bike chain and allow it to seep in well. Keep backpedaling the chain through the brush.
  • Step 4: Get some of the store-bought degreaser product into the chain sprockets using a larger brush.
  • Step 5: Once satisfied, rinse off everything with a steady stream of low-pressure water. Don’t squirt directly at the hub bearings.
  • Step 6: Dry every part slowly using a dry rag cleaner and allow the clean bike some time outside to dry naturally.
  • Step 7: Remove the chain keeper and re-attach the wheel back into place.
  • Step 8: Lube your chain moderately. Excess lube attracts dirt faster.

3. Detailed Chain Cleaning

Cleaning your chain with this procedure is good for people who have limited access to an outdoor cleaning space; it’s more thorough than the other two methods. This is the method you use when you want to install a clean drivetrain on your bike or when your bike chain is really gunked up to the point it’s affecting movement.

Mountain biking is one way a bike chain would accumulate this kind of dirt owing to how loose the terrain conditions usually are.

You’ll need a tool for removing the cassette, a store-bought degreaser product, a bristle brush, a container, gloves, and an air compressor if possible.

  • Step 1: Begin by detaching the rear wheel followed by the cassette and the master link.
  • Step 2: Remove the chainrings, the pedals, then the crank itself.
  • Step 3: Use a chain cleaner like a rag. If the old lube has solidified in the crevices, switch to the air compressor.
  • Step 4: After cleaning chains, deal with the cassette by immersing it in a container with any degreaser product of your choice to get rid of any solidified lube left.
  • Step 5: Another option would be to put everything into a plastic jar with a degreaser and shake it well.
  • Step 6: Once satisfied with the clean results, rinse everything.
  • Step 7: Dry everything separately with a clean lint cloth or rag. You can leave them out to air dry on their own.
  • Step 8: Lube your chain.
  • Step 9: Re-attach everything back into place.

4. Obsessive Chain Cleaning

This is where you dive into the deep end side of thorough cleaning your chain. It’s the type of cleaning reserved for the bike chains that are almost written off.

You’ll need a highly concentrated degreaser, the best chain cleaner product for dealing with solidified lube, a bottle of denatured alcohol, air compressors, a very efficient chain cleaning tool, an ultrasonic cleaning fluid, brushes, cleaning cloths,  and some soapy water.

  • Step 1: Start by getting rid of all the road grit, old lube, and oil. You’ll need poking tools like a screwdriver that can go into the small spaces.
  • Step 2: Drop the chain into a jar of store-bought degreaser and let it rest for about 30 minutes for lube and grease to be broken down.
  • Step 3: Drop the chain into another container with denatured alcohol, let it rest then shake it really well. Repeat that until you start seeing a clear fluid.
  • Step 4: With all lube clunk gone, rinse the clean chain with enough water.
  • Step 5: Hang the clean chain up to dry or use an air compressor for a quicker result.
  • Step 6: Lube your chain. However, avoid using excess lube on the now clean chain as it may stick to the side plates and link plates, attracting more dirt.

Why Clean and Lubricate Your Bike Chain?

Clean and lubricated bike chains are a necessary part of a well-kept bike. Cleaning and lubricating are parts of your maintenance routine that you have to do regularly for the following reasons;

  1. It’s the best way of extending your chain’s life, allowing you the pleasure of using it for much longer before it finally breaks down. Lube your clean bike as much as possible.
  2. By using the right chain cleaner, you shield the chains from the effects of solidified lube and rust which can otherwise lead to the bike chain snapping in the middle of a ride, injuring you badly.
  3. It reduces chain noise which can be a little irritating. Dirty chains produce a lot of noise due to the friction caused by the dirt and old lube grazing against the metallic parts of the whole drivetrain system.
  4. It saves you from having to waste money to replace your bike chain every year, which can be a very costly affair.

The Bottom Line

A bike is a machine that is subjected to wear and tear like any other, the more you use it the faster it approaches its demise. This is evident after an extended chain use.

However, you can make sure that the inevitable end is postponed through proper bike maintenance of the moving parts like the bike chain. Clean and lube the bike to maintain good performance.

Schedule your cleaning well as you’ve got to also avoid overdoing it. If time is an issue, you can take it to a professional chain cleaner to properly clean off solidified lube and other dirt.

The most important tip you can get from this guide article is to always lube your chain every chance you get. Stock up on your favorite lube at all times.