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How to Clean & Lube a Bike Chain

Cleaning and lubing a bike chain is sort of like changing the oil on a car — everyone talks about how important it is, but few actually know whyhow, or how often to do it...

In this guide, we'll walk you through the simple yet oh-so-important process of cleaning and lubing a bike chain. Trust us, a little TLC for your chain goes a long way in keeping your rides smooth, quiet, and safe.

How Often Should You Lube Your Bike Chain?

Wondering how frequently you should lube your bike chain? Well, as with most bike-related maintenance tasks, the answer is it depends. But remember, there's no harm in lubing more frequently if you feel like your chain needs it.

As a general rule of thumb though:
  • Mountain Bikes - Lube 1x per every 2-3 hours of riding.
  • Road Bikes - Lube 1x per every 100-200 miles of riding.
Riding Conditions:
If you're frequently riding dusty mountain bike trails or splashing through muddy puddles, your chain is going to need more frequent lubing than if you're sticking to smooth, dry roads.

Frequency of Riding:
The more you ride, the more wear and tear your bike's chain undergoes. If you're a daily commuter or a consistent weekend warrior logging high mileage rides, you'll want to relube your chain more often to keep things running smooth.

Type of Lube:
Different lubes have different staying power. Some are made for wet conditions and cling to your chain like glue, while others are lighter and wash away more easily. Check the instructions on your lube bottle for guidance on how often to reapply.

Listen to Your Chain:
Your bike chain is a chatty little thing, and it'll tell you when it's feeling parched. If you notice any squeaks, creaks, or grinding noises while you're pedaling, it's probably time to break out the lube.

What You Need to Clean & Lube a Bike Chain

First up, let's round up what you'll need to clean and lube your bike chain — don't worry, you don't need to have a fancy workshop or special tools:

How to Lube Your Bike Chain

Follow these 6 easy steps to lube your bike chain and keep it in tip-top shape:

Step 1: Prep Your Bike
Secure your bike in the bike stand, or lean it in in a secure fashion. If you don’t have a bike stand, you can turn your bike upside down on the saddle and handlebars.

Step 2: Clean the Chain
Holding a rag on the chain, move the pedals backward to wipe off the chain off. Keep your hand with the rag stationary as you use the pedals to move the chain through the rag, cleaning off dirt and debris.

Step 3: Apply Chain Lube
Drip chain lube onto the chain as you continue to spin the pedals backward. We recomend drip-on lube over spray-on lube since it ensures you dont overspray and get lubricant on other parts of the bike.
Pro TipStart at the master link so you know you are getting full coverage on each link. If lube is dripping off the chain, you are applying too much.

Step 4: Let It Soak In
After you've lubed up the chain, wait for a minute or two. This allows the lube time to seep into all the little nooks and crannies of your chain and in between the links.

Step 5: Wipe Off Any Excess
Use a clean portion of the rag to grasp the chain and cycle the pedals several times to remove any excess chain lube. Excess lube will attract dirt and grime, so be thorough here.

Step 6: Test Ride
Boom! You've successfully lubed your bike chain. As with all bike maintenance and tune up tasks, it's wise to take your bike out for a quick pedal around the block to ensure things are running smooth and stealthy quiet again.

Waxing Your Bike Chain 

While it's not a universally required practice, waxing a bike chain can provide a cleaner and quieter drivetrain compared to traditional lubricants. It adds a protective layer on the chain, repelling dirt and grime more effectively, resulting in a cleaner overall setup. Some cyclists find that a waxed chain attracts less dirt and stays cleaner longer, which can prolong the intervals between deep cleanings, but the consensus is that it doesn't make a world of difference. It is worth noting that waxing a chain requires more effort and time compared to applying traditional lubricants. You'll need to thoroughly clean and degrease the chain before applying the wax. Plus, maintaining a waxed chain might require more frequent reapplication depending on your riding conditions and frequency. If you're looking for a cleaner, quieter and potentially more efficient drivetrain, waxing could be a good option, but traditional lubricants might suffice for regular riding without frequent maintenance.

Cleaning & Degreasing Your Bike Chain

It's not necessary to fully clean and degrease a bike chain everytime you reapply lube. Most times a quick wipe down with a rag will suffice. But over time bike chains accumulate dust, grease, and grime that can lead to noise and potential damage to components like the cassette or derailleur if left unchecked. Cleaning and degreasing your chain with some regularity ensures smooth operation.

Important: Always reapply lube after cleaning, as most cleaning/degreasing methods strip the chain of lubrication, necessitating reapplication before riding.

Cleaning Your Bike Chain By Hand

Similar to lubricating your chain, you can apply a mild degreaser and run your chain through a rag by backpedaling, or scrub it with a stiff plastic-bristle brush. No chain removal necessary. This method is sufficient if your chain is not very dirty, but there are more thorough methods if it’s been a while since your last maintenance sesh. After you wipe down the chain, rinse it off and re-lubricate it.

Cleaning Your Bike Chain with a Chain Scrubber

There are several different styles of bike chain cleaning tools — like the Park Tool Chain Scrubber or Muc-Off Chain Machine — that are extremely thorough and do a great job of removing grime without taking your chain off of your bike. These tools clamp around your bike chain then use brushes, gears, and rubberized fins, alongside the degreaser, to remove dirt and grease. After you clean the chain, rinse it off and lubricate it.


Removing & Soaking Your Bike Chain

If your chain is super greasy and dirty, you may need to take it off of your bike and soak it in your degreaser to get it all the way clean. Some folks have aquired an inexpensive ultrasonic machine that really helps clean every nook and cranny of your chain with ultrasonic agitation. You can also place your chain into a container with cleaner and shake, shake, shake until you have a clean chain. Check out our guide to replacing a bike chain for more information on chain removal and installation. 
Need a New Chain?
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