Lubricating a Bicycle Chain Using Paraffin

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Introduction: Lubricating a Bicycle Chain Using Paraffin

If you are properly set up, you can use paraffin wax to lubricate your bike chain. The main advantages of the method I use (dipping the chain in hot wax) is that (once you're set up) it's fast, it's easy, and it produces a chain that neither picks up dirt nor produces greasy "tattoo" marks on you or your clothes. For this reason, I find it superior to oil. I lube my chains this way every 3 weeks or 300 miles.

This is a picture of me "dipping" my chain at my workbench.

Step 1: Set Up Your Chain for Removal Without Tools

The first thing you have to do is set up your bike chain so you can easily remove it from your bike. I use an SRAM "Power-Link", pictured. I don't know if there are other manufacturers who make this kind of thing, but I can say I've used these devices for years without trouble. Follow standard guidelines for chain length. Go to a mechanic if you're unsure. If you buy an SRAM chain, they usually come with one of these things included. (I am not affiliated with SRAM in any way, I just think they make decent products.)

Power-Links are very easy to use once you understand the techniques of linking and unlinking them. Here's a good website that explains the "secret" for doing this.

Step 2: Get Your Waxing Equipment and Supplies Together

Like for any Instructable, this is the hardest step. You will need:

1. One lb. canning wax (available at most grocery stores, late summer, in the "seasonal" aisle. Just ask.)
2. A short length of easily worked wire. I have a roll of ceiling-grid wire, available at almost any hardware or home-improvement store, good for a thousand uses.
3. A can to hold the wax. I show a plastic Gatorade container in these pictures. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. This was my "shakedown" of this equipment. The Gator container is just the right size, but it should be metal. (I'll edit this post later when I've found just the right size can.)
4. A pan (lined with paper towels) to receive the freshly waxed chain for cool-down.
5. The chain and links themselves. This assumes you have removed them from the bike following the link in the previous step.
6. A wax heater. You want a heater that is specifically designed for heating wax. These are thermostatically controlled so they do not exceed the flash-point of paraffin. They are widely available at beauty-supply stores, where they are stocked for depilatory purposes.

Step 3: Prep the Chain for Dipping

Turn on the wax heater. While it is heating up, you should wire your chain and links so they will dip in the wax easily. I use the short piece of wire and thread it through the end links in the chain, then I find the link one side of the center, and thread it again through that. Then I put the two halves of the Power-link on the wire and give it a couple of twists to hold it all together as shown.

Once the wax has become completely liquid, the chain is ready to dip...

Step 4: Dipping the Chain

This is pretty obvious. The wax and heater are hot, so be careful. Lower the chain into the wax container until it's fully submerged. Hook the wire over the edge of the wax container so it'll be easy to grab when you retrieve it. See the picture.

Leave the chain in the wax for 4 - 6 minutes. You shouldn't see any little bubbles coming to the surface of the wax. You want the chain to get nice and warm, and to expand to allow the paraffin to penetrate.

Step 5: Retrieve the Chain and Cool It

OK, pull the chain out of the wax and drop it in your pan lined with paper towels. See how clean and shiny the chain is? It's almost magical.

Let it cool for a couple of minutes or so.

Step 6: Remount the Chain

Now, remount the chain, being careful to thread it through your derailleur properly. You're ready to go.

A final note: The beauty of this method is, there's nothing else to do. The other parts of your bike (the chainwheels and cluster) don't need any lubrication and they stay really clean. As does the rest of your bike and you.

Lather, rinse, repeat every 300-400 miles or so.

If you like this Instructable about non-obvious bicycling lore, you might like my blog, Practical Cyclist. Give it a visit!

Happy riding!

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29 Comments

Can you use candles to do this?

If the candles are paraffin (petroleum-based), yes. If the candles are beeswax, no..

Does beeswax attract dirt too easily?

After doing this, can you re-use the wax for another chain (or the same chain, weeks later)?

http://moltenspeedwax.com has the best videos under instructions tab for cleaning the chain before the wax dip...swishing in Mineral Spirits... repeatedly changing spirits until chain is clean then remove spirits with denatured alcohol, then soak in wax for 10 min per side to get all the air out... Happy Cycling and Keep the shiney side up and the rubber side down

Very nice and detailed, I am heading to the store to get parafin now. Got two chains cleaned up, time to test this method. Thank you, great post!

I bought a mini crock-pot from Wal-Mart for $9 and a 1 lb. block of Gulf paraffin wax for $4. On the low heat setting, the crock pot stays below 200 deg.F and never burns the wax. It takes around 30 minutes to melt 1lb of wax, and that leaves enough room in the pot for items. Using an old toothbrush to clean the chain worked perfectly. The key to making this work is leaving the item in long enough to get it warm enough to let the wax flow freely when removed. If the wax hardens after removing the chain, it wasn't in long enough. After it dries, it will flake off very small white flecks of paraffin, but its generally cleaner than any oil, and its certainly quiet. I also tested cleaning the front & rear derailleurs and it did an excellent job on them.

March 2013 issue of VeloNews reports on tests by http://www.friction-facts.com/ of various bike chain lubes, paraffin won hands down. Thanks for the Instructable, I'm trying it on my rides.