Introduction: Cleaning a Bicycle Chain With "Eternal" Kerosene. (Includes the Kerosene Recycling Stand)

About: Be limited only by your imagination.

Cautions - I use kerosene to clean my chain. Kerosene is flammable but not as flammable as gasoline. Don't use gasoline. Ever. Period. I wear skin protection (gloves) and I wear eye protection (goggles). Because this uses volatile organic compounds (VOC) do this OUTSIDE or at least with really good ventilation and consider using a respirator that filters VOC's if you even think that the ventilation is inadequate.

Cleaning your chain makes your bike work better, look better and it prolongs the life of the chain and gears. All that grit acts like sandpaper wearing your expensive components down. I used to use a disposable citrus cleaner and an expensive Teflon chain lube. One day when I was lubing my chainsaw I thought that if it works on my chainsaw which is spinning at hundreds of RPM it can work for my bicycle. Then I thought of how I clean my chainsaw with a rag soaked in kerosene and voila, I arrived at my present chain cleaning method. I love this method. It's cheap. It's quick. It has worked for months at this point. Over time I created the kerosene recycling stand which you will see in STEP 2. Although optional, it's really been helpful. Chainsaw bar and chain oil has additives that help it stick to the chain and that has kept my chain lubricated thru wet rides and long rides. The bike changes gears better and I just feel better having taken care of my ride.

The one downside is that your bike will smell like a chainsaw. It's not overpowering but it is what it is. I personally like that smell.

I learned early in the process that the kerosene is essentially immortal. I was going to recycle the kerosene but saw after a day that the dirt had settled to the bottom of the bottle so I experimented with pouring it to another bottle and reusing it and after 3 months I'm still using the same 12-ounce bottle of kerosene. I think I lose about 1/2 once per cleaning with the rest recycled.

I do this after every 10 rides or sooner if needed. The first time I did it I probably took an hour to finish but now the whole process takes me less than 25 minutes.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

  • Materials that will be used once
    • 4X4 inch rag to wipe chain down
    • 4X4 inch rag to apply bar and chain oil
    • 8X8 inch rag for cleanup
    • Disposable gloves
    • Chainsaw Oil (Bar and Chain Oil) Bar and Chain Oil
    • Newspaper to catch and contain drips
  • Materials and Tools that will be used repeatedly
    • Kerosene (get this in your local paint store)
    • Tarp made from a large garbage bag
    • Bicycle chain cleaning tool (Like this: Chain Cleaner
    • Toothbrush
    • 3- to 4-inch plastic funnel
    • Bottle to store kerosene
    • Bottle to store dirty kerosene
  • Optional Materials/Tools
    • Bicycle Stand (Here is the one I use: Park Tool Stand
    • Kerosene Recycling Station (see STEP 2)
    • Oil Can (highly recommended) Oiling Can

Step 2: Optional - Making a Kerosene Recyling Station. Parts and Tools Used.

This is optional but nice to have. The purpose of it is to hold both bottles so that they don't tip over as you use them and to hold the funnel and toothbrush when they are not in use. The funnel has a saucer underneath it to catch drips. There is a small slot to hold the toothbrush. You could just as easily use an old cardboard six-pack holder. That will also hold the bottles and the funnel and brush.

The stand is made from 3/4 inch pine and you can use whatever wood, plywood, or medium density fiberboard that you would like. To make this stand I used these tools:

  • Table saw
  • Router with a chamfer bit to create the receptacle for the funnel, roundover bits for all the surfaces.
  • Drill press
  • Brad driver
  • 2 1/2 inch hole saw
  • 3/4 Forstner bit for the toothbrush cut out
  • Sander with 120 grit paper
  • Round sanding disk for the drill and 60, 150 and 220 grit disks to smooth the saucer (bottle bottom)
  • Bottle cutting jig to cut the bottom off the bottle to make the tray
  • Random orbital sander
  • green scouring chore boy pad to smooth the project between the fourth and final coat of lacquer


  • Wood (see the diagram and cut list)
  • Glue
  • Brads for the brad driver
  • Two 12-ounce soda bottles with reclosable caps
  • Toothbrush/Gear Brush
  • Saucer cut from the bottom of a water bottle and polished to 400 grit
  • Spray high gloss lacquer

Step 3: Building the Kerosene Recycling Station - Cutting and Polishing the Saucer


    1. To make the saucer I cut the bottom off a bottle using my bottle making jig. There are many good bottle jigs on Instructables.
    2. Always use eye protection and use a dust mask when sanding the glass. You don't want to inhale silica dust.
    3. Once I score the bottom I heat it along the line with a butane torch (cigar lighter) and thermal shock it with ice water.
    4. I then smooth it with 60 to 150 to 220 grit sanding disks paying attention to the inside and outside of the rim
    5. Wash off the silica dust and dry

    Step 4: Building the Kerosene Recycling Station - the Stand

    • I first cut the top and bottom of the station using the table saw.
    • I then cut the sides using the table saw
    • Then I used a 2 1/2 inch hole saw to cut holes for the bottles and the funnel. Use a sacrificial backer board to avoid tearout on the bottom of this board!
    • A 3/4 inch Forstner Bit cuts out the toothbrush holder. Again, use the backer board. The same bit makes a 1/2 inch deep hole for the bottom of the brush on the bottom board. Use the top board as the template for where to drill this hole.
    • The bottom also has the two 2 1/2 inch holes for the bottles and an additional 2 1/2 hole for the saucer.
    • Use a chamfer bit to enlarge the saucer hole.
    • Sand all surfaces..
    • Roundover all edges of the top and bottom boards.
    • Sand all surfaces to 120 grit.
    • Glue and screw the side pieces and let it dry. Use a brad nailer to fasten the uprights.
    • Cut a piece of masonite 1/4 inch smaller than the dimensions of the bottom board and glue it to the bottom and let it dry.
    • Sand off any glue squeeze out.
    • To prepare the piece for finishing
      • Vacuum the dust off.
      • Then use a microfiber cloth on all surfaces.
      • Then use a tack cloth.
      • Then rub mineral spirits on the wood. That will remove any hand oil and let you see if you have any glue squeeze out.
      • Apply four coats of spray lacquer allowing 1/2 hour between coats.
      • Lightly abrade the fourth coat with the green Choreboy scouring pad. You do not need to abrade between coats of lacquer as each coat bonds with the last.
      • The fifth and last coat should be super light.

    Step 5: Cleaning the Chain

    1. Begin by putting your bicycle on the bicycle stand. Alternately you can lay your bicycle upside down to access the chain. However, this risks some splatters on the frame and underside of the seat.
    2. Protect the surrounding area by laying out the garbage bag tarp or some other protective surface. Old newspaper just isn't going to do it. It's going to soak thru quickly. But putting newspaper on top of the tarp helps to contain the spills.
    3. Put on the disposable gloves. This is optional but believe me, you will want them.
    4. If the gear cassette is dirty put about two tablespoons of kerosene in the saucer and dip the toothbrush in and brush away the grime. Wipe your toothbrush on the cleaning rag each time you use it.
    5. Put the chain cleaner on the chain using the directions your manufacturer suggests. You can see pictures of how mine goes on.
    6. Spin the chain a couple of times through the cleaning device to get the grit off the chain. I typically use three refills of kerosene per cleaning pouring the dirty kerosene into a funnel leading to the dirty solvent reservoir bottle.
    7. Use a small rag to wipe the chain down by holding it and turning the crank until the whole chain is clean and relatively dry.

    Step 6: Lubricating the Chain

    • Put some oil onto the small oiling rag.
    • Hold the rag against the chain as you turn the pedals enough to make two or three passes of the chain.
    • Apply additional oil to the rag if needed.
    • Add a few drops to the gear cassette and derailleur.

    Step 7: Recycling the Kerosene and Cleaning Up

    When you finish cleaning the chain you will have about 3-4 ounces of filthy kerosene. You might think that you need to recycle this now but don't. Let the bottle with the dirty kerosene stand for 48 hours or more. It will begin to separate in a day and within two days be almost clear. The longer the better. Most times I just leave the dirty bottle until I need to do the bikes again. After the sediment settles, you can carefully pour the clean kerosene back into the cleaning bottle. Stop when you start to see sediment pour back into the clean bottle. A little won't matter.

    Eventually, you will need to recycle the dirty kerosene. Please don't put this into either the trash or recyclables as it will contaminate either. I plan to clearly label it and bring mine to the hazardous waste recycling event in my community. Even after three months my dirty bottle is still empty enough to re-use.

    Clean up includes throwing out the newspaper, wiping down the saucer. Using the cleanup rag to wipe up remaining oil or kerosene from the tarp, funnel and outside of bottles. All of that along with the gloves goes into the trash. The saucer is replaced under the funnel in my stand and then the funnel placed back into its slot. The bottles are placed in their respective holders and you are done and ready to repeat the whole process when it's needed.

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