Introduction: Roller Derby Basics: Cleaning Your Wheels

So you’ve been skating for a while, and your wheels are starting to get dirty and therefore less effective when you’re skating. You’ve heard people tell you that you need to clean your wheels, but this time your wheels need to be cleaner than you can get them just by rubbing them down with a paper towel and some Windex. This tutorial explains how to remove your wheels so that you can get the best possible clean and get back to skating efficiently again.

Note: this tutorial assumes that you know basic things about skating, such as how loose/tight your wheels are attached to fit your own personal preference. If, when you got your skates, you had someone help you figure out how tight your wheels needed to be, I suggest you find that person and have them help you. I’ll provide instructions on how to adjust wheels, but you may need further help. You can never  be too careful when it comes to safety on skates!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

• Your Skates
• A Skate Tool (About $10 at a sports shop. Close up view in photo 2.)
• A bowl or bucket
• Two small towels
• Dish soap
• Paper Towels

Step 2: Removing the Wheels

• Using the skate tool (a ½ inch nut driver will also suffice here), loosen the nut on the wheel until it can be screwed off by hand. Use the skate tool in a ratcheting motion, turning to the left to loosen the nuts. (photos 1 and 2)

• Remove the nut and pull the wheel off of the base of the skate. (Photo 3)

• Repeat with the other seven until you have removed all of the wheels, keeping the nuts close by in a pile so that you don’t lose them. (If you're really worried that one might roll away, I recommend keeping them in a plastic Ziploc bag.)

• Set the boots of your skates off to the side so that they don’t get wet during the cleaning process.

Step 3: Removing the Bearings

• For a deep clean of your wheels, you need to remove the bearings so that they do not rust.

• Using the bearing tool (Photo 1), insert the angled end with the rubbery band on it into the hole in the bearing, and gently pry it out. (Photo 2).

• Do not force the bearing—it will eventually pop out. If you are having trouble, try prying from a different point inside the bearing, going in a circular motion.

• Repeat until you have removed all 16 bearings (2 for each wheel.) Keep the bearings close by in a neat pile.

Step 4: Cleaning the Wheels

• Fill the bowl with warm water, and add a few drops of dish soap. The mixture should be soapy but not too bubbly—or it will get everywhere! You can always add more soap if you need to, but start out small. (Photo 1)

• Wet one of the towels in the soapy water and then wring out most of the excess moisture. The towel should be damp and slightly sudsy, but not sopping wet. (Photo 2)

• Scrub the outside of the wheel, making sure to remove all of the gunk. The wheel may still be discolored, but you should still be able to see a big difference between your dirty wheels and your clean wheels.

• If you want to get the wheels super clean, use the towel to clean the hole inside the wheel, and then dunk the wheel in the soapy water and swish it around. (Photo 3)

WARNING: DO NOT DO THIS IF YOU HAVE METAL/ALUMINUM CORES. The metal will rust, and you do not want that to happen! If you aren't certain what your cores are made out of, err on the safe side and don't get them wet.

• Using the second towel, dry the wheels. Set each one aside until you have cleaned all eight wheels.

Step 5: Cleaning the Bearings

• A simple way to clean your bearings is to take a paper towel and wipe off all of the dirt and grime. You can use your fingernail to get in the crease of the bearing, and roll the paper towel into a small tube to clean out the hole in the middle.

Step 6: Replacing the Bearings

• This is probably the easiest step. All you’ve got to do is take the bearing and slowly and gently push it back into place in the wheel until it pops into place is flat.

• Repeat for all sixteen bearings.

Step 7: Remounting the Wheels

• Take one of your skates, and begin to place the wheels back on the trucks. Slide the wheel onto the post. Then, take one of the nuts and screw it on by hand until you can’t anymore. (Photo 1)

• Then, taking the skate tool, tighten the nut by using a clockwise, ratcheting motion. You should tighten the nut until you can’t move the wheel. (Photo 2)

• Repeat with the other seven wheels until all of them are tightened to the skates so that they do not roll. Once the wheels are all equally tight, you will be able to loosen them evenly to your preference.

Step 8: Adjusting Your Wheels

• Once all of your wheels are tight, put your skates on.

• Using the skate tool, loosen your wheels in increments of a quarter turn until your wheels are back to the way you prefer them.

• There is no right or wrong tightness of wheels—obviously, you want your wheels to be loose enough to roll freely, but tight enough so that they don’t rattle around or, heaven forbid, fall off. However, each skater has their own preference. As I said in the introduction, if you feel you don’t know how loose your wheels should be, I recommend you find someone who can help you get a feel for what is right for you.

• Congratulations! Now your wheels are squeaky clean, and you're ready to get back on the track.