Bike Chain Cleaning and Maintenance




About: I love biking, hiking, nature, puppies, and coffee!

Hey there cyclists,

I recently took my bike in for a tune up, and the friendly bike shop staff reminded me to clean and oil my chain weekly for ultimate bike performance. The bike chain is the dirtiest part on the bike- collecting grit and grime which is bad for the longevity of the derailleur and shifting performance. My chain was "skipping gears" and I learned that with routine maintenance this could be avoided; in addition to keeping the maintenance costs down on my bike!

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Step 1: Materials

- your bike :)

- scrap fabric, like an old towel or socks

- chain lubricant- I use Tri Flow formulated with P.T.E.E. runs around $4 for 2 fluid ounces which is enough for a year!

- old toothbrush if there's a lot of grime in your gears

Step 2: Begin Cleaning

Flip your bike upside down so it's resting on the handlebars and seat, chain facing out.

Take one towel scrap and wipe down your bike, getting close to the break pads, wheels, and any other area that has dirt on it.

After removing all the visible dirt from the frame of your bike, take a new (clean) scrap of fabric and gently hold the chain. Use your other hand to rotate the pedals - having the chain move through your hand. do this for a few rotations - removing all the grit on your chain.

TIP: For wicked buildup in your chain (if you haven't done this in months), use an old toothbrush to get out all the dirt.

Step 3: Add the Lubricant

You're all set now. The chain is nice and clean, so now you'll want to add the lubricant.

Put the lubricant directly on the chain, do not put it directly on the derailleur - as that can lead to more build up on your next ride.

While you're adding drops of lubricant to the chain, use your other hand to move the pedals, rotating the chain. After doing one complete rotation, shift the gears and repeat that process so that the oil is evenly distributed.

NOTE: it's quite possible to over lube the chain- collecting more dirt and grime on your next ride. Make sure you wipe off any excess lubricant after each rotation.

Doing this frequently (say every 100 miles) will keep your bike parts lasting longer!!

Enjoy, and happy cycling :)

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    12 Discussions


    3 years ago

    The chain. The forgotten part of the bike. A really quick way is with an ultrasonic cleaner. Clean cassettes, chains and gears in minutes. For more information:


    3 years ago

    Better than oil is parafine wax. Also, when you use parafine it is not needed to clean a chain, just put chain in melted parafine and pull it out after a few minutes. Waxed chain can't grease your trousers or hands and dust and mud can't stick to wax.

    Downside is that you need to remove and install chain when you going to wax it. I do that every 2-3 month and use bike every day even in winter conditions.


    3 years ago

    This is good advice... The chain is really about 70 bearings, and when they all get bugarred up, they bog you down and use extra fuel, which is the strength in your legs. A good, clean, well lubricated chain is a joy after you've experienced a dirty worn out one.

    I agree that tri flow may not be the ultimate lube to use (I like the heavy waxier stuff - just my preference), but really anything works if you keep it clean and well lubricated. If you always run it dirty you will destroy your chain, and no amount of lubrication will repair those 70 worn out bearings.

    To check and see if it's still good, take it off, and put it up against a straight edge, and see how much slop is in it when you push it all together, then pull it apart. If you get more than 1/4" you're in bad shape. Some of you will get a lot more.


    3 years ago

    The easiest way to clean a bike chain is replace the stretched out, grimy old one with a new one. The next easiest way is a chain cleaning device that snaps onto the chain and you pedal for 5 minutes. I agree with 'groghunter' that TriFlow is a terrible choice for lube. I prefer dry lubes because they don't attract dirt and dust, which turns into black grime. I've been using White Lightning on my MTB chain for years and it's almost as clean as a new one. My chain also doesn't leave black marks on other bike gear like an oiled chain does. A couple of drops every few months is enough.


    3 years ago

    Contrary to the recommendation of the other people in these comments, chain manufacturers recommend that you DO NOT use strong solvents or chain cleaners to clean your chain. All modern chains are impregnated with high quality grease from the factory, & deep cleaning removes that grease. you can never really replace it afterwards, & it's a better lubricant/protectant for the rollers than anything you can add once the chain is assembled. Wipe the chain off, with a mild solvent sprayed on the rag if needed, then put a drop of lubricant on each roller to help with keeping stuff out of the inside of the roller, & call it good.

    As for lubricants, TriFlow is a terrible chain lube. There's lots of decent lubes, but I prefer synthetics as they tend to have the advantages of both wax & oil lubes, with none of the drawbacks. Purple Extreme is my favorite, but Du Monde Tech works great as well.


    3 years ago

    I'd remove the chain and soak it in some sort of solvent or Simple Green, use a small brush to remove any stubborn stuff. Then rinse and hang to dry and install the chain and use a silicone lubricant and spray it on as you rotate the chain.

    I use silicone because it doesn't attract dust and dirt like the petroleum based lube does. I use it on the locks of my pickup and the locks on the house, I spray the door jams and weatherstripping on my vehicles so they don't freeze in the winter.

    Happy Lubin' L.D. Shalom!

    Passing You

    3 years ago

    I would really use chain washers you can buy. Use something like simple green, dry, and then lubricate.

    great instructable,but if you ride a MTB and your chain is all in dirt and mud and sand you can use an air compresor,2 old toothbrushes putted togheter with some pvc tape,100ml petrol or alchohol,an old towel or any kind of cotton fabric,chain lubricant or if you have some mineral engine oil it works good too and other is up to you.After that kind of maintance the chain looks like brand new and will last even longer .


    4 years ago on Introduction

    You should put the lube on the inside of the chain not the outside. This way it gets to the outside whilst spinning and the dirt is thrown out rather than the way you are doing it currently which is pushing the dirt in and not allowing the oil to penetrate to inside as the oil is spun out whislt pedaling.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    excellent clarification, yes, it helps cut down on the amount of dirt you'll pick up. Thanks for that!


    4 years ago

    Nice instruction :-)
    after lubrication I tow the chain again through a cloth to remove the excess oil and the dirt in the chain, which gets loosen by the oiling sequence . Also this is important to prevent excess oil getting on the rim or brake disks (in my case) which results in bad braking force.
    I use common motor oil to lube the chain.

    1 reply