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

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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

Materials

  • 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

    Procedure

    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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      38 Discussions

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      jfryer2

      2 months ago

      Or you could use dry lube like Squirt and hose down your drivetrain when dirty.

      Hosing down the drivetrain may sound scary, but after avoiding it for literally decades I finally started doing it after moving to the desert where the fine dust kills wet lube and even some dry lubes!

      I was concerned the water would get into the hubs and rust the bearings (which I have seen happen on old bikes), but I have cartridge bearings so I figured if that happened, I could replace the whole bearing. But modern seals seem to be very effective and after a few years of hosing the bike, the bearings remain unaffected. Except for the bottom bracket, but that's a terrible SRAM unit which a little light rain can ruin.

      It worked so well that I started doing on my bike that has sealed bearings (loose balls with cups and cones) and no troubles there either.

      1 reply
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      Grunambulaxjfryer2

      Reply 2 months ago

      Interesting. I guess that there are a lot of pretty viable solutions here. I too would have worried that I was converting my hub to a science experiment on rust, but apparently not! Thanks for the comment.

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      guido666

      2 months ago

      I'm cautiously skeptical that bar and chain oil is the best choice. Yes, it's "made for chains", but it's also designed for a system that is continuously applying it, runs at a higher RPM, is getting much hotter, has wood chips constantly absorbing and carrying away the oil, etc. It's a very different environment.

      Typically thicker greases are used in situations like these, because...
      1.) They stay in place and do not drip off.
      2.) They are not as easily absorbed by powdered contaminants.
      3.) Contaminants stick to the outside layer, and do not easily get worked into the mechanism, providing a barrier.

      To some degree, it's difficult to tell with these things because of "survivor's bias". You used it, it seems to work, so it gets declared a win, with no real empirical evidence. You could use practically anything on the chain (e.g. bacon grease, olive oil, cosmoline, etc.) and probably get similarly unscientific results.

      9 replies
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      lawrence.esterlenguido666

      Reply 2 months ago

      Criticizing his results as "unscientific" is more than a little rude. You could also use bacon grease on a chainsaw. Lightweight oils suspend fewer particles than heavier ones, and for a road-going bike that could mean the difference between slinging light oil from the chain (stained pants leg perhaps) and having small road gravel/grit bind the gear train because it's caked with sticky bearing grease.

      Now a school of thought by automotive professionals that I've only heard referred to as "oil is oil" states that "any oil is better than no oil." Take that as you will, at the end of the day bike chains are cheap and the likelihood of severe injury or property loss is small.

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      lawrence.esterlenguido666

      Reply 2 months ago

      He performed an experiment and reported his results, what's more scientific than that?
      We can "bench test" different materials all day here, but he used bar oil on his chain, reported that it worked adequately, and was inexpensive. A scientific conclusion that you attacked as being "unscientific."
      It's a bicycle, not a rocketship. If future testing determines that bacon grease prolongs the life of your chain by 800 cycles vs bar oil, great! His results are still no less valid.

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      guido666lawrence.esterlen

      Reply 2 months ago

      Just to be clear, you think it is rude and inappropriate to disagree with him? People shouldn't disagree because the cost of a chain is too little to be worth being rude?

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      lawrence.esterlenguido666

      Reply 2 months ago

      I think my previous post was pretty clear, and your attitude doesn't seem to be improving.
      Dude wrote an instructable, put himself out there. He didn't say his way is the best way, he didn't say bar oil is the only oil. He said, "here's what I did."
      His results are as basic as science gets, he tried a thing, he reported his results. YMMV. Other commenters have reported using waxes, other oils, and several dry lubes. OP cleans his bike chains every 10 rides, minimizing the effects of lapping (if any). At any rate the reasons you cite for bar oil not working also serve to recommend it. It is specified for a far more harsh environment, greater heat, higher rpm, and chip removal. It should easily withstand the rigors of a daily bicycle commute.
      I'm not debating your suggestions of alternative lubes, just your presentation and subsequent slight that the OP's experience has no basis in science, when in fact his use and documentation of said use qualifies it as such. Come on, man. This site is for 10 year olds. Take it easy.

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      guido666lawrence.esterlen

      Reply 2 months ago

      So no discussion if someone "put themselves out there" and might take it personally, or if it's only content for 10 year olds? That's your stance?

      I really don't understand how it's not the topic of discussion you're worried about, but when you deem discussion is allowed.

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      AlexS560guido666

      Reply 2 months ago

      But also this oil seems to be much cheaper than specifically marketed bicycle chain oils. As you rightly admitted, it hardly matters for the chain what oil you use. But for convenience, price, effective mileage, cosmetic effect, etc, there'll be a difference.

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      guido666Grunambulax

      Reply 2 months ago

      That would certainly explain the pack of stray dogs that are always chasing my bike!

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      crazypj

      2 months ago

      I use diesel, it's cheaper than kerosene here. It has advantaghes over various other solvents as it contains cleaners and corrosion inhibitors. 'Leightweight' motorcycle chain lube works better than most bicycle chain lube in my opinion and is cheaper than the bicycle dedicated formula's. As a motorcycle technician for 40+ yrs I've read various tests of chain lubes for many years. WD40 is worthless as chain lube, Teflon based are short term, low pressure on motorcycles. I like PJ1 for bicycles, I find it washes off too easy and needs re-applying around 20~100 miles on motorcycles but works great on push-bikes for weeks at a time, plus, it dries on surface so doesn't attract dirt. Only downside with motorcycle chain lubes, they pretty much all require a 'drying time' but this is also common with dedicated bicycle lubes

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      Asmodeo

      2 months ago on Step 7

      I always used kerosene to clean my motorcycles' and bicycles' chains. And always recycled It...Here in Argentina, kerosene costs more than gasoline!!! I did as You, leaving It resting for some days and then decanting the clean kerosene to another recipient. But I lack of a rack to keep all the "ingredients" together....Time to follow your instructable, I think!! Thanks!

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      GrunambulaxAsmodeo

      Reply 2 months ago

      I've been amazed at how many people already were doing this. When I think of how much money I wasted on expensive citrus degreaser I could kick myself. The rack... I had to wonder if it made sense to build something in 6 hours when I could have used an old six-pack holder. But in the end I felt good to have something beautiful even for the most ordinary tasks. Thank you for your interesting comment and happy building!

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      EcoExpatMike

      2 months ago

      Excellent 'ible. However, for recycling kerosene, MANY places the local service station/ oil change place is REQUIRED by law to accept used motor oil (and similar petroleum products). Which turns out to not be much of a burden because, IIRC, they SELL that waste to refineries for reformulation (basically they just pour it into the front end of the process like crude oil)...

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      lawrence.esterlenEcoExpatMike

      Reply 2 months ago

      True.
      I would probably just burn it, though. Unless you bike to the auto parts store (or are already heading that way) you'll use as much gas on the trip.
      Next time you have a campfire (or too many mosquitoes) toss it on at the end of the night or pour it in a soup can and make a little outdoor table light.
      There's another instructable right there!

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      Antzy Carmasaic

      2 months ago

      The experienced bike tech in my area told me the best chain cleaning fluid is Diesel. I was sceptical but after using it, I haven't looked back. I assume Kerosene would be similar in performance.
      One way to speed the sedimentation process is to put a magnet underneath the dirty bottle. My ParkTool chain cleaner has one on the bottom on the outside and that already attracts a lot of the gunk out from the diesel while I'm using it.

      1 reply

      For the readers:
      Diesel fuel is *nearly* identical to kerosene as a petroleum product. Kero tends to be more highly refined for it's use as heating fuel, but for cleaning and lubricating most will see no difference.
      Last winter in my area kero was 2x the price of diesel per gallon, so I use diesel in my torpedo heater when I'm working outside. Like any open flame heater, ventilation is key!