Lubricating a Bicycle Chain Using Paraffin




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 Discussions

    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)?

    1 reply 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 of various bike chain lubes, paraffin won hands down. Thanks for the Instructable, I'm trying it on my rides.

    1 reply

    AWESOME! My brother and I believe heavily in the hot wax method and sites like Friction Facts have tested the superiority of the hot wax method. We have a Kickstarter campaign that is ending shortly which is selling an enhanced paraffin to increase the lubricity and durability. Please check it out, we hope to be selling product in stores soon too!

    great idea! I think I'll do this to my bike sometime soon! does the chain need to be particularly clean before you dip it (for the first time as opposed to the re-waxing) or would the wax clean the chain as well? also, does the waxed chain become dirty enough that it needs to be cleaned? if it does, how would you clean it?

    I don't understand how this can work as a chain lubricant. If the wax is a solid, how does it move to replace lubricant that has been pushed out of the metal-to-metal contact areas? Are the forces in a bike chain not high enough to move the wax? I'm not trying to be critical here, I'd just like to understand this.

    2 replies

    If I understand my physics right, a thin layer of paraffin should stick to both metal surfaces and be very difficult to push out of the contact areas.  This is how the chain grease works already - it does not slide back in after being pushed out because the grease is semi-solid, not a true liquid.  It actually forms a shell around the moving parts, protecting against contaminants.  Paraffin should work exactly the same way.

    As for the lubrication itself, it probably works exactly the same way grease does.  As the metal pushes against the paraffin, a thin layer should liquify and lubricate the movement.  This is the way grease lubricates anyway, and since paraffin is just a long chain crude oil product, it should operate the same way.

    So, really you could think of paraffin as nothing more than solid grease.  The physics by which it lubricates should be exactly the same as ordinary chain grease, with the added benefit of the non-moving parts remaining completely solid (and therefore staying cleaner).

    Good question. I'm not a lubrication engineer, so I can't answer it. My intuition and experience explain it to me this way. When you heat the chain in a fluid, the joints expand. Paraffin seeps in to all the spaces. (This is why you want to leave it in the dip a while.) When you pull it out, it cools, and the paraffin gets "packed" in place. (When the chain cools, it actually feels "stiff".) The bottom line is, paraffin is solid enough that it doesn't displace easily, the way oil or other liquid lubricants would. I'd welcome comments from people who know their lubrication engineering who could enlighten me.

    Its probably pretty easy to substitute something else for the wax heater. Double boiler on a Coleman stove, metal pot on a hot plate, etc.... Probably lots of other suggestions in other projects involving wax on Instructables. Have never actually tried though I am curious as I have a couple of projects in mind for the future that will involve melting. Have also been thinking about getting a bike to get back in shape and this tip will be very handy if I do.

    3 replies

    Be VERY CAREFUL about using a non thermostatically controlled heat source! Paraffin is flammable (10 trillion candles can't be wrong), and it's not hard to heat it above its flash point. Then you have a big problem. If you're not going to use a paraffin heater, you can use a double-boiler on a hot plate. This will keep the temperature at 100 degrees Centigrade, which is fine. But it's messier.

    If you'll notice those candles don't go up in a fiery ball of death and destruction every time they are lit.  That's because the flash point (the temperature at which it will spontaneously ignite) is pretty high - about 390 degrees F for pure paraffin, and upwards of 480 degrees F for paraffin with additives.

    So yeah, don't set it in a pan on the stove set to "high" and forget about it, but you'll be fine with the same setup set to "low" or even medium if you are careful.

    It will start to turn brown well before it gets dangerous (about 260 degrees F), so keep it under that and you'll be fine.

    Of course, using a double boiler is super duper safe, so it's never a bad idea.

    The part of the comment about alternate melting of wax was for boxofish. I just failed at using the reply button.