How To Clean a Bike Chain? Easiest Steps!

The moment you decide to take care of your ride, you can bet that it’ll start to take care of you, even if it’s your bicycle. And why wouldn’t you? After all, it is a good exercise and also helps you to roam without contributing to the ongoing pollution circle.

But won’t you feel awful if that bike of yours causes you more headaches than ever just because you didn’t get the chains cleaned? We don’t blame you, actually. Maybe it’s because you just don’t know how to clean a bike chain.

But at least you’re concerned enough to bring some change to that. Otherwise, why you would’ve clicked here? Don’t worry; you won’t get out of here without knowing every single thing that you’ll need to make the chains clean as new again.

Why Cleaning the Bike Chain Is Important?

Why would you do something in the first place if you don’t even know its importance, right? Well, things are pretty much the same for bike chains as well. So, before telling you how to clean up your less-functional, dirty bike chain, we think it’s better to tell you why you need to do that.

Rather than focusing on what you can get by cleaning it up, we think it’s good to focus on the consequences of not doing it. After all, that’s what keeps us more concerned about the duty as we often don’t want to deal with the negative aspects.

  • Increased Possibility of Chain Wear

No matter what it is, wearing is a part that’s kind of impossible to skip, and it goes for bike chains as well. But what do you think causes that more than ever in a chain? Is it excessive usage or carelessness? In a sense, both, but the second one is considered more of a triggering reason for the deterioration.

So, when you want to make them last longer, you’ve got no option but to keep them clean regularly. That’s because leaving them dirty for a long time will lead to permanent damages that you won’t be able to overcome, not even with a thorough cleaning.

  • Reducing Chain Link Flexibility

There’s something that can interrupt more than anything while riding a bicycle, and it’s the chain link with low flexibility. But a factor that influences such occurrence the most is dirt on the chain.

You’ll know that gradually when it’ll start making your bike hard to ride. As the dirt in the joints makes them hard to move smoothly, the flexibility runs out pretty quickly.

  • Impairing Shifting Performance

Clearly, good shifting performance is the key to reach better speed instantly. But with dirt on your chain, we don’t see that happening, and we bet you’re not in the mood to see your shifting performance getting impaired.

  • Wearing Derailleur Assemblies

Who said dirt could wear out the chain itself only? It can do the same to derailleur assemblies too. So, if you’re taking that dirty chain of yours lightly, then be ready to change both chain and derailleur assemblies in no time. But the worst part is, it can wear out your drivetrain cogs as well.

  • Decreasing Efficiency

Do you know that the dirt on your chain cuts off the efficiency to a certain extent? You might get surprised to know that loss of efficiency can be measured, and that’s depending on the chain’s overall ‘dirtiness.’

If we go for an average, then for the 250-watt rider output, it can minimize 2-5 watt, which is 1% to 2% of the total output. Depending on the ‘dirt’ current condition of your chain, it might vary too.

How to Inspect the Chain to Be Sure about the Cleaning?

It’s not that one fine morning you’ll wake up and decide today you’re going to clean the chain up. That might be a waste of your energy if the chain is not dirty enough for cleaning. We say you go for an inspection first. Follow these instructions to do that in an organized manner.

  • Securing the Bike

Generally, when there’s something wrong with our bike, we put it on the kickstand to check that out.

But when you’re planning for an inspection, it’s better to use a bike stand as the kickstand might lose balance under impact and injure you by falling on you. If you don’t have one, then laying the bike on the ground will do fine as well.

  • Evaluating the Chain

Usually, just looking at the chain is enough to understand whether it needs to be cleaned or not. The most common symptom of that is excessive dirt and grime, where the crust of dirt will be right there.

If you get out with your cycle almost every day, then it’s better to clean the chain up every week or after riding for 321km. But if you feel like you’re able to decide whether you need to clean it or not, then do one thing.

Put your finger on the chain and try to feel if it’s caked or not. If you feel like the grime has limited the movement, get ready to clean the mess up.

While inspecting, try to find the chain’s master link too. That’s because if you’re up for a thorough cleaning, then you might have to take the chain out of the drivetrain, and without detecting the master link, it won’t be that easy. In case your one doesn’t have a master link, you can get one installed at any local shop.

How to Clean A Bike Chain: Step by Step

We don’t know how many bucks have you spent so far for cleaning the chain so far, but that stops here. If you want that too, then all you’ll have to do is follow these steps, one by one.

  • Step One: Putting the Supplies Together

Clearly, you’re going to need a bunch of things to get started. So, put all of them together first. Most of them are supposed to be at your home as they’re among your regular household items. The items you’ll be missing are available at any of the local bike shops.

First of all, get a rag and make sure it’s clean. Then bring your bike chain lubricant out, and it has to be a good one. The next thing you’ll need is probably the most important one required in the process – the degreaser. Keep some isopropyl alcohol and a clean bottle closer to you as well.

Don’t forget to get the gloves. After all, you don’t want to let the grease slip in your nails or fill your hands with it, do you?

  • Step Two: Wiping with the Isopropyl Alcohol

Now, put some isopropyl alcohol on that rag of yours as it’s time for quick cleaning. Make sure you’re pouring enough isopropyl alcohol on the rag and make it wet enough as that’s what you need for proper cleaning.

Right after that, hold it against the chain and start pedaling. Don’t go fast as you need to keep it slow to execute the process properly. Once you’re done, take the rag out. If you feel that is just not enough, you can go for a bit deeper cleaning also.

  • Step Three: Soaking the Chain in Degreaser

There’s nothing wrong in calling the grease a chain’s dirt magnet. After all, that’s what draws most of the dirt. So, as the next step of the process, you need to get rid of the grease.

In this stage, you need to pour the degreaser into a bottle. Now, soak your bike’s chain in the degreaser and wipe it with a piece of cloth. This is important as just soaking won’t let you get rid of the remaining grime.

When you’re pouring degreaser in the bottle, make sure you’re pouring enough amount of that liquid in there where you can immerse the chain completely.

In case the chain is excessively dirty, doubling the rinsing won’t hurt it. To be honest, it’s a good idea to do it in order to ensure thorough cleaning. The best way to do that is by putting the degreaser in another bottle and repeating the process as you’ve done before.

The first rinse usually is for getting rid of the heavier grime. But when you’re going for the next bottle, it’ll pull off the deep cleaning for you.

By the way, not having a degreaser in your garage is nothing unusual. If you don’t have one, you can go for some effective alternative like paint thinner, isopropyl alcohol, and kerosene. But remember one thing. There’s a possibility that these alternatives might not be as fast-acting or strong as the actual degreaser.

  • Step Four: Shaking Up the Bottle

Now take your chain and drop it in the bottle that you’ve just filled up with degreaser. Then, close the lid and start shaking the bottle. Keep doing that for a few minutes, as you don’t want to miss all those stubborn and thick films on the chain.

We suggest pushing the time up to 20 minutes so that you can have the best result. This much time will help your chain to clean up all the nooks and crannies you see between its links. Plus, it’ll take the stubborn grime out as well.

But keep one thing in mind. This process is meant to remove everything on the bike’s chain, and that includes the factory wax as well. So, to put the chain back to the fully functional mode, you’ll have to lubricate it again before you set it up on your bike.

  • Step Five: Taking the Chain Out of the Bottle

Let’s pull the chain out of the bottle. Take the lid off and get it out. As it’ll be soaked in degreaser, take a rag, a dry one, of course, and wipe it clean with that. But hanging the chain on your hand might fill your dress up with degreaser. So, do it carefully.

While wiping the chain, make sure that you’re putting enough pressure on it in order to take the degreaser properly off. The best way to do that is to slide the chain through the rag. After that, go for the lubrication, as all of that must have been gone.

  • Step Six: Putting the Chain Back in Place

Now reattach the chain back to the drivetrain. But let us tell you something first. If it’s not your first time, then you might have to struggle a bit in this part. After all, putting it back in its place is not as easy as putting it out. If it’s making you struggle too much, then watch YouTube tutorials for easier instructions.

Once you put it back, get the master link reattached. To make that part easier, try keeping the end at the midpoint of the wheels. After reattaching it, check out if it has been reconnected properly or not. Spin the pedal for a while to ensure that.

  • Step Seven: Re-lubricating the Chain

As your chain has been dried out completely, you need to lubricate it again to make it function as before. While choosing a lubricant, always focus on getting the best one. That’s because not only will it help the bike run smoothly but also protect the chain from different elements.

Now, hold the bottle above the chain and start applying it. But don’t go for a thick stream as for the chain, a thinner one will be more ideal. Spin the pedal while applying it so that you don’t have to move with the bottle all over the chain. Once you’re done there, your bike is good to go.

Can a Chain Be Cleaned without Being Taken Off from the Drivetrain?

If this is the question that has popped in your head, then we think you’re counting the ‘taking off the chain’ as the hardest part on the job. Thankfully, the good news is, yes, it is possible to clean without taking the chain off.

You won’t have to take the chain out if you don’t want to or if you’re not seeing any master link on the chain. All you need to do is follow these steps to clean it up.

  • Step One: Wiping the Chain with Degreaser

At first, take some degreaser on a can and apply it to your chain with a brush. Make sure that the degreaser is reaching all the portions of the chain. Now, take a sponge and hold the chain with it. Then, start spinning the pedal and let the sponge catch most of the dirt.

  • Step Two: Cleaning the Space Between the Plates

The sponge surely can take in maximum dirt but not the one that is hidden between the chainplates. If you try cleaning them with a regular brush, it’ll take a ton of time. So, to save time and clean the plates more precisely, you’re going to need two nail brushes. Try to get the one with smaller bristles.

Now, put the chain between the nail brushes and start spinning the pedal once again. Keep spinning it for a few minutes so that all the plates can get cleaned within this time.

  • Step Three: Using Chain Cleaner

You can call it the alternative of step two. To be honest, this one is much more effective compared to the other one. First, pour the required amount of degreaser in the chain cleaner and attach it to the chain.

Now, start spinning the pedal the way you’ve done on the last step. Keep doing it till you see the dirt and grime have come off completely. You’ll understand the intensity of cleaning after looking at the chain and the dirty degreaser in the chain cleaner.

  • Step Four: Wiping with Soapy Water

It’s time to use your sponge once again, but this time with soapy water. Soak the sponge in that water and start wiping the chain from start to end. This part is important as you can’t let the degreaser remain on the chain.

Keep up with this step till all the degreaser is coming off. Once it’s done, take a rag and wipe the entire chain thoroughly to dry it up.

  • Step Five: Relubrication

As the cleaning process eliminates all the lubricant from the chain, you’ll have to relubricate it once again properly. Like always, don’t go for the thicker stream.

How To Understand If the Chain Needs to Be Replaced Not Cleaned?

At times we start feeling like maybe it’s the dirt that causes all the underperformance. But the truth is the chain gets worn out with time, and cleaning it up can’t restore the performance. But how will you understand if it’s time to replace your chain or not? Well, you can try the following ways to do so.

  • Using CC-3.2

This is probably the most accurate method of finding out the condition of your bike chain. It’s a metallic tool that you’ll find in the store. If your chain has been worn out, it’ll easily slip in between the chain gaps. But if it’s not going in there, then you can relax as your chain is still good to go.

  • Lifting Off the Chain Ring

You can call this one the easiest method to find out whether the chain has to be replaced or not. You just need to reach the big ring where the pedal is placed. Now, hold a portion of the chain and pull it.

If you see a big part of the ring clearly, then you’re close to getting worn out chain or already got there. But if you can hardly see anything there, you won’t have to put your hands in the pocket for a while to get a new chain.

  • Using a Ruler

When you’re able to count 24 rivets with a 12″ ruler, you can consider your chain in good shape. But if it’s 1/16″ or more off, then you need to replace it as soon as possible.

 

Useful Tips for Cleaning Bike Chain

Well, clearly, you’re not an expert yet. So, a few tips on the cleaning won’t hurt, we guess. These tips we believe will help you with that cleaning task, not only for now but for the future as well.

  • How frequently your bike chain will need cleaning depends on what kind of road you’re riding on. The dirtier it’ll be, the more frequent cleaning it’ll need.
  • When the chain has worn out badly, cleaning it up won’t solve your problem. There are certain ways to detect wearing. Inspect your bike following those.
  • Use liquids or degreasers that are environment-friendly. Some of them are biodegradable. Picking them up will be a wiser choice.
  • Low-grade lubricants can make your bike chain dirtier than ever. So, to keep it clean for a longer period of time, choose good quality lubricant. On top of that, it will protect your chain too and help in prolonging its life.
  • Using household products for cleaning chains can be really tricky. Using the wrong product might harm the chain too. So, try to use products that are actually made for the job. If you’re really into using household products, try following an expert’s advice on that.
  • Don’t hesitate to lube your bike chain even if you don’t have the scope to clean it up. That’s because a chain without lube is more prone to wear, and it also can damage your drivetrain.

Final Words

When you make a list of parts that can influence the performance of a bike more than anything, then we bet you’ll have to count the bike chain on it too. So, if you really want it to stay at the peak of its performance, you’ve got no choice but to learn how to clean a bike chain.

We’ve shown you all the easier ways to pull the job off. Now, it’s up to you which road you’d like to walk on for that.

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