How To Clean A Bike Cassette In 6 Steps: Ultimate Guide to Cleaning A Cassette [With Video Guide]

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reviewed by Rory McAllister
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A clean bike is a happy bike. One lesson you will quickly learn as a cyclist is that the better you look after your bike, the better it will look after you.

One job that many cyclists neglect but is a great skill to learn is cleaning a cassette.

Keeping a clean cassette comes with a lot of benefits, and it doesn’t take long to do. Although it might look challenging when you know what you’re doing, it’s a very simple and easy process.

In this article, we are going to show you the best method for cleaning a bike cassette. We’ll be covering:

  • What Is A Bike Cassette?
  • 3 Reasons Why It’s Essential To Keep Your Cassette Clean
  • Cleaning A Cassette: What Tools Will You Need?
  • How To Clean A Bike Cassette in 6 Steps
  • Robbie’s Video Guide: Cleaning A Bike Cassette

Let’s dive in!

Cleaning A Cassette: Title Image

What Is The Bike Cassette?

The cassette is the cluster of sprockets attached to the rear wheel, which provide different gear ratios depending on which one is being driven by the chain.

Cassettes come in all different shapes and sizes depending on how many speeds your bike has and the brand of groupset you are using. Modern cassettes generally last anywhere between 5000 to 10,000 miles and cost anywhere from $20 to $180.

Close up of a Shimano cassette with a master chain link on the middle cog.

3 Reasons Why It’s Essential To Keep Your Cassette Clean

#1. Longevity 

If you can keep your cassette clean, then it’s going to last much longer. When the cassette is covered with grit and dirt, it just breaks it all down so much faster when it’s being used. 

It’s also worth mentioning a very dirty cassette will also wear down your chain quicker and, in turn, your chainrings too. Dirty cassettes have an awful knock-on effect on loads of other bike components.

#2. Performance

A clean cassette is going to work much better than a dirty cassette. If a cassette is caked in mud and grime, then it gives much more resistance, and the chain can’t connect as well. 

You will notice much smoother shifting with a clean chain and cassette. You would never see a professional start a race with a dirty cassette!

#3. Noise

Dirty cassettes can be very noisy, and when you ride, it can be very irritating.

They make a crunching sound at the back of the bike, which can take so much away from enjoying a pleasant, quiet bike ride. 

Cleaning A Cassette: What Tools Will You Need?

Bike cloth, degreaser, bike lube, and a brush on a mat.

If you want to do a really proper job of cleaning a bike’s cassette, you’re going to need a few tools and cleaning products. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Bike Brushes
  • Cloth
  • Degreaser
  • Water
  • Bike Lubricant 
  • Chain Cleaner Tool (Optional)
  • Bike Stand (Optional)

When it comes to degreasers, we recommend using products from good brands such as Muc Off and Finish Line. Cheap products tend to work poorly, and you have to use a lot to clean the cassette properly.

How To Clean A Bike Cassette in 6 Steps

Step #1. Preparation

A gravel bike sitting in a stand about to be cleaned.

Find somewhere safe where you won’t be in anyone’s way, and you can make some mess. We recommend putting on some dirty clothes as there’s a good chance you might get a little oil and mud on you.

Having a water source such as a hose will make this much easier, and using a bike stand will make it more comfortable because you will be working at a higher height and can freely spin the drivetrain.

This task is going to take around 20 minutes.

Step #2. Rinse The Bike Down

A hose pointing to a bike which is about to be rinsed.

Now it’s time to rinse the bike down.

We do this so we can release any big clumps of dirt, which could end up scratching or damaging our bikes if we were to use a brush on them. Focus primarily on hosing down the drivetrain.

Step #3. Degrease The Drivetrain

A drivetrain on a gravel bike about to be degreased.

When cleaning a cassette, we really need to do a basic clean on the whole drivetrain to ensure dirt doesn’t return to the cassette from the chain or chainrings.

Take your degreaser and spray the drivetrain well. Focus on the cassette, chain, chainrings, and jockey wheels. Once nice and soaked, leave it to settle in for around 30 seconds.

Now, take the brush and start running it around the cassette. What I find works best is to hold a large brush on the cassette and then turn the pedals forward so the cassette spins against the bristles. After this, do the same with the chainrings. 

Then go to the chain, and if you have a chain cleaner tool, we recommend using it now. Run the chain through to disturb all the dirt between the links so we can release it. Now rinse the bike’s drivetrain, and all the dirt should come off.

If you don’t have a chain cleaner tool, then spray a cloth with a degreaser and run the chain through it. To get inside the links, many cyclists use an old toothbrush.

Step #4. Remove The Rear Wheel

A clean cassette on a gravel bike.

Although the cassette may now look fairly clean on the surface, we’re not done yet! There’s likely still a load of grime deeper inside that you can’t see, but will still cause all the problems listed above.

Shift the chain to the smallest cog on the cassette, then use the quick-release skewer or thru-axle to loosen and remove the rear wheel.

Step #5. Floss The Cassette

Flossing a cassette with a cloth.

Now we are going to “floss” the cassette.

This is a term I use, and probably not one you will hear often in the industry! However, it’s a great technique I learned as a bike mechanic for deep cleaning a cassette between the cogs, getting into all the tiny gaps the brush couldn’t.

If you have a place to sit down, this is going to make flossing a lot easier. Put the wheel on your lap and take the cloth. Spray a bit of degreaser on the cloth, then pull a straight edge tight and put it between the two biggest cogs. 

Now, move the cloth from left to right repetitively. With the aid of the freehub mechanism, it will work its way all around the cogs. When this gap is clean, move down to the next cog and work all the way to the centermost, smallest cog.

Step #6. Re-Insert The Wheel And Lubricate

Using Muc Off chain lube on a bike chain.

Now pop the wheel back in the frame, ensuring it is properly seated in the dropouts.

Then get some bike lube and apply it to the links while spinning the pedals to run the chain past the nozzle. Once it has settled in, take a rag and clean off any excess lube. 

You should now have a nice clean cassette, and you’re ready to hit the road!

Robbie’s Video Guide: Cleaning A Bike Cassette

Check out the BikeTips YouTube Channel here for walk-through bike maintenance guides and more!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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