How To Clean A Bike Chain In 6 Steps [With Pictures]

Having a clean bike chain isn’t just to make your bike look nice and new. Knowing how to clean a bike chain will help your bike perform better while improving the life span of the chain and drivetrain components.

Therefore it is vital to clean your bike chain regularly. It will keep you riding at your best and help you to avoid unnecessary and costly repairs.

But there is a correct way to clean your bike chain. If you don’t do it right, your efforts could be for nothing.

In this guide, we’ll be taking you through:

  • The Best Bike Chain Cleaning Products
  • What To Scrub The Chain With
  • How To Clean A Bike Chain In 6 Steps
  • How To Clean A Rusty Bike Chain In 4 Steps
  • How To Lubricate Your Clean Bike Chain 

Ready for the lowdown on how to clean a bike chain?

Let’s get started!

How To Clean A Bike Chain: Title Image

The Best Bike Chain Cleaning Products

Before you start to clean your bike chain, you need to choose the right cleaning product.

The best option is to use dedicated chain cleaning solutions. These are designed specifically with tough bike grease in mind, and often have useful features such as easy-application spray nozzles to keep the process simple.

We’d recommend the Morgan Blue Chain Cleaner, which is a fast-acting degreaser that comes with a handy pump applicator.

If you need to clean your chain in a hurry and don’t have a dedicated chain cleaning solution, you can use washing up liquid and water as a backup option.

Take care though – you don’t want to remove the factory lubricant that sits on the inside of the chain’s rollers, which can happen if you clean it too thoroughly with a heavy-duty degreaser.

What To Scrub The Chain With

There are some great purpose-made bike chain scrubbing brushes on the market. You can even get a device that fits over your chain to clean it as it passes through, which makes the whole process incredibly straightforward.

We’d recommend the LifeLine Pro Chain Cleaner, which makes light work of grubby chains. It comes complete with a degreaser reservoir, roller brushes, and a magnet to remove metallic particles stuck in your chain.

But if you can’t get hold of one, you can use any kind of scrubbing brush to clean a bike chain and the gears. If you’re desperate, you can even use an old toothbrush.

How To Clean A Bike Chain In 6 Steps

It’s much easier to clean your bike chain and drivetrain if you use a bike stand.

This will suspend it off the ground, so you don’t have to bend over, and it also means it won’t fall on top of you.

Step 1: Clean Your Cassette

Scrubbin the bike's cassette with a brush

Shift the gears until your chain is at one end of the cassette, exposing the majority of the gears. Put plenty of degreaser or soapy water onto your cassette and scrub all of the gears thoroughly.

Then expose the other gears by shifting the chain to the other end of the cassette so that you can scrub them too. If it still looks grubby, just repeat the process until it’s clean.

Step 2: Clean The Chainring

Scrubbing the bike's chainring with a brush

Now your cassette should be nice and clean, so it’s time to do the same with the chainring. You may find it easier to drop the chain off the chainring. To clean the chainring, just follow the is the same process as cleaning the cassette.

Step 3: Scrub The Jockey Wheels

Scrubbing the bike's ockey wheels

It’s easy to forget that your jockey wheels need cleaning. These are the small cogs on your rear derailleur. They can get filthy, especially if you ride a mountain bike.

Scrub the jockey wheels thoroughly with your brush and degreaser. Sometimes the brush alone may not do a good enough job if you have left them dirty for a while or had a particularly muddy ride. If so, you may need to gently scrape the mud off the jockey wheels with a small screwdriver before using your brush.

Step 4: How To Clean A Bike Chain

Scrubbing the bike chain's side plate with a brush

Now your gears are clean; it’s time to clean that chain. If you have two or three chainrings, change gear so your chain is on the largest cog.

Scrub the side plates of your bike chain with soapy water or degreaser. You can do this by backpedaling and pushing your scrubbing brush against the chain on the chainring. Continue to do this until the chain has passed all the way around a few times, cleaning the side plates as it goes.

Then do the same on the other side. If you’ve got a forked brush, you can scrub both sides at once.

An alternative way of cleaning your bike chain is with a chain cleaning device, as mentioned previously. This device clamps around your chain and has rotating brushes inside it that thoroughly cleans your chain as you backpedal.

Using a chain scrubber to clean the bike chain

You can buy chain scrubbers that you drop soapy water or degreaser inside or ones that fit onto an aerosol can of chain cleaner. Both work really well and are satisfying to use, especially when you see how much muck comes off your chain.

Don’t be tempted to spray degreaser straight onto your chain.

Not only is it wasteful, but you stand a good chance of contaminating your brakes. This will stop them from working correctly and require you to clean the discs and pads – or even replace them!

Step 5: Rinse Your Drivetrain

How To Clean A Bike Chain In 6 Steps [With Pictures] 1

Once you’ve scrubbed your cassette, chainring, jockey wheels, and chain, it’s time to rinse everything off. 

Use clean water, but avoid using a high-pressure hose, as water will get into places where you don’t want it and may wash essential grease from your bike’s bearings.

Step 6: Let It Dry

Drying the bike's gears after washing the drivetrain

Everything may look nice and clean, but you can’t put your bike away just yet. You need to dry your chain and drivetrain as much as you can.

Wipe everything down with an absorbent cloth, and leave it in the sun for a few minutes. Some people use a leaf blower or air compressor to get rid of the excess water more quickly.

How To Clean A Rusty Bike Chain In 4 Steps

Close-up shot of a rusty bike chain.

Perhaps you’ve bought an old bike or have one that’s been neglected for a while, and have decided to bring it up to scratch. 

If so, there’s a good chance that it has a chain so rusty that the steps above just won’t cut it.

The following steps will tell you how to clean a rusty bike chain to bring it back to its former glory.

Step 1: Inspect The Chain

Hang your bike up on a bike stand, or flip it upside down. If you flip the bike, take care not to damage the shifters, brake handles, or anything else you have mounted to the handlebars. You may want to put a cloth on the ground to protect the paintwork and saddle.

When your bike is secure, check the chain to see how bad the rust is. If it’s too rusty or has any warped links or imperfections in the metal, it may be best to replace the chain entirely.

Check out our Complete Guide to Removing and Replacing a Bike Chain here!

Step 2: Remove The Chain

If a chain is severely rusty, it’s best to remove it to make cleaning the rust off more manageable.

Step 3: Degrease The Chain

Use a degreaser or soapy water to clean any old lube and dirt from the chain. You can use a cloth, but a scrubbing brush would allow you to do a more thorough job.

However, if your bike chain is incredibly dirty and rusty, you may want to soak the whole chain to degrease it. Drop the chain in a bucket or bowl filled with enough degreaser or soapy water to completely submerge it.

Leave the chain submerged for about 20 minutes before removing it and rinsing it off with clean water. If you opt for a degreaser, ensure you protect your hands with latex gloves, as it can be harmful to your skin.

Step 3: Clean Off The Surface Rust

To get rid of the surface rust, you’ll need to scrub the chain with steel wool. To be more effective at removing the rust, you can add some lime juice to the steel wool, as it helps to neutralize it.

You’ll probably want to wear gloves for this step as the steel wool is abrasive on your hands.

You may find that your steel wool pad will get gunked up. In this case, rinse it off with warm water, re-apply the lime juice and continue scrubbing.

Once you’re satisfied you’ve removed all the surface rust you can, rinse the chain with warm soapy water. This will remove the lime juice, which is essential as the sugar will get sticky, affecting your drivetrain’s performance.

Step 4: Scrub With WD40

At this point, you’ve probably got rid of most of the rust, but not all of it. In this case, spray WD40 onto the remaining rusty sections of the chain, and let it sit for a while.

Then, scrub the chain with a wire brush until the rust has gone. Wipe off the chain with a clean rag, and re-attach your chain.

However, before putting the chain back on, make sure your gears are not in the same rusty state. There is no point putting a good chain back onto rusty gears.

How To Lubricate A Bike Chain

Dripping lube onto the bike chain

Adding chain lube after you have washed your bike will prevent your chain from rusting. It will also protect it from dirt while allowing it to run freely, keeping your gear shifting crisp and reliable.

Choose the correct chain lube for the conditions you will be riding in. The main types you need to be aware of are wet lube and dry lube.

Wet Lube

Wet chain lube can be used in any weather condition you ride in. However, it is best suited when you know you’ll be riding in wet conditions.

This stuff is water-resistant, so it won’t wash off when you ride through puddles or in the rain. It doesn’t dry out, so you’ll find that dirt will stick to it.

Therefore, you’ll need to clean your chain more often to get rid of the build-up of dirt.

Dry Lube

It may be no surprise to you that dry lube is best for dry weather conditions. Dry lube dries onto your chain so dirt doesn’t stick as much.

Therefore, you don’t need to clean your chain as often, but you’ll need to apply the lube more regularly.

Lubricating Your Chain

Wiping excess chain lube from the bike chain

To lubricate your bike chain, drip a small drop of lube onto each chain link as you backpedal. Continue to backpedal once you have done this to let the lube work its way into the joints.

While you’re there, drop some lube into the bearings on the jockey wheels. This will prolong their life and keep your chain running smoothly and keep your gear shifting reliable.

Wipe off the excess chain lube so it doesn’t get too dirty on your next ride.

Now You Know How To Clean A Bike Chain

Your bike chain will look and perform as good as new by following these easy steps. 

It’s best to clean your chain at least once a month for a road bike, but you’ll need to clean a mountain bike chain much more regularly, depending on the conditions. 

Most mountain bikers like to clean and lubricate their chains after every ride to prevent the dirt from grinding their drivetrain, wearing it out.

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One of BikeTips' regular content creators, Tom lives in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on a mountain bike or snowboard. Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

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