How To Clean A Bike Chain In 5 Steps [With Pictures]

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Bike maintenance is a big part of cycling. Learning how to work on and maintain your bike is very satisfying and can save you money and time.

A job we highly recommend learning is how to clean a bike chain. 

A clean chain goes a long way when it comes to cycling, but many riders don’t actually know how to clean their chain properly.

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • Why Is A Clean Chain So Important?
  • How To Clean A Bike Chain In 5 Steps
  • What Lube Should I Use On My Bike Chain?
  • 4 Top Tips To Keep Your Bike Chain Clean

Let’s dive in!

How To Clean A Bike Chain: Title Image
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Why is a clean chain so important?

#1. Performance 

Having a clean chain is going to make your bike faster.

The chain can run efficiently when there’s little to no dirt in the system. It means the links can move smoothly and get around the drivetrain system much better. 

Also, without dirt, it can better connect to the cassette and chainrings, helping the chain engage much faster. The power saving for a 250W rider having a clean chain is around 1-2%.

In cycling terms, that’s massive.

#2. Prolongs Chain Life

Mechanical parts generally don’t do well when dirty.

There’s no denying a clean chain is going to last much longer than a dirty chain. When a chain is dirty, and all the gritty particles get into the links, causing it to wear faster and “stretch”. 

If you don’t look after your chain, it might need replacing after as little as 500 miles. If you try to keep it clean, you might see 2000 miles.

Also, not only does a clean chain prolong the life of the chain but also the life of the chainrings and cassette, saving you even more cash.

#3. A Clean Chain looks and sounds better

A clean chain doesn’t just help with prolonging your chain life and performance but also looks and sounds much better.

Nobody likes a dirty chain. It takes the shine off your bike and makes all the other components dirty as it moves around. 

Dirty chains don’t just look awful, but they also sound terrible. A dirty chain makes a horrible grinding sound, and it’s not something you want to be sharing with other cyclists on the Sunday club run. 

How To Clean A Bike Chain In 5 Steps

Step #1. Preparation

The equipment and products you'll need to clean a bike chain.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

When getting to grips with how to clean a bike chain, the first step is to get prepared properly.

You’re going to need a space where you can work safely. The perfect place will be outside or somewhere where you can use a hose and make a mess if required.

Here’s the equipment you’ll need to clean a bike chain:

  • Bike Stand (Optional)
  • Bucket and Water
  • Cleaning Brushes
  • Chain Cleaner
  • Degreaser (in this article we use Muc Off Degreaser, but WD40 also works well if you’ve already got it in the shed)
  • Rag

Once you’ve found a space to work and gather your supplies, get your bike in the stand. We recommend protecting the frame from getting scratched by using a rag.

Step #2. Clean the bike

Cleaning a bike's frame with a blue rag.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

You have all the supplies here with you!

It’s a good idea to clean your bike quickly before you start. It doesn’t have to be specialist detailing but enough to remove any mud off the bike. 

We recommend giving the chain line a big soak and getting any stuck dirt or grime off the jockey wheels and derailleurs. Unfortunately, when it comes to the chain, water isn’t going to be enough to get all that dirt and grease off on its own. 

Step #3. Degrease The Chain

Using a spray-on degreaser on the bike's chain.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Get the spray degreaser over the chain, cassette, and chainrings.

Some people use a paintbrush to apply this, but it doesn’t have to be extreme if you don’t want it to be. Just ensure there’s enough on the whole chain to release the dirt.

Let it soak in for 5 minutes, then use the brushes to scrub every millimeter you can get to. When you feel you have done a good job of it, rinse it off with water, and it should look excellent. If you have missed any bits, go back and repeat this process. 

If they want the perfect clean, some cyclists take the chain off here to ensure they can get to the whole drivetrain. You can if you want to, but it’s not essential. You can still get a decent clean without doing this. 

Step #4. Chain Cleaner

Using a blue chain cleaner tool on the bike's chain.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Now it is time for the chain cleaner.

We find the best way to use a chain cleaner is to spray the chain down again with the degreaser. Then, spray some degreaser in the cleaner and get it clicked on properly. 

Run the chain through the cleaner for around a minute, changing the speed at which you turn the pedals for the perfect clean.

Now, remove the cleaner, and you should see the dirt in the bottom, which has come from the chain. Once removed, rinse the bike down again with water to remove any leftover degreaser.

  • Check out our guide to The 7 Best Bike Chain Cleaners here!

Step #5. Dry and Oil

Applying wet chain lube to the bike's chain.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Finally, it’s time to let the bike dry (or take a rag and dry it yourself).

Be patient here as next we’re going to be applying oil, and if the chain line is wet, it will not work properly.

Now we need to lubricate the chain.

You can choose from a few different options: dry lube, wet lube, or even waxing (we’ll cover the pros and cons of each below).

Apply the lube lightly to each link, run it through the chain line, and clean off the excess with the rag.

And with that, you’re ready to go!

Close-up of a grey bike's chain and cassette.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

What Lube Should I Use On My Bike Chain?

We often get asked about what type of lube you should use on your chain after a big clean. Here are a few options you should consider depending on your riding.

Dry Lube

Dry lube is excellent when it comes to keeping dirt off.

It provides a layer of cover that stops dirt from sticking to it and gives you excellent efficiency when out riding. It’s amazing in dry conditions and keeps your chain sparkling. 

This sounds great, but if it gets wet, the dry lube washes off, and you might find yourself applying this more than other types. It’s definitely more of a summer lube than a winter lube.

Wet Lube

Wet lube provides an efficient working chain line in all conditions.

Rain or shine, wet lube will keep your chain running smoothly. When on, it will last a lot of miles, and it will stay on until it sees a degreaser. 

Although excellent, wet lube has a terrible habit of picking up dirt. It can easily start looking messy, and a few dirty rides will make the chain look awful.

Wet lube needs to be cleaned off regularly and replaced.

Ceramic Lube

Ceramic lube comes in both wet and dry versions.

It is infused with nanoparticles of boron nitride. It has the ability to not only help your chain’s efficiency at its best but also keep dirt away.

Ceramic lube is excellent, but it does cost a lot of money compared to other lubes. Depending on whether it is wet or dry, you still face the same challenges. You are paying for a little more performance, in our opinion. 


Waxing offers something these lubes above can’t.

It lubricates the bike’s chain excellently, stops dirt from getting on it, and lasts for a long time. It’s even relatively cheap.

Although waxing offers a good surface for your chain, it is very time-consuming.You have to allow an hour to complete the process, and if the chain isn’t perfectly clean, it doesn’t work very well.

Close-up of a clean bike chain and rear hub against a brick wall.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

5 Top Tips To Keep Your Bike Chain Clean

Keeping your chain line clean can be challenging, especially when riding in winter or in poor weather conditions.

Here are our top tips for a clean chain line!

#1. Use Good-Quality lube

Decent chain lube goes a long way.

Using a reputable brand like Finish Line or Muc Off will ensure your chain line stays as clean as possible.

#2. Try to avoid poor conditions

If you’re riding in poor conditions, you’ll get a dirty chain.

All the dirt and mess from the road flicks up, and your chain line can do little to avoid it. 

#3. Clean The Chain often

If you want a perfectly clean chain line, we recommend cleaning your bike after every ride.

Don’t forget you will need a degrease and lube reapplying in each clean. It’s hard work, but worth it if you’re serious about looking after your bike.

#4. Avoid muddy roads

This only really applies to road riding.

If you want a clean chain line, avoid the messy roads when riding the bike. I would rather do the clean after, but if you’re short on time, stick to the cleanest tarmac and safest roads you can find. 

#5. Avoid sand at all costs

You’ll see plenty of clips on Instagram and YouTube of people riding on beaches on a bike, and it’s tempting to give it a go.

Sand is the worst thing for a chain, and it doesn’t take many seafront rides to destroy one and absolutely cover it in muck!

A grey bike with a freshly-cleaned chain leans against a brick wall.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Found this how to clean bike chains guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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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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