A short guide on bike chain cleaning techniques from fellow members of Togoparts.com
Cleaning The Bike Chain
First of all, are you clear why you need to clean the chain? Simply, a dirty chain will wear out faster. Dirt and grit (sand) get attracted to the grease in the chain and intrude into the rivets, rollers and plates – these mash together as you cycle, and grind away at the chain and drivetrain components, wearing them out. So, a clean chain is safer and will save you money, leaving more aside for bling-blings!
The science behind cleaning the chain (and other parts of the drivetrain) is straightforward – you basically need to dissolve the greasy gunk using a solvent and this action then loosens and washes away the dirt that is trapped in the grease. However, this also means you need to re-lube the chain afterwards – skip this at the peril of your bike’s smooth operations and the lifespan of its parts.
There are two ways you can clean your chain:
On the bike
The cheap way is to douse the chain with solvents, and scrub away at it with a brush. An old toothbrush will do nicely. The downside to this method is that the ground and some parts of the bike might get dirty from the scrubbing action.
You can also get an ordinary baking tray and a paint brush with thick bristles. Position the tray on the ground under the chain. Pour degreaser into tray, and then proceed to “paint” the chain with the solvent until it is clean. Less messiness this way.
> Tgper: singlespeeder (Nov 2004)
The second method is to use a dedicated tool like ParkTool’s Cycloneâ Chain Scrubber, or Chain Gang set. These allow you clean your chain while keeping the dirt and solvent within the tool’s container.
Off the bike
This entails breaking the chain (see sub-topic below), removing it and cleaning the chain away from the bike. Easiest way is to put the chain into a jam jar, cover it with solvent and then do the cocktail shake. You may then rinse the chain off with fresh solvent. Another method is to scrub the chain in a tray with solvent.
>Tgpers: river, SIM37
- Dry the chain by wiping down with cloth, or by hanging up the chain overnight
- Re-lube the chain, making sure the lube gets into the pins and rollers. Wipe off excess lube.
- Dispose of all used solvents responsibly i.e. NOT down the drain!
What’s your poison? Several choices available:
- Commercial degreasers like Finishline Citrus Cleaner, or Simple Green. Others have tried Selley’s Automotive Degreaser (which comes in a spray can)
- Diesel – this is cheap. Diesel has relatively low flammability (but still, exercise care in storage and when using)
- Kerosene – this is cheap too. Kero is used widely in the parts cleaner machine in motor workshops, so it is quite safe for our bikes
- Turpentine – this can be used but take care in handling as it is carcinogenic
Can WD40 be Used?
Simple answer is No, because there are cheaper and better alternatives available (as above). But if WD40 is all you have on hand then it will do at a pinch. However, don’t mistake it as a lubricant, or as a substitute for lube – WD40 contains too little oil to be of much use as a bike lubricant.
How to Break the Chain
A detailed description is outside the scope of this FAQ. We refer you to the article on ParkTool’s website. Just note that to break a bike chain, you need a Chain Tool that is available as a dedicated tool, or as part of a multi-tool (from ParkTool, Minoura, Topeak, etc).
If you are planning to remove your chain often then it would be wise to consider either the Wippermann Connex chains (which comes with a special connector that allows you disconnect the chain easily), or SRAM’s Powerlink connector which can be retrofitted to an existing chain allowing easy disconnections.
How to Clean the Cogset/Cassette
As per the instructions above for the chain – solvent, brush/paintbrush and elbow grease. 99% of the time, the cassette is cleaned without removal from the hub, so you will really need to use your brush carefully to get in between the cogs. The edge of a rag will also help. ParkTool has a special brush for this purpose.