How to Clean and Lubricate a Chain
Chain cleaning is an essential part of bike maintenance, extending the life of your whole drivetrain and greatly improving shifting and overall drivetrain function. This repair help article will walk you through each step of cleaning and lubing a drivetrain.
Before beginning the cleaning process, check your chain for wear using a chain wear indicator such as the Park Tool CC-3.2. If the chain is worn beyond its service life, it’s best to skip the hassle of cleaning and simply replace the chain.
The key to getting a clean chain is to use a degreaser (such as Park Tool CB-4). Bicycle-specific degreaser is formulated to cut through the thick buildup of grime and oil usually found on well-used bicycle chains.
It’s easiest to clean the chain while the bike is in a repair stand — this keeps the bike stable and ensures the chain is parallel to the ground. If you don’t have a repair stand, position the bike against something stable such as a picnic table or support beam, making sure that you are able to backpedal in order to access the entire chain.
Prepare to make a mess while cleaning your chain — an apron and gloves are recommended. If you are working indoors, prep your work area by laying cardboard or something similar underneath the drivetrain to prevent degreaser and contaminants from staining or corroding the surface of finished floors. If you are outside, consider spraying your work surface with water before getting started to make grease and contaminants easier to clean up after you’re done.
Chain Cleaning Process
Begin by shifting to the smallest cog and front chainring. If you are using a dummy hub, remove your rear wheel and install the dummy hub. A dummy hub like the DH-1 is recommended but not required as it will add chain slack and keep the loosened contaminants away from the wheel and drivetrain components.
A purpose-built chain cleaner such as the Park Tool CM-5.3 or CM-25 can significantly streamline the process of cleaning a chain, with brushes to scrub the chain from all angles and draw particulate matter out and away from the chain. If no chain cleaner is available, a simple stiff-bristled cleaning brush can be acceptable. Partially fill a small container with degreaser and periodically dip the brush in the container as you manually hold the chain and scrub thoroughly.
If you are using a chain cleaner, attach it to the lower section of chain while making sure that the chain fully seats into the brushes of your chain cleaner.
Fill the chain cleaner with solvent to the fill line marked on the body of the CM-5.3 or CM-25.
Once your chain cleaner is filled with solvent, begin turning the cranks of your bicycle backwards for at least thirty revolutions.
Once you have cycled thirty revolutions, remove your chain cleaning device and pour the solvent into a separate container.
Once the contaminants have settled to the bottom of the container, the solvent can be reused. Always check with local authorities for information on how to dispose of your used solvents. Rinse out your chain cleaner and refill it with soapy water, then repeat the process of installation and cycling your chain through the chain cleaner until your chain is thoroughly rinsed. While you are cleaning your chain, it’s a good idea to wipe off other parts of your drivetrain that may need attention, like the chainrings, rear cogs, and rear derailleur pulleys.
Wipe off your chain by running it through a clean, dry rag and leave your chain to air-dry or use an air compressor to blow the excess water off of your chain. Once the chain is dry it is important to relubricate your chain.
Use a purpose-made chain lube such as Park Tool CL-1.2 to lube the chain. Apply a small drop to each individual rivet. Next, use a clean, dry rag to wipe the excess lube from your chain to prevent dirt from collecting on your chain.
If you used a dummy hub to clean your chain, remove it now and reinstall your rear wheel in your bicycle. Your chain is now clean and ready to ride.