What is the best way to clean my bike chain?


I love questions like this, because that means you care about properly maintaining your bike. For us there are two easy ways, and both are fairly inexpensive. The first question I always ask is if your current chain has a master link, which is an outer plate link on the chain that can be quickly disconnected with the proper tool. If you have one of these, then either of these methods (below) can be done, but if you don’t, then we would recommend only the
first method.

Method #1

This does require a special tool, but it’s under $40 and comes with the cleaning degreaser. We like the Muc-Off X-3 Dirty Chain Machine because it uses a very little amount of fluid and does a pretty good job cleaning the entire chain. It doesn’t require you to remove the chain and leaves very little mess, but we would recommend taking it outdoors in case things don’t go as planned. 

Essentially, the tool is a container that clamshells over the chain and has brushes to help loosen and remove grime. The fluid is housed in the top of the unit, and as you spin the cranks backwards, it slowly releases fluid onto the chain. Many of these tools require a lot more fluid in an attempt to submerge the chain, but the Muc-Off version seems to do just as good of a job but with much less fluid.

After a few full rotations of the chain through the tool, your chain should be much cleaner. Remove the tool and use some water to rinse the chain off. Then find your favorite lube and start fresh.

Method #2

This also needs a special tool, but it’s a master link tool that will aid in removing the link and the chain. Before you remove your chain, note the direction and markings on the chain, because with some drivetrains this can be directional.

After you have removed the chain, we recommend finding an old plastic food container or glass jar. I place the chain in the jar and then pour in the chain cleaner or degreaser. I use just enough to submerge the width of the chain. If the chain is more than one width high as it is coiled in the jar, I just swirl the liquid around getting the whole thing wet. I then let it sit while I use a dirty rag to clean the pulley wheels. Every few moments I give the jar another swirl.

Next it’s time to remove the chain from the jar and use some water to rinse the chain off. Make sure you reference your notes on the orientation of the chain on the bike and ensure you also route it through the rear derailleur pulleys correctly. 

I next put each piece of the master link on the ends of the chain and, using both hands, mate them together along the bottom where the chain would normally travel backwards. The master link will hold together on its own but not completely reengage (photo above). To do this, rotate the crank backwards until the master link is at the top. Then, while holding the wheel from rotating, put force on the cranks and it should extend into place. Then find your favorite lube and start fresh.

Important note:

Do not use a pressurized spray degreaser directly onto the chain and cassette while they are still on the bike. I see this a lot, even at some shops as they try to quickly clean up a bike. This method can and will damage your bike. The over-spray will find its way to other parts of the bike that you don’t want to be degreased, like the hub and bottom bracket. This will lead to premature wear and a potential riding hazard if they fail. If you have used this method in the past, have your local shop check the integrity of your bike’s hub and bottom bracket and grease immediately.

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