Welcome to our Ask a Mechanic column where our expert mechanic Daniel Slusser answers your bike maintenance questions. If you have a question for Daniel, please post it on our Facebook Wall or e-mail Daniel directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: What is the best way to clean a chain? From: Will
Answer: There are a lot of methods out there and determining the best one will depend greatly on how and where you use your bike. If you live in a dry climate, prevention is the best medicine. For this situation I prefer to use a chain lube made for dry conditions and then make it a point to wipe off the chain after each ride. If it is really dusty, just use a garden hose, set at a low flow, the same way you would with a degreaser. Hold the hose over the portion of the chain that is underneath the chainstay and then rotate the crank backwards (backpedaling). With the right lube, you will be amazed at how clean your chain will be with this simple solution. At the moment I am enjoying WD-40’s new Bike-Dry Lube. It is oil based but extremely thin; a best of both worlds arrangement in my opinion. Don’t forget to re-lube after wiping the chain dry.
Of course using a chain cleaning machine is another option. They work well, but they make a bit of a mess. If you are looking for a solution that keeps your bike a bit cleaner (and your disc brakes safe from contamination), remove your chain and put it in a bucket filled with enough degreaser to submerge the chain. Leave it in the degreaser for 30 minutes and then pull it out and scrub it with a stiff brush in another dry bucket. Dip the brush and chain back into the degreaser when you need to work on a stubbornly dirty section. Once you are done, rinse off the chain with water, wipe it dry, and then lube it link by link, being careful to only apply the lube to the rollers of the chain.
This more thorough technique is the best way to handle chains that have been in wet and muddy situations. The only modifier to the technique described above is that I would first hose the mud off of the chain before you hit it with the degreaser.
There are plenty of other ways to clean a chain that achieve great results. For me though, I’ve found that these techniques provide the best combination of cleaning efficiency and performance.
Daniel Slusser is a professional bicycle mechanic with over ten years of experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from HSU and a master’s degree in history from Cal Poly. When he is not riding, wrenching, or writing he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.