How to clean a bike chain with household products?

Cleaning bike chain

The chain of your bicycle is the main component of your bicycle that transfers the energy of your pedaling to the wheels. A poorly maintained chain can reduce the efficiency of this energy transfer, making your ride less optimum and more strenuous!

To ensure you have an easy, enjoyable ride, you should make sure that your chain is kept in good condition. With the right supplies and know-how, your bike chain could be clean in half an hour or less and at a push, you may even be able to use products you have around the house.

Follow these procedures for a quick and effective method to keep your chain in good condition and for hassle-free riding;

Place Bicycle on a Stand

The first step is to put your bicycle in a stand. It is advantageous to have the bike in a solid work stand, as this will make the job a lot easier and will be better for visual inspection while you’re working on it. It also helps protect against any bumps that could knock your bike to the ground and cause damage if your bike is not properly secured.

Ideally, you should always use a bike stand for any kind of maintenance, however, if this is not possible you can set your bike upside down on the ground, so it rests on the seat and handlebars.

Clear visual inspection of the chain and drive train of your bike is the goal, so raising it up to a level more comfortable for you to work on, inspect and clean is of great benefit.

Check the Bicycle Chain

Next, let’s check your bike chain. If you notice your bike chain is excessively dirty and grimy, with a crust of dirt and environmental sludge, it’s probably time to clean your chain. Regular cyclists will likely perform a chain cleaning every week or two, or at least once every 200 miles or so, depending on how much riding is being done and under what conditions.

Checking the chain regularly will prolong the life of your chain and protect the chainrings from damage. It will also allow you to notice any changes to your chain, such as stretching or damage to the links.

Finding the Master Link

A visual inspection should be enough to tell if your chain needs cleaning and while you are doing this and if you have access to a handy ‘chain checker’ (I recommend this one on Amazon), check chain wear before cleaning as a replacement may be necessary.

While you are going to clean your chain, you’ll have an excellent opportunity to find the master link for the chain. A master link makes it an easy way to remove your chain for cleaning most chain manufacturers will have these available and a fairly inexpensive item costing around $15.

If it does not have a master link, you can install one of these yourself or have it done at your local bicycle store. This is fairly inexpensive, generally costing around $15.

Using Household Products for Cleaning

At a push, there are a few household products for cleaning your Bicycle Chain, however, you have to be careful in your choices as the wrong one can ruin your chain in no time.

These are the products I would recommend from my own experiences that you can purchase from your hardware store or that you may already have laying around the house.

You can purchase a few products that will work well and are easy on the pocket, but my pick is the ‘Orange Citrus Degreaser’, all-natural biodegradable, no phosphates, ammonia – a solvent that will leave a residue on the vital parts of the chain and leave your chain nice and clean and ready to lubricate.

The next is a product called ‘Shelite’ that’s a white spirit based metal cleaner. It’s good for cleaning a chain that’s not too dirty as it air-dries, meaning you will need to use a fair amount of it to clean an average dirty chain. A good thing about it though is that it has a low odor.

Kerosene always gets a mention, but it is not a favorite of mine. Yes, it does de-grease your chain well, but has a high odor, is messy and washes all the oil out between the links.

You will also need some bottles, soft rags, such as old t-shirts, gloves, a wire clothes hanger, two bottles and a chain lubricant like the products mentioned above. (Ideally, after reading this article you will go to your local bike store or go online and pick up a good quality lubricant as unfortunately, you cannot substitute this item and buying a good quality lubricant it a better investment in the long term).

Degreasing the Bicycle Chain

The first step is to take pictures of your chain and the set up of your bicycle for quick reference later if you are not familiar with the mechanics of removing and replacing the chain.

Then let’s start by degreasing the chain, empty some degreaser into one of the spray bottles and spray liberally onto the chain, leave for some minutes depending on the amount of debris and then rinse. You may need to do a second treatment of the degreaser for a deeper cleanse.

You can remove the chain from your bike, slide the pin holding the link closed out of its slot to open the master link. Once the master link is open, you can easily pull the chain fee by feeding it through the drivetrain.

Once you have removed the chain put into the bottle with degreaser, fasten the lid and shake for a couple of minutes.

For a more thorough clean, you can leave for up to 20 minutes. Remove with the coat hanger hook, this prevents getting your hands dirty, then place the chain in the other bottle containing hot water for rinsing off the degreaser, dirt, grime, and dust – rinse it thoroughly and remove. Take your rag to rub and squeeze the chain to dry and ensure the chain is free of any moisture.

Replacing the Bicycle Chain on the Drivetrain

Once dry you can replace the chain back on the drivetrain. If you struggle with replacing the chain use your pictures you took earlier for reference, or go online for a tutorial.

Reattach the master link, ensure the ends of the bike chain meet at the midpoint between your wheels for ease, then slide the pin of your master link back into its slot to complete the reconnection. Feel with your fingers to ensure it is properly fastened. If it is not evenly slotted, it will cause warping.

Lubricating the Bicycle Chain

Now you can lubricate your bicycle chain. A good quality lubricant is important to ensure the bike chain runs smoothly and protects the other components of the bicycle. (A few extra dollars can make a difference in the long term)

Hold the lubricant bottle above the top middle pin of the chain and gently squeeze a thin steady stream of lubricant onto the chain while you are simultaneously spinning your pedals to rotate the chain. Once the chain has completed a full revolution, you are done and ready to hit the road again.