Cleaning a chain is a simple, straight forward process and critical first step in waxing a chain. Wax adheres tenaciously to clean metal surfaces so it’s important to strip a chain of oil and grease before dipping in hot wax. The cleaning process also removes contaminants and debris from the chain that increase friction.
For those of you who are not concerned with eking every watt out of your drive train, remember that a chain used for training or everyday use only needs to be cleaned once before waxing; from that point on it can simply be re-dipped without cleaning (the hot wax cleans the chain). Chains dedicated for racing, on the other hand, should be cleaned with the process below before each waxing for optimal performance.
Time saving tip: Start with a new chain, they are much easier to clean for waxing!
Items Needed To Clean Chain
Clear, odorless mineral spirits (important, must be clear, not white in color; if unavailable, substitute citrus degreaser from your LBS)
Wide mouth plastic container with lid (Target "Monster Mix" containers are best)
Large plastic jug (gallon size milk or juice container)
Solvent resistant gloves (longer is better so wrists are covered when removing chain from container)
Two clean rags (washcloth size, white or light color best)
Paper towels (plain white are best)
Aluminum pie pan and brush (if cleaning used chain)
Steps To Clean A New Or Previously Waxed Chain
(Steps for cleaning used, oiled chain at bottom of page)
Safety first: keep flame or spark away from solvents
Cut bicycle chain to length, place in container, pour mineral spirits to cover chain, shake for two minutes (anticipate a small amount of solvent may leak from lid area during shaking)
Remove chain from container, wipe firmly with clean rag (note dark residue), pour used mineral spirits into gallon jug using funnel
Clean inside of container and lid with paper towels to remove oil residue and metal filings (new chains contain metal filings that remain after manufacturing process)
Place chain in clean container, cover with new mineral spirits (bath #2), shake for one minute, leave overnight, chain should be completely submerged
In morning shake additional minute, remove chain, wipe all sides aggressively with rag, empty mineral spirits, clean container and lid with paper towels
Place chain in clean container, cover with new mineral spirits and shake for one minute (3rd and final bath). Note: if mineral spirits not clear after 3rd bath, repeat bathing process with new mineral spirits until clear. Also note amount of dark residue on rag after wiping chain; repeat bathing process until residue is slight (or eliminated entirely for fastest chain).
Remove and wipe chain after final mineral spirits bath, empty used mineral spirits, wipe container and lid clean with paper towels
Place chain in container, cover with denatured alcohol, shake for one minute, remove chain and wipe clean (use new rag so chain isn't contaminated by mineral spirits from wiping chain in previous steps)
Clean container and lid. Note: turn container upside down during final cleaning with paper towels to facilitate removing any remaining filings or debris from bottom of container
Repeat alcohol bath (alcohol bath #2), shaking for one minute
Remove chain, wipe aggressively with rag, hang to dry for a minimum of 15 minutes before waxing. Note: for fastest chain repeat denatured alcohol step until no filings or debris remain in bottom of container and rag shows no residue from wiping chain
Clean cassette, chainrings and derailleur pulleys with mineral spirits and denatured alcohol before installing chain.
Above cleaning process should result in extremely clean chain with dry, metallic, loose feel. If your chain is not like this, call us to troubleshoot. Your chain should not feel tacky or sticky to the touch.
Mineral spirits used in last bath can be reused for the first bath on subsequent chain (we do not recommend reusing denatured alcohol so final cleansing strength is maximized)
If not possible to leave chain overnight in mineral spirits, continue to agitate chain in successive baths until all grease is removed from chain. A good litmus test is residual grease present between outer plates; if you see grease there internal parts of bike chain will have grease too. Continue soaking and agitating until all grease is removed.
It is OK to leave chain in mineral spirits indefinitely, but not in denatured alcohol due to small percentage of water in denatured alcohol
We do not recommend using parts washer to clean new chain unless parts washer has been emptied and thoroughly cleaned and filled with new solvent.
Please dispose of mineral spirits and denatured alcohol at your local recycling facility.
Steps To Clean A Used, Oiled Chain
First off, some sound advice: If your chain is old and grimy (you know the type, the winter chain that's oiled frequently but never cleaned), go easy on yourself and try waxing the first time with a new chain that’s a snap to clean. It’s much less work and your nails won’t be an embarrassment at the opera. Conversely, if you have a used chain that’s in relatively good condition (check with chain wear gauge), follow the steps below and your chain will accept wax like a shiny new one.
Safety first: keep flame or spark away from solvent
Roll up chain in spiral and lie flat in aluminum pie pan, cover with mineral spirits, allow to soak for a few minutes
Brush chain to remove grime, empty dirty mineral spirits and refill with new as necessary
Turn chain over and brush opposite side, remove and wipe firmly with rag
Empty and refill pan then brush roller sides of chain (one side at a time, five inch segments work well, repeat on opposite side, then wipe firmly with rag)
After chain has majority of grime removed, complete “Steps to clean a new or previously waxed chain” process above
If you have a parts washer definitely use it to clean your used bicycle chain, but rinse the chain in clean mineral spirits and denatured alcohol before waxing
Use rubber gloves or stock up on Dawn or Gojo before cleaning your used, oiled chain!