Nobody likes a dirty bike chain. They are noisy, look awful, and they are not efficient at all. Being a cyclist isn’t just riding bikes.
You also need to allow time to ensure your bike is in great condition so you can have the best experience riding. However, bike cleaning products are not cheap and can be challenging to find if you don’t live close to a bike shop.
Many people don’t know that there are many household goods that could do the job for you. This article will tell you how to clean a bike chain with household goods without using any specialist bike tools.
Does the chain need changing?
Before we speak about how to clean your chain, it’s important to understand that sometimes your chain needs replacing, not cleaning. We have seen a lot of articles online from people who are trying to clean a chain that is beyond that, and we don’t want you to do that. Here’s what you need to look out for;
Rust naturally happens on a bike chain. If it’s on the surface, you can easily get rid of it with some elbow grease.
If it’s completely rusted out, you’ll need a new chain. If the chain doesn’t flex anymore, buy another.
We highly recommend owning a chain checker. They cost around $10 and are great for seeing when your chain is beyond repair.
A stretched chain heavily wears other components, such as the cassette and chainrings. If it’s stretched, change it out.
It’s really common when we look at bikes to notice that chains are often an incorrect length. That is because they could have been installed wrong or lost links throughout their lives. If you can’t get in all gears using all the combinations of the chainrings and cassette, then change it out.
How to clean a chain with household products
Now for the fun bit, let’s start cleaning the chain. This is our process for a chain clean. Here’s what you are going to need;
Bike Stand (Optional)
Tooth Brush or brush
2 x Rag
Water (Hose is best)
Household Degreaser (See below)
When it comes to getting a household degreaser, you have a few options to choose from. You might need to get creative here. Many things can work. Here are our favorites;
WD40 is a moisture displacer, lubricator, and rust preventer. It is generally something many people keep in the house and can help remove dirt and grime from a chain with elbow grease. Do not get any on your disc brakes, as this isn’t good for your pads.
Washing up liquid
Washing up liquid is designed to remove dirt from your dishes. It also can work as a good remover of dirt on your chain as it can help break down oil. You really need to scrub with it, but it does work.
Baking Soda, water, and lemon juice
Two cups of warm water, one spoonful of baking soda, and a couple of spoonfuls of lemon juice. Mix it all together, and you have a homemade degreaser.
There are a lot of other alternatives you will find on the internet, and we highly recommend looking at some other recommendations on google from other cyclists. In a perfect world, the best bike degreaser you can get is Muc Off’s drivetrain cleaner.
Step One: Preparation and washing
The first step is to get prepared. Find an area you can safely work and get all your supplies lined up and ready to go. Wash the bike down and get as much dirt off as possible.
Don’t worry too much about the chain. Just focus on the rest of the bike.
Get deep into the derailleurs, as these could be full of mud, and be bold and use a bit of bike shampoo if you have it available. Use one of the rags to really make a good job of it.
Step Two: Soak and scrub the chain
Now your bike is clean and you have loosened all the free dirt off, it’s time to get into that stuck dirt. We recommend getting your degreaser of choice and covering the chain, cassette, and chainrings.
You have to clean them all to ensure the chain gets clean and stays clean. Leave it to soak in for a few minutes.
Take the toothbrush and scrub. You will want to scrub every bit of dirt you can see on the chain, cassette, and chainrings. You need to really get in there and mix the degreaser in with all the mess so it can release it.
Once you’re happy, rinse the bike off, and it should look much better. If it’s not clean enough, repeat the process until it is.
Step Three: Rag and oil
The chain might look perfect already, but there will always be some hidden dirt. Let it dry and then get the dry rag and run the chain through it. You will see much more dirt come off here. Keep going until it shines.
Finally, once completed, drop a bit of oil onto each link, then run the chain through the system for around 45 seconds. Then use the rag again to take any excess oil off the chain, so the oil only sits inside the links.
So now you know how to clean a chain using household products. We recommend using bike products over household goods as they do a much better job and make it easier for you.
Thank you for taking the time to read our article, and enjoy your clean chain.
Robbie Ferri has spent years working in a bike shop, has worked with industry leading brands on product creation, has been a semi pro athlete, and is a fully qualified strength and conditioning coach. He has broken World Records, bikepacked all over the World and raced ultra distance at a top-level.