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How to clean a bike chain without removing it in 2 easy steps.

In this blog I’m going to explain how to clean a bike chain without removing it. Sometimes it’s necessary to give your bicycle chain a thorough cleaning. Especially when you’re riding in wet conditions or trails and your bicycle doesn’t have fenders.

As dirt accumulates into your bike chain it increases the rate of wear on your drivetrain and shifting performance decreases. There’s no better feeling than riding on a perfectly maintained bike, and a clean drivetrain goes a long way in adding to the quality of your ride.

Sometimes after a single ride you might want to clean your bike chain. It would be a total nuisance if every single time you would have to remove the entire chain. Don’t worry. It’s absolutely not necessary to do so. Because it’s absolutely possible to clean a bike chain without removing it.

I’ve also written an article about 5 bicycle chain cleaning myths. You might want to look into that one as well.

Ok, let’s get started.

Video Tutorial

Tools you’re going to need to clean a bike chain without removing it

Besides a rag or towel to clean your bike chain, there are 2 other things you’re going to need. The first is a chain cleaner tool or chain scrubber. This does necessitate a small investment from your part, but in terms of bicycle maintenance it’s probably the tool you’re going to be using the most if you do any serious type of riding. So it’s going to be well worth the money.

I often name Park Tool when talking about cycling tools. When I decided to start buying specialty tools I also decided to go for this brand. But they’re not exactly cheap. And I bought a BBB chain cleaner tool for investing in Park Tool tools. As it turned out, the BBB chain cleaner is more expensive than Park Tool’s and it broke almost immediately.

I still use it because I glued the 2 inch long crack in the casing. I don’t know if Park Tools is any better. They probably both come from the same factory in China, but I’m not going to buy the BBB again. That’s for sure.

Talking about expensive products, chain cleaner fluid is definitely up there with the most expensive products you can use for your bicycle. Not on a per item basis, but since these products have a finite lifespan, the costs will add up with each use. All chain cleaner fluids including this Park Tool CB4 chain cleaner fluid are extremely expensive in my opinion.

Of course I’ve used them, but these bio-degradable products seem to be somewhat less friendly when your left with an empty plastic bottle in your hand. That’s why I recommend using normal household products and reuse them. The best one of all of these is paint thinner, also known as mineral spirits, white spirits or terpentine. You can get this for a fraction of the cost of official bicycle cleaning fluid.

You shouldn’t just throw used paint thinner down your sink. After I use a bike cleaner tool with paint thinner, I simply put the used fluid back into the same bottle. The dirt from your chain will sink to the bottom of the bottle since it’s heavier than the fluid.

When the terpentine is deemed to dirty to be reused I filter it by emptying the content in another bottle with a nylon pantyhose over the opening. The dirt which accumulates in the pantyhose is easily disposed of in the trash can.

So basically I can almost infinitely reuse the same cheap fluid over and over again. I’ll probably never go back to other degreasers, especially since chain cleaning isn’t the only bike maintenance job I use it for.

Step 1: Using the chain cleaner tool

A chain cleaner tool is pretty straightforward. You can open it and fill it with fluid. There’s a little indicator mark that helps you poor the right amount of liquid in the chain cleaner.

The next step is to put your bicycle chain through the chain cleaner. To do so place the lower part of the chain cleaner underneath the chain and the cover on top. This will push the chain into the brushes that will scrub of the dirt once you start moving the chain through the cleaner.

Moving the chain through the cleaner is done easily enough by rotating the crank. Performing fifty rotations will be sufficient to get all of the grease and dirt of the chain. If this isn’t the case, remove the chain cleaner and see look if there’s enough liquid in the cleaner. If there isn’t you’ll only use the brushes which will not be enough to actually remove the grease.

Step 2: Drying and further cleaning of the bicycle chain using a towel or cloth

The next step is to firmly wrap a towel or cloth around the chain. Rotate the crank again so the chain is pulled through the towel. This will remove any loose grease and dirt and mineral spirits as well. Check your towel after a couple of rotations. If the towel no longer get’s dirty, it means you have a perfectly clean chain.

Now that your bicycle chain is clean, the next step is to lube it. I’ve written an article about the best bicycle chain lube money can buy. Be sure to read it.

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