I recently went for a ride in the forest. Sections of sand were encountered during that ride and I can clearly see sand sticking to my bike chain now.

How can I clean the sand off effectively? There are chain cleaning "machines," but they look like more of a gimmick.

  • 1
    Very, very similar to this question: http://bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/692/what-to-use-to-clean-your-chain-and-cogs. Is there anything here that's specific to cleaning off the sand particles? If not, will close as a duplicate. Commented Oct 11, 2010 at 1:45
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    Nobody's addressed the main thrust of this question: Cleaning off sand as opposed to normal road gunk. @deemar is saying that there's nothing different to be done, just a normal thorough cleaning. Am I on target? Commented Oct 11, 2010 at 4:57
  • The only difference I would see is that sand, specifically, can really wear out the chain and the drive train so extra care should be taken when cleaning. I like to use compressed air and ensure all chain rings etc... are cleaned properly.
    – tplunket
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 12:57
  • Best thing for cleaning sand off a chain would be a hose. Failing that, a water bottle. Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 11:37

8 Answers 8


You can use a spray bottle with diluted degreaser to spray down the chain and wipe it with an old towel to get most of the dirt off; or if it's really sandy or muddy you can use regular soap and water and a sponge. Then clean and lube the chain the way you normally would.

After using several different plastic mechanical chain cleaners my favorite method is also one of the cheapest. I use a small can, like a soup or a tomato sauce can, put a little degreaser in it and clean the chain with an old toothbrush.

Using the bottle is okay, but stay away from using gasoline, kerosene, paint thinner or other harsh liquids. These will penetrate deeply into the links and will displace the lube you try to reapply, as well as creating a significant fire hazard. Some people like to use diesel fuel which is okay. In my opinion, I'd stick to a quality degreaser product.

  • +1 For the diesel tip!. It's safer than gasoline, as it is harder to light up, a bit less smelly and it's not corrosive on plastic, rubber and skin.
    – Jahaziel
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 13:41
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    Do you take the chain off? How much time do you allocate for this? It seems like I could clean the chain forever.
    – Carl
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 23:43
  • 1
    I don't take the chain off, and I usually spend around 15-20 minutes if I am trying to be reasonably thorough.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 12:20
  • I see grit on my chain after every single ride, no matter where I go. Should I really be cleaning it every single ride? If it takes me an hour to clean, and I make $50/hr, I think there has to be some point of opportunity cost overcoming the price of a new chain and gears. How much does a chain and gears for a Shimano SLX cost anyway? Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 13:28
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    @ChristopherPisz I don't think anyone was suggesting a full-on cleaning every single ride. If there is visible grit, spray a little degreaser on a cloth and wipe the chain. That would be sufficient for several rides. Then every few hundred miles, or if it was particularly dirty, do a thorough cleaning and re-apply lube.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 15:07

The way to clean the sand off effectively is the same as cleaning you chain of regular road gunk. Effectively you want to:

  • Remove the grease/oil that is acting as an adhesive to hold the sand and grime on the chain.
  • Mechanically clean the dirt particles off the chain. I use one of the chain cleaning machines for this, but there are other ways.
  • Re-lubricate the chain to prevent rust and reduce wear.

This question on general cleaning of bike chains has some good answers with different levels of tech investment required.


I would go about this as I would my regular chain cleaning with a bit of a variation.

I would grab a clean rag and apply degreaser onto it. With the chain on large ring/small cog grab the lower portion of the chain with the rag (making sure the chain is contacting the degreaser) and then spin the crank backwards running the chain through the rag. As other answers have indicated this would accomplish removing the material which is holding the sand to the chain (and removing the sand from the outer plates).

Having done that I would then be sure to wipe down the pulleys. A small but important detail.

With the sand removed from the outside plates grab the air hose and (in a well ventilated room w/ a mask of some sort on for safety) position a garbage can below the chain. While moving the chain backwards you blow the compressed air down through the lower chain (blowing the air from the chain stay down through the chain) removing the grit that is on the inner portion of the chain.

Take the wheel out of the bike and clean the cassette thoroughly otherwise ... pointless endeavor. Remove the chain from the chain rings and wipe these down as well.

Typically I will then repeat the first step of wiping down the external portion of the chain with a rag/degreaser combo.

Lubricate the chain and you are done. You have removed the schmutz from the chain. Haha.

This is a toned down version of the answer I gave for a similar question with the added step of the compressed air. I do realize that not everyone has a compressor sitting around but, if you do, indispensable tool!


Since sand is "gritty", you should spend extra time making sure you have absolutely removed every bit of sand from the chain links so you get better wear from your chain and gears! You can do either a "on the bike cleaning" and lubrication or a complete removal of the chain to clean and lubricate it. If you continually ride in this type of environment, a complete removal/lubrication would be best. Here are the two different methods.

Method one: On-Bike Cleaning Before each ride, look at the entire chain by standing to the side of your bike and lifting the rear wheel off the ground. Using your free hand, rotate the closest pedal slowly backward, inspecting the individual chain links for dirt buildup, rust and/or tight links (links that do not bend easily as they pass through the rear derailleur). Check for adequate lubrication by listening for squeaks while riding. If you find either condition, your chain needs at least a spot-cleaning. To spot-clean the chain while it's still installed on your bike, simply brush out the links with a firm brush (toothbrushes work well) and relubricate the links from time to time with a chain lubricant. Remember to wipe off excess lubricant with a clean, dry rag so that it doesn't pick up new dirt. Over-lubricating can cause as many problems as under-lubricating.

Method two: Off-Bike Cleaning Every few months or so (more often for mountain bikes), completely remove your chain (using a chain-removal tool), brush it well and completely immerse it in a chain solvent to get rid of built-up grime that brushing can't remove. Let the chain soak until most of the dirt has been freed from the links and bushings. Dry the entire chain using a clean rag. Make sure that the solvent has completely evaporated, then relubricate the chain and re-install.

Remember to use a recommended lubricant on the chain, and follow the directions for applying and removing excess lubricant. Just remember...WD-40 IS NOT a lubricant!


I've used the chain cleaning machines, and while they do seem funny, they do tend to do a pretty good job at it. I've used a Park CM-2 to clean off dirt, metal shavings, and some pretty serious road grime with great success.

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  • I put turps in mine and it did really well at washing the chain, and the floor of the garage as the turps dripped off. It also dirtied up my frame for the next couple days too as it dripped and worked its way out. So it needs an initial lube and another lube some time afterwards.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 23:17
  • Decathlon do a tool that looks identical to this but isn't blue and doesn't say "Park Tool" on it - for a fraction of the price. Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 14:56
  • @DavidW I flagged two comments wherein Criggie asked if the picture added was correct, and zigdon replied that it was. But before the comments were removed, I realized that zigdon had also added detail about their use of the item. I copied their text directly into an edit, breaking into two sentences. I should have retracted the flag until the edit suggestion was handled, but I didn't think of it at the time. Commented Jan 3 at 14:03

If the chain is not very dirty, just clean it off quickly with a rag and see if it helps first.

Chain cleaning machines work passably well and save some time over manual chain cleaning methods. So if you find yourself having to clean your chain often (MTBing in mud, typically) it's worth it to invest in one.

Alternate method is to take the chain off, put it into a plastic container with some chain cleaning fluid or just plain old unleaded, and shake vigorously for 10 minutes. Save the fluid/petrol for future use, the old grease and sand will fall to the bottom and whatever's left above can be used again.

If you use either of the last two methods, you have to apply grease to the chain again.

  • 1
    I've never heard of using gasoline; I always use a dilute citrus degreaser. Commented Oct 11, 2010 at 1:43
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    I strongly advocate NEVER using gasoline as a degreaser. It has high 'flash' flammability as well as high contact and inhalation toxicity. The risk isn't worth it. Spend the extra dollar on a nice citrus degreaser.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Oct 11, 2010 at 3:28
  • The main reasons I use citrus degreaser: It's available in my local auto parts store inexpensively, and it also has a nice smell. Well, yeah, okay, not a horrible smell. Commented Oct 11, 2010 at 4:56
  • People often use diesel or kerosene over gasoline (both have a much lower volatility than gasoline)... however, both are toxic and are more difficult to dispose (and cost nearly as much as a citrus degreaser).
    – WTHarper
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 16:06

I have used Dawn diswasher liquid for cleaning oil and grease off of many things, including my bike's gears. Just remember to use a good clean lube when it's all dry. I use a small bottle brush to get between the gears in the cassette. Most auto parts stores carry small brushes or the grocery store for cleaning baby bottles. After all dont we all 'baby' our bikes???


You can water and soap or use dish washing liquid. After spraying water don't let it dry. Use gasoline and toothbrush or paint brush. Gasoline easily evaporates and it helps the chain, crank, and cog from rust. Gasoline can also eliminate oil and grease from chain and cog. Hope it will help lot a mtb rider.

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