I'm new to bicycling and have been riding for a month or so. I just saw a few questions here regarding cleaning of the chain and thought "whoa, I should clean the chain".

How dirty (visually) should the chain and cogs be before I should consider cleaning them (pictures are welcome)?


I use my bike on daily basis for commuting, 4-6km a day. As of weather: I live in Florida, Fort Walton Beach. You can take a brief look at the temperature and humidity history on wolframalpha (consider changing range to "Past Year" for better overview). It's pretty clean here though.

Here are the photos of the chain and cogs that represent condition after a month of riding: chain rear cogs

The chain is definitely not dry, I can feel the lubricant if I touch them. Should I consider clearning/relubricating them?

  • When the chain is dry, or when it's visibly crusted. Simply being a dark color is not a problem. (However, it's wise to clean/lube your chain on something vaguely resembling a regular schedule, with extra treatments in wet or exceptionally dusty weather.) Jul 19, 2014 at 1:47
  • Yeah, but how much dust is acceptable and how much is considered enough?
    – Kentzo
    Jul 19, 2014 at 2:04
  • It depends on how anal you are. If crud is flaking off it's too dirty. It it looks dry (visible dry dust sticking to it) it at least needs oiling, and it's probably a good time to clean as well. Jul 19, 2014 at 2:07

1 Answer 1


Ultimately its going to be down to how zealous you want to be.

When you think of cleaning a chain, you need to think of two things. First, there is the cleaning - getting off the dirt and lube that has caked itself onto the chain. Then, there is lubing the chain to make it run nicely, (As part of a lube you'd maybe give the chain a rub with a dry cloth to try and get surface crap off, but wouldn't be soaking it in degreaser).

When maintaining a chain, you wouldn't necessarily do both of these at the same time. You would lube the chain quite regularly, but most likely would clean the chain less frequently. You'd never clean the chain without also lubing it.

For frequency of lubing, the answer is "it depends". We all have different preferences. If its a bike that doesn't get ridden often, you'd maybe lube the chain before every ride. A commuter, ridden daily, you'd maybe lube every week or two.

Also, you need to recognise that there are (many) different types of lube, for different conditions. The viscosity varies a lot between them. So if you're putting a lightweight dry lube on your chain (which you might do in the summer), its going to be far less likely to muck up your chain than a gloopy wet weather lube.

So the answer to "when do I clean it?" is also "it depends".

Ideally you don't want any dirt on your chain. That would improve both smoothness and chain life. So the anal extreme is to clean and lube it after every ride.

But most probably you'd go through the "lube" process several times before you considered degreasing. And, as I say, the lube you use will determine likely you are to pick up crap off the road. A wet weather lube, for example, might be good at repelling water, but it's corresponding stickiness will also attract dirt.

If I were to stick my finger in the air I'd say that personally I give my chains a thorough degrease probably around 3 times a year (on the bikes that I ride regularly). But knowing when to do this, I judge this by looking how much crap is on it as I'm lubing it - it's certainly balanced toward winter/wet riding, but it's a judgement call.

Give the cogs a decent clean at the same time as you clean the chain, otherwise you're just going to transfer muck from on to the other.

  • Please see update of the question with more information about current condition and weather.
    – Kentzo
    Jul 19, 2014 at 19:44
  • 3
    @Kentzo Looking at your photos, if that were me I certainly wouldn't be worried about degreasing just yet - right now everything looks good as new. But I would be lubing regularly. I'm guessing that your weather conditions will be heat and humidity, but off the top of my head I'm not sure what lube would be best for those conditions. Probably the best thing would be to go to an LBS and ask "what's the best lube for round here?" If they've got any business sense, they'll have some in stock.
    – PeteH
    Jul 20, 2014 at 11:11

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