With long journeys and particularly during winter I have noticed that the salt erodes the chain very quickly, even when I have lubricated the chain beforehand. When you are missing proper chain lubricants, what would you use as a substitute? Could you use cooking oil if you are missing the right stuff, or should I keep a small bottle of oil with me on my rides?


  • What do you mean by chain lubricant? The thing that really matters is viscosity (marketed like wet/dry [1]). I am not sure but trying to find the extreme dry and wet choices may be the way to find proper substitutions, they may not be marketed as "bike oil". [1] bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/633/… – user652 Feb 7 '11 at 20:43
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    Lubricant is a general term that refer to substances meant to lubricate a bike's drivetrain; it doesn't mean a specific brand or type. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Feb 7 '11 at 21:35
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    Not really frugal, but belt drives don't need chain lubricant carbondrivesystems.com – Christopher Manning Mar 27 '11 at 9:08
  • I have noticed that some use a sock and chain lubricant to clean their chains, it can become prohibitely expensive with dirty chains and rather inefficient. For thorough cleaning, you can use cooking oil like here [1]. [1] bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/3304/… – user652 Mar 28 '11 at 19:04
  • Please define long and quickly. A 50ml bottle of oil lasts a long time - why not just carry some with you. – mattnz Oct 6 '12 at 8:04

10 Answers 10


If you go over to Bikeforums, and look in the "mechanics" section for chain-lube threads, you'll note that they go on and on and on and get downright cranky... People with their own home-concocted recipies, folks favoring waxes over oils, folks who use magic spells.. (well, not really but you get the idea)

It's a quandary. The ideal chain lube would go on like water, penetrate deep into the rollers, then set up like a nice, thick grease which would also act like a wax and not attract dirt and would prevent rust and..... I don't think it exists. Waxes don't attract dirt much, but they fall off. Greases don't get into the innards of the chain unless you heat 'em up and immerse the chain, and they attract dirt like magnets. I tend to use commercial lubes which at least penetrate well and set up to some degree, and I do a thorough cleaning as needed.


One option would be to use a cheap chain during winter and discard it in spring.

Another would be to not have the chain be salted in the first place, try a hermetic chain guard system.

If your bike doesnt have a dereailleur, you could try a chainrunner, but I have my doubts it protects against water getting into the lining. http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Chainrunner.JPG&filetimestamp=20100223153843

The Teflon-based lubricants are pretty good in summer, but dont help in winter.

Cooking oil is not suited for mechanical parts. (It chemically changes over time, contains acidity, etc)

  • Posipiet: by "hermetic chain guard system, do you mean things like inner hub or something else? – user652 Feb 7 '11 at 2:20
  • hmm, well, my bad, a hermetic system basically requires inner hub, yes. – Posipiet Feb 7 '11 at 18:43
  • Posipiet: I agree with your doubt about chainrunner. Suppose you don't remove it, the salty-liquid won't evaporate as easily and it may do more damage to your chain as without it. Then, again it protects in a way but it seems plastic that does not help evaporating. Risky purchase, won't touch it. – user652 Feb 8 '11 at 3:05

You might also consider using a stainless-steel chain.

Here's one source, there are probably others: http://www.connexchain.com/Bicycle-chains/9-Speed/1_327.html

  • is it a defacto that chains are made of some porous metal i.e. something that rust easily? I am not sure but I saw a chain looking a bit orange, a very thick chain used during winter. No idea ofthe material ideas? (not copper but perhaps some mixture) – user652 Feb 8 '11 at 3:00
  • I think that a stainless or nickel plated chain is the way to go, but you also need to keep the chain clean. Even a stainless chain will develop surface rust due to the build up of the minerals in the road salt if you never clean it. The metal itself won't rust, but there will be layer of minerals on the chain that will essentially make the chain act like a rusty chain. – Kibbee Oct 6 '12 at 0:44
  • You'll still need to keep the chain lubricated! It's not clear if the OP meant that the salt causes their chain to rust quickly, in which case stainless would rust more slowly, or if the chain also wore quickly. There's no way around that except more frequent cleaning and lubrication. – Weiwen Ng Dec 8 '20 at 20:38

Unfortunately, there isn't a substitute for simply keeping a bike clean. Even on a multi-day ride, it's possible to bring along a rag and a bottle of lube, at least getting off the worst of the salt and dirt before adding lube. Some bike shops sell small packets of lube, but those are getting harder to find.

Cooking oil is not designed to lubricate metal, and isn't going to do a very good job at keeping your bike lubricated. Wax lube works best in very clean environments, as it has a tendency to pick up dirt and, I assume, road salt, making the problem worse.

In winter conditions, I would stick with regular chain lube while keeping the drivetrain as clean as you can.

(If having a very clean drivetrain is important to you, you might consider looking into internal hubs or even shaft-drive bikes; both offer fully sealed drivetrains, but they do come with performance and weight trade-offs.)

  • neilfein: what about paraffin? Why do people use it? It seems to be some sort of substitute to chain lubricant such as chain oil. – user652 Feb 8 '11 at 3:11
  • I've never used paraffin; can anyone else comment? – Goodbye Stack Exchange Feb 8 '11 at 16:17
  • actually cooking oil is a substitute for cleaning the chains, I know a bit splitting hairs, but lubes have the function to clean the chains with sock. What do you think about it? I use the commercial lube for lowering the friction while riding but when I have very dirty metallic parts I regularly use cooking oil like: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/3304/… – user652 Mar 28 '11 at 19:13
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    @hhh - Cooking oil goes rancid, so I don't recommend using it. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Mar 29 '11 at 1:07
  • I meant a scenario where you only use cooking oil to take the junk out of the metallic parts, take it off and then use commercial lubes for lubrication. Strictly speaking, it is not lubrication per se but it is a substitute for the function of a lubricant i.e. cleaning the chains with cloth like sock. For cleaning dirty chains I have used cooking oil and then added real lubricant afterwards, it works. So my point is that cooking oil is a substitute in a way but you need to know how to use it, not to have rancid oiled chains, I am still uncertain about the best way to remove the oil – user652 Mar 29 '11 at 14:06

Jason Plank suggested a thing called hot wax here. I have no idea what it is, google returns more porn than bikes, so it would be helpful if someone pointed the right stuff.

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    Search for "paraffin" instead of wax. Paraffin is a waxy petroleum product that's often called wax: instructables.com/id/Lubricating-a-Bicycle-Chain-using-Paraffin – freiheit Feb 7 '11 at 5:13
  • Also had petroleum jelly (ie Vasonline) suggested before - it's certainly waterproof but isn't going to penetrate to lubricate bearing. It will also pickup lots of crud. ps don't search for vasoline+penetrate on google! – mgb Feb 7 '11 at 17:24
  • @freiheit: any idea whether the paraffin is cheap or why to use it? Could you use both paraffin and oil? After long rides, use paraffin and then during rides use oil? Oil looks much easier to carry. – user652 Feb 8 '11 at 18:10
  • paraffin needs to be melted, like on the stove. It's not a portable lubricant. I doubt you'd get good results mixing it with oil. – freiheit Feb 8 '11 at 18:44
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    To clarify, you can immerse the chain in hot, melted paraffin. You can optionally add friction modifiers like PTFE powder if you're interested in performance. The issue with wax is that you have to thoroughly degrease the chain first, or else the wax won't adhere to it due to the hydrocarbon-based lubricants. Performance-oriented cyclists may maintain a spare chain that's been waxed, so they can just throw it on and take their time to clean the dirty one. In long dirty races, they may bring a spare bottle of drip wax lubricant (e.g. Squirt) for supplemental lubrication after the wax wears. – Weiwen Ng Jun 17 '20 at 19:20

Not really a substitute but the instrinsic goal is the same to get the chain more long-lasting. I met a guy that switched to thicker chains with other material during winters more here.


I have always used Phil's tenacious oil in the winter time. Very thick but lasts longer than most in some of the worst conditions.


MSDS sheet https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0378/1413/files/SDS-PHIL_TENACIOUS_OIL.pdf

enter image description here

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    According to the MSDS for Phil Wood Tenacious Oil, it contains nothing but "petroleum hydrocarbon". This is some generic stuff bought cheaply in large quantities and then sold in little bottles as a bicycle-related product. The web site claims they blend in rust-inhibiting and other additives but no additives are mentioned in the MSDS so there is no reason to believe it. – Kaz Oct 5 '12 at 22:25

For lubricating bicycle chains, and other parts, we need a light machine oil, perhaps thinned a little bit by a solvent to help it get into the chain. Furthermore, an anti-rust additive would be helpful.

I found an oil which meets these requirements and is inexpensive (paid about $5.50 CAD before taxes for a 500 ml bottle at Vancouver Auto Parts). On the bike chain, it doesn't pick up a lot of dirt and isn't difficult to remove with detergents. It happens to be an air tool oil.

Not every light machine oil will necessarily have such anti-rust additive. Why it is important in an air tool oil is that these tools are exposed to water which condenses in the air compressor and makes its way into the supply lines.

This is the specific product I'm using:


The ingredients are published in its MSDS (material safety data sheet) accessible from the above product page. The exact formula isn't given away, but the MSDS gives us a good enough idea about what is in there. It's mostly hydrotreated oil (hydrotreating not only removes sulfur, but improves the quality of oils: the Wikipedia page does not tell all), a bit of napthtenic oil (thinner-bodied class of oils with some useful properties), a hydrocarbon distillate to help the product act as a penetrant, and a zinc-based anti-wear, anti-rust additive.

  • The link is a 404, but I'm interested, so please update – An Ant Nov 29 '20 at 9:38
  • @AnAnt Thanks for the heads-up. It looks like the page was edited to include two product numbers: 4168 and 4169. – Kaz Nov 29 '20 at 23:44
With long journeys and particularly during winter I have noticed that the salt erodes the chain very quickly, even when I have lubricated the chain beforehand. When you are missing proper chain lubricants, what would you use as a substitute? Could you use cooking oil if you are missing the right stuff, or should I keep a small bottle of oil with me on my rides?

The best bicycle chain lubricants are sold in a spray can and are thixotropic.

When sprayed on the chain, the spraying action agitates the fluid and it becomes thin as a result of the agitation. The now-thin fluid penetrates easily to the innards of the chain.

Then, when you leave the bicycle to sit, over time, the chain lubricant becomes thick. This causes it to stay inside the chain and not drip on the floor.

When you start to ride the bike, the motion of the chain agitates the lubricant again and it becomes thinner so that it does not resist the motion of the chain too much.

When you park the bike again, over time, the chain lubricant becomes thick to prevent it from dripping.

To test whether a particular spray lubricant is thixotropic, spray it into a small glass container and see how thin it is. It should be reasonably thin immediately after spraying.

Leave it settle for a day. See how thin or thick it is now. If it is thixotropic, it should be markedly thicker than immediately after spraying.

These thixotropic lubricants last a long time. Unfortunately, bicycles are a low-tech application where nearly anything can lubricate a chain in an acceptable manner, so you won't find these thixotropic lubricants marketed as a bicycle chain lubricant. To have the largest chance of finding a thixotropic lubricant, you should purchase motorcycle chain lubricant. Being marketed for motorcycles, the spray can is large, so large that you cannot reasonably carry it with you. Because it is delivered by spray (in order to agitate it during delivery), it is impossible to move some of it to a smaller spray container.

I suspect most sub-500km rides don't need additional lubrication if not riding in the rain. Just lubricate the chain before a long trip. If riding in the rain, the rainwater quickly displaces whatever lubricant there is in the chain and then the chain will be lubricated by rainwater. It is an acceptable lubricant in this low-tech application, but it will evaporate quickly. When the rain stops, the lubrication stops and the chain starts to squeak.

To fix the squeak, there are two options. Firstly, carry a very small drip bottle of any oil with you (doesn't need to be thixotropic as this is an emergency lubricant only). Secondly, if you prefer not to carry the lubricant or forgot it home, try to find a discarded motor oil container from a gas station. Most likely, there will be a very small amount of oil in there that is enough to lubricate the chain.

Don't use cooking oil; prefer motor oil instead as an emergency lubricant.

Oh, and as a reminder, these thixotropic lubricants in a spray can must not ever reach the rear disc brake if your bike has disc brakes. Be careful when applying or use a large object to prevent possible spray to the disc brakes.


I use a hot wax solution - very home-brew but it works nicely for me.

I have an old electric frypan where the non-stick lining was failing so it was no longer usable for food. I sanded the nonstick off, and loaded it with one kilogram of paraffin wax bought from a cosmetics wholesaler. It cost $35 NZD for 5 kilograms.

A brand-new chain goes straight in. A used chain gets degreased, cleaned and dried then goes into the frypan where the wax has melted. The wax is about 120-150 degrees C, so completely liquid and transparent.

The chain sits on the bottom and cooks for a while until there are no bubbles coming off it. Then I pull the chain out and hang it over the frypan so drips fall in. Chain's metal will be too hot to touch, so use an old spoke.

When things have cooled down I refit the chain to the bike. There will be lots of little flakes of wax on the side plates which fall off, so do this somewhere you can sweep up. The wax in the frypan stays there - you might choose to flip it, drop out the hardened lump, and cut off any dirty bits.

I do not wax the quicklink/master link, because the rollers are in the chain and the link should not be slippery.

So far, I've waxxed around 5 chains, and have not had to top up my original 1 KG of wax. Chain needs rewaxxing every 3-6 months depending on usage, and it is highly resistant to rain and water in my experience. Some claim waxxed chains are louder than oiled chains; I have not noticed a difference.

enter image description here
Freshly waxed chain - stiff as a stick. Most of the flaky wax will fall off after a couple revs.

Note that the wax will make floors quite slippery. After the first time I waxxed inside, I had to hot-wash my garage floor to reduce the slipperiness.

enter image description here
Chain simmering in molten hot wax.

enter image description here
Partially melted. Temp got to about 180 degrees C. Do note that the wax does not steam, and there's no outward indication of its temperature. Don't drop any water in here because it will flash-boil and splatter.

Also keep your fingers out! This is more than a drop of candle wax and will burn you.


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