Is vegetable oil as good as motor oil to oil a bike?

  • 7
    Yes, you should immerse your bike in canola oil weekly.
    – user313
    Apr 30, 2011 at 8:16
  • 13
    @wdypdx22 - Then coat with egg, dip in bread crumbs, bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. May 1, 2011 at 1:58
  • 1
    possible duplicate of Best chain lubricant for road bikes?
    – ChrisW
    May 1, 2011 at 3:43
  • 8
    At high speed, an expensive, virgin, olive oil can make your bicycle smell much better for the following traffic. May 11, 2011 at 19:58
  • 1
    When cooking oil goes bad, it smells bad. This is a reason to avoid using it, and is not unrelated. May 12, 2011 at 21:29

9 Answers 9


Vegetable oils tend to "polymerize", that is become sticky and solid. Castor oil, for instance, is an excellent lubricant that was favored for racing autos and motorcycles for a long time. The reason it never became popular for regular cars was that it also built up a lot of sticky, cruddy goo. Racing engines are regularly torn down and rebuilt; no matter. Not so your sedan. The oils used in oil-based paints are usually vegetable-based as well; they tend to become quite solid after a while.

As I've noted before, lubes, especially chain lubes, seem to be a "thing" for serious cyclists. Chain lube threads on dedicated bike forums tend to go on and on and on... It's the engineering mentality at work. "Maybe I can get 100 more miles out of my chain if I concoct my own special blend!" Maybe... Chain lubes are cheap. They cost at most what, 10 bucks for a bottle sufficient for a year? As well, chains are cheap. Oh, you can spend a lot for super-deluxe items, but a good, well-made standard chain is under 20 bucks and will last most riders as long as they keep the bike if lubed and cleaned properly.


  • 2
    Just to add an anecdote. Castor oil was used in open cockpit WWI era aircraft. Caster oil also has strong laxative effect. An unfortunate combination !
    – mgb
    May 2, 2011 at 15:15
  • "Vegetable oils tend to "polymerize", that is become sticky and solid" -- I'm pretty sure that this is why I "season" my cast iron cookware in order to make it non-stick. And..." Chain lubes are cheap. They cost at most what, 10 bucks for a bottle sufficient for a year? As well, chains are cheap." I wish I could upvote your answer more than once!
    – user313
    May 3, 2011 at 4:04
  • Also, I don't see the point in removing a chain, soaking in paraffin, etc... I love your answer M. Werner
    – user313
    May 3, 2011 at 4:06
  • @wdypdx22 it's the only way to remove all the old oil and clean it without using water containing detergents.
    – mgb
    May 3, 2011 at 4:14
  • "Chain lube threads on dedicated bike forums tend to go on and on and on... It's the engineering mentality at work." -- This is my favorite quote!
    – user313
    May 3, 2011 at 4:27

On the chain, not so much. As M. Werner says, it polymerises and turns into stick goo fairly quickly, and there's nothing you can do to stop that. So you can really only put it somewhere that it's easy to remove. Like a chain. Then you just need to use a chain cleaner on it every couple of weeks and reapply the oil. Using vege oil other places could be awful. Inside a hub gear especially, for one example.

I have one friend who tried vegetable oil on his chain, and experimented with a variety of oils. He doesn't use vege oil any more, from memory because it turned to black goo too fast. I believe that even cheap motor oil is better. I have emailed him a link, hopefully he will chime in.

Edit: he says he doesn't have anything useful to add.


Mineral oil consists of "alkanes" which have a simple chemical formula (CnH2n+2).

Fats go rancid because their molecules include relatively complicated/weak bonds.

(I'm less sure about waxes; but oil is more common, in chain lube, than wax).

I've just Googled the oil which my LBS sold me and note that it says, "Finish Line’s WET Lubricant features an Inherently Biodegradable formulation which that between 20% and 60% of the product’s base oils will degrade within 28 days."

Contrast that with another type of oil, which lasts a long time by being mineral oil.

  • 2
    Just as an addition, I maintain our department's fleet of 25 patrol bikes, and I've been using the Finish Line products for many years now with excellent results.
    – M. Werner
    May 1, 2011 at 14:52


It's about $5 for a bottle of chain lube and $10 for a tube of grease. Those are top-of-the-line lubricants and will last you for months of frequent application. There is absolutely zero reason why you should jeopardize the lifespan of your bicycle by coating it with food.

  • You are so right! I just cannot understand why folks want to de-link, remove the chain, melt paraffin, soak the chain in paraffin, and then reassemble the chain. Or, why using vegetable oil would be a good idea at all? Finally, a voice of rationality!
    – user313
    May 11, 2011 at 21:37
  • @wdypdx22: removing-the-chain is essential with unmaintained-or-heavy-used-or-bad-weathered-conditioned(such as winter) chains, you need to get the dirt from inside -- it lowers the friction.
    – user652
    May 12, 2011 at 17:10
  • @wdypdx22: if you read the answer in my link here, you could find the reason explained by freiheit: ´"and dirt inside will grind away at the internal parts and wear out the chain faster."´ Now, behave yourself. Stop exaggerating the frugal -chracteristic and try to answer the question. My answer is chemical per se -- why are you attacking me with these bombastic repetitive comments? Totally unrelated, baseless. It distracts attention from the chemical investigation.
    – user652
    May 12, 2011 at 17:27
  • @hhh - Sorry to be bombastic and for the misbehavior.
    – user313
    May 14, 2011 at 4:34
  • @hhh - Really sorry to be bombastic. I
    – user313
    May 16, 2011 at 19:43

I'm not really sure what the intent behind the question is here, but I have tried vegetable oil, and it's not great. It doesn't smell enough to concern you, but it gets gummy pretty quickly, and picks up dirt. It might be alright if you cleaned and re-applied really regularly (like every 3-4 days?), but I was too lazy to bother.

The reasons I wanted to try vege oil were basically environmental, and because I don't want to use products produced by the petroleum industry. Ok, and perhaps a little symbolism.

Anyway, a quick web search for "environmental bike lubricant" reveals http://www.green-oil.net/environment.html, which looks promising (long-chain polymers extracted from plant oil), and seems to have decent reviews. I haven't tried it yet, but will see if I can get some and try it out.


If your bike was a garage sale or dumpster find, sure, put vegetable oil on it. I do it to old kids' bikes. It works ok, and doesn't get them as greasy as motor oil or axle grease. I've seen a lawn mower that someone filled with canola oil instead of motor oil, and it ran just fine for a long time, though the oil did thicken up and stink.

FWIW there is a vegetable oil based chainsaw bar oil on the market, and I've used cheap corn oil with a little used motor oil as a bar oil for months. It works great, but smokes a little, and has to be drained from the reservoir or it will congeal some.

Some chains aren't cheap. The new "9 speed" chains are $20+, the "10 speed" chains are around $30-80, and the sure to be next 11, 12, 13 speed chains are italian top shelf stuff and $$$$$.


Since the question never actually specified which part of the bike was to be oiled, I'll point out that linseed oil (specifically boiled linseed oil) is often used as spoke prep.

In this case, it's used to lubricate the spoke threads during wheel assembly, and the fact that it dries afterwards is desirable as it acts like a threadlock to resist the nipple unscrewing.


Tri-flow now makes a soy-based chain lube: http://www.triflowlubricants.com/Tri-Flow_Superior_Soy_Lubricant_Drip.html A big ol' jug of soybean oil from the grocery store has the problems noted elsewhere.


I use Green Oil chain lube and it works just as well as dry lube/petrochemical oil/gt85 ever did. It smells much better too, like some kinda cooking oil.



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