I've seen it suggested that cleaning a chain too often or too thoroughly is bad for it, in that it removes the lubricant from the innermost parts of the chain, where it's most needed and most difficult to replace. The KMC website in particular claims that using a bath-type chain cleaner will "instantly ruin" the chain.

On the other hand, Sheldon's article on chain maintenance doesn't mention this at all, but suggests that fresh lube is quite capable of penetrating through to the pins and inner surfaces of the rollers. This seems plausible to me: as long as any excess degreaser – and as much water as possible – is removed, I can't imagine any part of the chain's interior remaining unlubed.

Is there actually any evidence to suggest that "over-cleaning" is harmful to chains? And if so, how are you supposed to extract the gunk that accumulates in the chain, which presumably can be as harmful as too little lube?

  • I think the context for the use of a bath type chain cleaner instantly ruining the chain is "in combination with solvent".
    – RobS
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 14:58
  • 2
    If and how to clean and lubricate a chain is basically a religious issue -- every source has a different viewpoint. In this answer, I've collected the major manufacturer's recommendations. I don't think anyones got a good empirical study of chain life vs cleaning and lubrication, since riding conditions are so different. In any case, I'd guess differences would only come up to a few chains over your entire lifetime.
    – Batman
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 15:02
  • 1
    @Batman - I actually have some longevity data under relatively constant conditions, one test of lube and degreaser/chain cleaner gave very poor mileage (about 1/2 the longevity of just wiping clean and lubing) . Unfortunately, lube is a confounded variable so I need to rerun with a different lube to see if I still see the poor results. But so far I am very suspicious of the impact of solvent based chain cleaners.
    – Rider_X
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 19:10
  • @Batman I realise it's contentious, but that's why I kept the scope of the question narrow and with a (hopefully) well-defined answer :-) Commented May 13, 2016 at 20:49
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    There is nothing wrong with using a bath-type cleaner, so long as the chain is properly re-lubricated afterwards. What is wrong is to clean a brand new chain, removing the factory wax. That wax is one of the best lubes possible. Commented May 13, 2016 at 21:38

1 Answer 1


Evidence, not sure. I can say I've used the Park Tool chain cleaner, which is pretty much a bath, along with Simple Green solvent for years with no problems whatsoever.

park tool

It does completely remove the chain lube/grease, which is the point. When I clean the chain I want all the old lube off, along with the grit and dirt in the lube.

As long as you remove the solvent afterward, let the chain completely dry, and then re-lube it, on every link, carefully hitting both sides of the link, you won't have problems or shortened chain life - you should have extended chain life.

I've been using this method on a Sram 11 speed chain that's used as my daily commuter (rain, snow, city road grit) and it's like new. The chain is 2 years old now. I should mention that I do clean it regularly and thoroughly, probably once or twice a month.

  • Have you checked the chain wear with a gauge? And what kind of mileage have you logged for 2 years?
    – Batman
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 18:49
  • By re-lubing every link, you mean re-lubing every roller, right? You should be aiming for the rides of the cylindrical rollers so capillary action can pull the lube into the bushing. One drop per roller should be plenty. Some people recommend wiping away excess lube from the chain to stop dust from forming a grinding paste.
    – Emyr
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 20:01
  • @Batman Yes, of course I check it - it's nearly ready to change, still has some life. I've probably put 2000-3000 miles on that bike over the last 2 years.
    – ebrohman
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 20:25
  • @Emyr Yes and no - there isn't really space to get it on the roller since they are pretty much flush with the link. I drip it onto the outside of link from both sides and it subsequently gets sucked into the roller by capillary action like you said.
    – ebrohman
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 20:29
  • Basically you rotate the chain two or three times through the sprockets, drizzling oil onto it. Then wipe off the excess. If you do it right there should be a fair puddle of oil on the floor at the end. (Protect the tire somehow when doing this -- a newspaper laid against the bottom half of the tire works pretty well.) Commented May 13, 2016 at 21:38

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