My chain and cogs always look very dirty as the oil attracts dirt. It is a constant problem as you can't fully avoid stains on your trousers and hands. Also, that looks ugly and I believe it wears the chain and the cassette out as the particles stuck on chain act as abrasive.

I used to think that was unavoidable, but then I noticed that on some bikes the chain and cogs are shiny clean. Is that because their owners clean the chain daily (because honestly one day is enough for a chain to turn black after full cleaning) or because they use different lubrication solutions?

I heard about teflon-based lubricants, are they really much better in that sense than traditional oil-based ones? Also, these bikes with shiny chains were always single-speed bikes - does that mean geared system experience more traction and should be traditionally oiled?

  • related question about chain lubricant here. And you can find here instructions how you can clean dirty chains. You need to take them off and clean them separately. It is impossible to have "an always clean chain" but an old sock and a proper lube (to take off the dirty and lubricate) will lead you to the right way. -Yes, lube is also a dirt-exctractor! Do not let the dirt kill internals. – user652 Jul 28 '11 at 11:34

14 Answers 14


When you clean and then lube your chain ALWAYS take a towel and wipe off the excess lube. Just hold the towel on the chain and spin the crank backwards. And as mentioned above use a strap around you pants leg. A large rubber band works. A timing chip strap worn in triathlons work... those velcro watch bands work... lots of ways here.

Your hands will always get grimy if you have to touch the chain.

  • This. I relube and clean the chain on a bike after about a week of use. This keeps the chain shiny and extends its life greatly. My last chain got nearly 3,000mi of use and lasted just shy of a year. – Stephen Touset Jul 27 '11 at 14:54
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    This, yes. But not just this. See STW's much more thorough answer on this page. There is far more to this than just that. – zenbike Jul 28 '11 at 1:54
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    STW's answer is comprehensive, but using a full chain cleaner and washing it off in rubbing alcohol is IMHO overkill. It's a $30 part, and simply wiping/lubing it is enough to extend its life dramatically. The extra hassle and expense of doing such a dramatic clean so often is quite simply not worth it. – Stephen Touset Aug 1 '11 at 15:57
  • @Stephen -- The additional cost and effort isn't bad; I've estimated about $1.50 for materials for each full cleaning. I do the chain at the same time I clean the drivetrain and entire bike. For me this is done about once a month, and might take an extra 15-20 minutes total to get the chain fully clean. – STW Aug 2 '11 at 17:10

There's lots of good info here, let me summarize my cleaning routine which combines many of the approaches already mentioned, and keeps the chain in good condition and appearance. This focuses on getting the chain totally clean and dry (no water, degreaser, or lube) before re-oiling it; and then on removing as much excess oil as possible. The end goal is a very clean chain with just enough oil--excess oil will quickly attracts grime.


  • First the chain gets a wipe-down with a damp rag to remove as much sand and grime as possible. This is just to knock the worst of it off the chain.
  • Second the chain gets two passes with degreaser. I use the Park Tool Chain Gang cleaner which zenbike recommended for this. It gets filled with degreaser, and gets about 30x cranks on the pedals; then a fresh batch of degreaser goes in and it gets another 30x cranks. At this point the chain should be quite clean except for the degreaser.
  • Third the chain gets washed in 91% rubbing alcohol--this is primarily to wash off the degreaser, but it also gets the last of the grime. Sometimes this takes two rounds--the last round of alcohol should remain quite clean.
  • Fourth the chain is left to dry for ~5-10 minutes (just long enough for the alcohol to evaporate off). At this point the chain should be totally clean and dry with no degreaser left anywhere on the drivetrain--move quickly onto re-oiling, as a dry chain is vulnerable to corrosion.


  • First the new oil goes on, 1x drop per chain roller. After applying I let it sit for a couple minutes without turning the cranks to let the oil seep into the internals.

  • Second I spend a few minutes slowly running the chain through a clean rag to remove most of the excess--maybe a couple-minutes worth.

  • Third I let the bike sit for a few minutes, then wipe the chain again, and repeat a couple times. The oil inside the links will slowly seep out of the next day or so--so this step is just to remove that excess oil as it appears.

  • Finally I give the chain a wipe before and after the first couple rides. Again just to remove the excess oil as it seeps from the internals.

I usually do this routine every 100-250 miles, depending on how fast the chain grimes up. The goal is to have a very light layer of oil over the externals of the chain, and as much oil internally as it will accept. If you notice the chain is staying too dry, but not dirty, then you can re-oil without cleaning and repeat the process of cleaning off the excess.

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    I followed this advice (approximately) and was extremely happy with the results: thanks. – Ronald Apr 17 '12 at 0:01
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    @memnoch_proxy: It depends on how much you value riding your bicycle. – cherouvim Jul 30 '13 at 9:11
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    A stellar example of OCD. – Carey Gregory Jul 31 '13 at 1:38
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    @CareyGregory - If I insisted on doing the whole process three times, then I'd agree :) – STW Jul 31 '13 at 18:14
  • What kind of terrain you ride? Hard soil? Dusty dirt roads? – user5369 Dec 7 '14 at 10:08

Bring the oil to 130F or the temperature specified by the bottle.

Hotter oil means thinner oil.

The hot oil will penetrate your chain and when cooled again, will remain there.

About all that cleaning. It's greatly exaggerated. it's a chain. it's probably cheaper to replace it than to clean. Not saying that you should not clean, but water, soap, a rag, and reapplying oil after dry should be enough!

All you people suggesting that a person that does not own a bike shop to buy chain cleaner gear and expensive products should be ashamed. it's like redirecting them here http://sheldonbrown.com/chainclean.html

Ride. when the chain is full of grime or too noise. clean and oil again.

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    Regarding the exaggeration of cleaning, if you have expensive chain, cassette and chainrings then a dirty chain will wear those down quicker. Taking the time to do things correctly will save you money on the long run. – cherouvim Jul 30 '13 at 9:51
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    but on the other hand, cleaning too often will make you waste more time than you would need to work and buy a new expensive set :) – gcb Jul 30 '13 at 17:27
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    "Chain cleaner gear and expensive products" is relatively inexpensive. And it's simple and quick to use -- far simpler than replacing a chain, even if the chain is free (which it isn't). – Daniel R Hicks Jul 30 '13 at 19:23
  • A small query: Is kerosene/petrol/gasoline a decent alternative to degreaser (just toothbrush dipped in kerosene to remove dirt)? I don't think the bicycle shops around me sell something like a degreaser. Frankly, I haven't even heard of such products. – WYSIWYG Jul 19 '15 at 12:24
  • i think degreaser that does not advertise as bio degradable is already idiotic. kerosene and gasoline is even worse. if you can't clean with water and soap, just throw it away and buy another. steel is biodegradable :) also, your goal is to get oil INSIDE the rings. and degrade will ALWAYS remove that. and putting it inside again will be much harder. – gcb Jul 20 '15 at 0:11

I don't like exposing myself to degreaser. I tend to soak in Simple Green solution and then promptly oil. Not perfect, good enuf if I happen to be replacing a link or what.

Cyclists train themselves to avoid touching their chain and then glumly smirk when someone points out their calf tattoo. I have many pairs of shorts that look much older than they are because I've picked up my bike too casually. Keeping a chain clean is likely solving a problem with too much effort. Alternatives to regular deep cleaning your chain include:

  • A chaincase. The reason most bicycles lack a chaincase is due to vanity and economics, and most civilian bicycle endeavors would benefit from your bicycle having a chaincase

  • A bashgaurd. This plate goes over your large chainring and keeps your cuff out of the teeth

  • A belt drive bike. Only some bikes can be retrofitted to a belt drive, but if you're in the market for a new bike, a belt drive is quieter, more resilient, easier on the knees, and mighty clean.

I get around to cleaning my own chain(s) on weekends as I have time. If I see a shiny chain, I chuckle. I'm way too busy to polish my links.


Usually a clean chain is due to the bike simply not being ridden (much). You can look at the tires and see no wear, no scratches on the bike, etc. These bikes are ridden by CSOs -- cyclist shaped objects.

But you can keep your chain relatively clean several ways. A chain cleaner/washer tool similar to what zenbike shows helps a lot (but don't overuse it). Then use a relatively "dry" chain oil. "Dry" means that the "oil" consists of Teflon and/or wax particles suspended in a solvent. When it is applied the solvent evaporates, leaving the more solid material behind, but not leaving the chain sticky. (The bike shop guy will be able to point you to the chain oils, and many/most will say "wet" or "dry" on the label.)

(NB: For riding in wet weather, though, you should use a "wet" oil, one that is more like a traditional motor oil in composition. It's still best to use a purpose-made bike oil, though.)

But mostly you need to embrace the grime. If you're wearing regular trousers, use a leg strap to hold the chain-side trouser leg tight to the leg. (This also prevents getting the cuff hung up in the chain or on the sprocket.) For your hands, carry a pair of disposable "surgical" gloves, in case you need to muck with the chain.

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    +1 for the CSO terminology. Although you can generally (not always) tell cyclists from CSO by the shape of their body. – Kibbee Jul 27 '11 at 15:23
  • Yeah, but you can see a $2000 bike standing there and not know if it belongs to a cyclist or a CSO without studying it for wear. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 27 '11 at 16:26
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    I keep a pair of nilprene gloves in my bike bag on all my bikes. This is super smart if you bike with little kids, as if you need to monkey on the chain, you don't want to grease up your toddlers. – memnoch_proxy Aug 3 '11 at 5:52
  • The guy who runs BikeHacks keeps an old sock tied to his seatpost for when he needs to touch the chain. – Hugo Nov 5 '11 at 23:04

There are a number of reasons why a chain will get dirty quickly. One is the type of lube used, and how it is applied. Too much lube is as bad as too little for that reason.

See this answer to see how to Lube your chain properly.

There are tools as well to allow you to clean more efficiently, and more often, like this:

Park Tool Chain Gang Cleaning set

  • So it is about regular cleaning, not about one lubricant making much better sense in terms of keeping the chain clean than another? – Yuriy Jul 27 '11 at 10:54
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    It is about both. Different lubricants are better suited for different areas of the world better than others, based on weather, and conditions. One thing that makes them better is how the conditions affect how quickly the chain picks up dirt. In addition, it's about how the lube you use is applied, since if you apply it wrong or too liberally, it will pick up dirt faster. The "one day" that it takes yours to get dirty implies to me that lube is applied to heavily. – zenbike Jul 27 '11 at 11:09
  • Maybe people who like a really clean chain will takes theirs off the bike and wash it by immersing it. – ChrisW Jul 27 '11 at 14:43
  • @ChrisW, that works as well, of course, but it requires in many cases that you either use a master link, which I prefer not to do because I've personally had too many fail, and if you don't then you must break the chain, which weakens the rivets at each link, unless you use a replacement pin, which in turn limit how many times you can break the chain before you replace it. It also takes more time, so I prefer this way. It is by no means the only way. – zenbike Jul 27 '11 at 14:48
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    I'm a bit lazy about cleaning my chain, so I tend to be thorough when I do clean it and immerse the chain in degreaser overnight. (Despite having one of those Park Tool chain cleaners - they're convenient but can make a bit of a mess.) However, for those who want their chain truly and thoroughly clean, there's the ShelBroCo Bicycle Chain Cleaning System. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jul 28 '11 at 3:10

I am surprised that I didn't see it already. I use a hot parafin wax bath to both clean and lubricate my chain. It's simple to do, and pretty cheap when all is said and done.

Materials: $9 mini crockpot from Walmart $2 canning wax from Publix (or your local supermarket).

Set up crockpot and turn on high. Add blocks of wax and let melt. This will take a while (30 minutes). In the mean time, remove chain from bike and clean thoroughly with mineral spirits bath. That's the last time you'll have to do that. Let dry in the sun until wax is melted. Take chain an place in crockpot and watch the tiny bubbles escape from the chain. Once they stop, give the chain a good stir. Let it set for 10 minutes or however long it takes for you to prep for the next step.

Get a decent sized piece of cardboard, and with a pair of pliers remove chain carefully from the wax. Set on cardboard and let cool until you can touch it comfortably. Replace chain on bike and bike away. It'll take less than a km for excess wax to be shed. Although not the most waterproof method, it does handle the rain well. Dirt does not collect on the chain.

I find my chains (honestly) get 250+ miles between baths. You know it's time when it gets a little squeaky. There's no need to clean the chain. Simply remove and place back in hot wax bath. The hot wax will penetrate and displace the dirty wax.

It's a great method that does take a little extra time, but it's worth it. Plus, you won't notice that time if you are doing other things around the house.

Proof is in the picture. This is my foul weather commuter. Taken today after a rain storm into work.

Clean chain and cassette thanks to wax


It's worth experimenting with different products and methods. There is no 'one size fits all' solution. It depends on your components and the oil you use, how often you clean your bike and what with, the type of contaminants your chain is exposed to when you ride... etc. My method is:

  1. Only if very grimy, I will use a solvent (WD40 or similar) to help break down the dirt and grease. Wait for solvent to evaporate or it will act on the degreaser.
  2. Degrease using chain scrubber and degreaser of choice (I use Fenwicks).
  3. At this point, degrease and clean the chainrings, cassette and derailleurs, otherwise the chain will just pick up fresh grime from those components.
  4. Clean entire chainset with warm soapy water. Dry off thoroughly.
  5. I do not oil the chain straight away. Only a tiny amount of water will remain in the chain which will evaporate over a day or two before any corrosion occurs. (Unless, that is, you store your bike outside in a temperate climate). If you oil the chain immediately the oil will displace any remaining water, flushing out residual grime in the internals and causing a nasty black mess. If you are worried about corrosion just use an aerosol water displacer (WD40/GT85).
  6. One drop of oil per roller. Wipe off links immediately. Wipe off rollers after a few minutes and before you run the chain, otherwise the fresh oil will collect the residual grime from the other components.
  7. You will know when the chain needs cleaning again. It will look disgusting and squeak. It may also start skipping or dropping. This can lead to jamming in the front derailleur, which can easily lead to a accident, especially if you are going fast.

NB: It is virtually impossible to restore a chain to original condition without a LOT of work. It just isn't worth it.

You can't beat the feeling of riding a freshly cleaned, oiled and well tuned bike. I would say the amount of time you spend cleaning should be commensurate with the amount of time riding. I ride 5-6 hours a week on average, and spend an hour every fortnight cleaning and tuning.


You can use a wax based lube instead of an oil/teflon based lube. Your chain and cassette will always be clean, however, you will have to apply the wax lube much more often. I do it every second day (40-60km/day). This might seem like a pain, but applying lube is so much easier than cleaning the cassette/chain. Also, there will be no black on your chain ever - you can run it through your hand and nothing will come off! The only thing I do to clean the chain is once a month or so run the chain over an old toothbrush to get rid of built up wax. Good luck!


A quick way to clean your cassette is shown here without having to remove your wheel or cassette.

I found that just cleaning the chain leaves a lot of contaminants on the cassette, which makes a freshly lubed chain look dirty very quickly. Just using a grunge brush pushes the dirt around vs. a rag wrapped around a CD will actually remove it. As you can see above you can use the CD to guide the rag in between each cog above much more easily than trying to thread it between the cogs without the support.

Here is quick drive service that should be done 100-200 miles depending on the conditions and lube you use -

In short the steps I use when cleaning components are summarized as:

  1. Shift Into the Big Chain Ring and Small Gear in the back
  2. Degrease - Chain clean tools made by Park or Finish Line make things easier here.
  3. Water Rinse Chain - Chain clean tools made by Park or Finish Line make things easier here.
  4. Wipe Chain With Rag
  5. Clean Drive Components (i.e. Cassette, Chain Ring, and Derailleur)
  6. Clean Cassette (See Above)
  7. Wipe Chain With Rag
  8. Lube Chain - Only 1 small drop of lube per link. Find the masterlink/quicklink on the chain and use that as a reference to make sure you only lube a link 1 time. Less is more here as unnecessary lube just flings off the chain onto your wheel or braking surfaces and attracts more dust. Some people like to wipe their chain after lubing it, but I have had good luck just sparingly applying the lube to begin with so that after the next step there is not much need to wipe any excess. However, again each person may have their own opinion or preference on the matter.
  9. Shift through all gears and chainrings to spread the lube around.

You can spend more time cleaning components, by removing the wheel, but usually what is shown above is sufficient to keep things clean for most people.

You could try a dry lube, but in my opinion if you ride in an area that potentially has rain it is better for your drive train to have an all weather lube. I literally have run dry lube after people have told me all the benefits of not attracting dust only to run through 1 puddle and hear my chain squeak for the rest of the ride.

In my experience, WD-40 bike specific wet lube (Not regular WD-40!!!) works well as does Finish Line Ceramic Wet Lube. Both are relatively inexpensive and a bottle should last a few thousand miles. However, I am sure each person will have their own personal preferences when it comes to chain lube just like motor oil.

Hope that helps.

  • "gear floss" works well too cleaning between cogs - its basically fluffy rope used to "floss" the cogs. – Criggie Dec 9 '20 at 6:01
  • @Criggie - Yes I was going to buy some gear floss and then found it pretty easy to use a shop rag of which I have plenty laying around and a CD (or any other firm object that can fit in between the cogs) to clean in between gears. Consequently, I never ended up purchasing the bike floss. I am sure they are a good option for people too, but for me felt unnecessary. – Tude Productions Dec 9 '20 at 14:17

This is a placeholder answer to be improved.

Ultrasonic cleaners can be used to blow the grime off a chain and cassette. I personally have not done this, but have been searching for an affordable cleaner for a while.

You need to make sure the tank is wide enough for your cassette - a lot of the smaller ones are only large enough for jewellery or eye glasses, and won't fit a cassette. Probably a 1 Litre capacity is the minimum (TBC) but more is better. You need to immerse the whole part in the liquid, any bit poking out will form a hard-to-remove mark at the waterline.

A heated unit can help, or you can simply fill it with warm water from a kettle. A degreaser agent in the water helps too. Check the degreaser notes for how to safely dispose of the dirty fluid afterward - it will be contaminated with oil etc.

Note these things make all sorts of weird noises, and if you have pets they will not like the operating noises.

Another possibly relevant video is GCN's

but that seemed to gloss over a lot of useful points. YMMV.

  • This answer will be updated once I buy a cleaner and do it myself. – Criggie Dec 9 '20 at 6:14

I use Rem-Oil for my chain. I wipe it clean by spinning the crank many times with a towel in hand and wrapped around the chain. I do this until there is very little black goo coming off. I then again spin the crank and spray Rem-Oil down into the links and let it sit for maybe like 10 mins or so at least. I then come back to it and spin the crank with another towel until it the towel again is not longer leaving black goo marks. This works very well for me and i ride maybe 200 miles a week and do it at least once a week. Rem-Oil is cheap so this has been good for me. I used Rem-Oil while in Iraq and my rifle was typically always cleaner than everyone elses due to the fact that dust never stuck to it unlike issued CLP. For this reason i trust it on my bike chain and it works!


I am going to focus specifically on the part of the question dealing with Teflon.

Teflon can be used as a friction modifier in, as far as I remember, either a wet or a dry lube. Thus, a “traditional oil-based lube” can also have teflon. I can’t remember which brands of wet lube have Teflon, but I recall there are a couple. A friction modifier is going to reduce the friction between the metal surfaces in the chain. I’m not a chemist, but I think there are a bunch of other friction modifiers for oil-based lubes. I have no idea if Teflon is more or less effective than other common friction modifiers.

Oil attracts and will retain dirt. Thus, the second you ride outdoors with an oil-based lube, it will get dirty. It doesn’t matter what friction modifiers it contains. If you want to keep a chain with wet lube clean, you are going to have to clean it very frequently. I think I remember hearing that professional road cycling teams clean their chains (most likely with an on-bike cleaner as mentioned in another answer) after every race, and they outright replace their chains very frequently, e.g. after a few stages. That’s how they have their bikes looking so clean.

I am skeptical of most dry lubes, as a number of them have very little lubricant and are mostly carrier fluid, e.g. one of the White Lightning formulations. I am a proponent of drip wax lubes (which, I guess, are a type of dry lube) if you can be bothered to thoroughly clean your chain beforehand. In my experience with one of these lubes, they should run a lot cleaner than traditional wet lubes. I have also switched to hot melt wax myself.

Admittedly, this process is not for everyone. Basically, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, wipe your chain with a clean rag every ride, do a more thorough cleaning regularly. Naturally, don’t let me stop you from switching to wax-based lubes if you want to.


Likely not the method you are looking for but when I saw the question my instant answer was 'fully enclosed chain guard'.

I have had many years where I never even saw my chain and even less had it getting dirty every time I used the bike.

The downside is that you can not use cogs (plural) as the chain guard casing would get too big. But internal hub gear do work with the fully enclosed chain guards.

  • Yes - I have since switched to another bicycle with hub gears and it's easier to maintain. – Yuriy Dec 10 '20 at 20:23

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