Talking with a friend about maintenance on bikes, he told me he uses white spirit to degrease the chain, as it is effective and also offer some kind of waterproofing in case one forgets to lubricate the chain again.

Talking with my bike dealer he advised to not use it, as it is too aggressive and would also remove the lubrification from within the chain bearings. He suggested using a dedicated soap.

Who is right?

  • There's nothing terribly wrong with it (aside from flammability), but it will tend to remove ALL the lubricant in the chain, so you need to work a hair harder at re-lubing. Dec 1, 2017 at 2:10

3 Answers 3


How do you forget to lubricate a chain after cleaning? If this is a possibility, you a would be better not to clean the chain at all.

White spirit is a generic name for different products, exactly what it means depends where in the world you live. Some have a flash point of 20–30°C — extreme care is needed using it. Others with higher flash points and lower volatility are safer (but not entirely safe). All are hydrocarbon based and environmentally unfriendly if disposed of improperly. Care should be taken using them

To understand the arguments of what cleaner is best, you need to understand chains.

New chains come factory lubed with a very robust and long lasting lube that is much better than anything you can apply. The last thing you want to do is use a cleaner that will strip this lube off the chain, in fact, for the first few hundred kilometers no cleaning is probably best. White spirit is one of those cleaners. Once the chain is older, and this lube is worn off, it needs replacing. Stripping the replacement lube off completely is not problem — it's easy to lube the chain and get the same level of lubrication as you had.

So should you use it on new chains? No way. On old chains, it won't matter. Question is when does new become old? Who knows. Easy answer and most (profitable for bike shop) is use a dedicated bike chain cleaner (you buy from them).

In the end I don't think it matters, as long as you are cleaning the chain regularly and lubing it properly.

There are plenty of questions on this site and discussions on the internet about the various religions of chain maintenance you can delve into if you desire.

  • I used to believe that about new chains, but oil them anyway. I tried relying on the factory oil once recently, and the chain certainly felt oily, but it rusted to the point of falling really rough in a fortnight outside. That still doesn't mean you should strip the factory oil though.
    – Chris H
    Dec 1, 2017 at 8:34
  • 2
    The main problem with white Sprite as a chain cleaner is the sugary residue. ;-) Edited. Dec 1, 2017 at 13:59

Yes white spirit is too aggressive, it will strip factory lubrication for something like waxing for example. If you want to keep the factory lube then use something else.

  • 2
    This adds nothing to the existing answer.
    – Chenmunka
    Aug 19, 2020 at 8:34

White spirit is the way to go. After years of messing around, I haven't found any better solution. I'm over 5000 km with this chain now. I'm using a quick-link and chain pliers, which will set you back 15 EUR.

You don't need to dispose the white spirit, even if it has turned black. Take an old bike bottle, fill it halfway, take off your chain, soak the chain and shake the bottle. Just wash away the remaining white spirit on the chain, or use paper and burn it afterwards if you want to save the environment. To restore the lube, use a fine layer of teflon after cleaning the chain, and you're ready to go. It doesn't oxidate, but the rings do wear out noticeably.

If you also use white spirit on the bike itself (which I do), the lacquer will lose its shine, and I can't guarantee it's good for the sprocket and the hub. It saves you from taking out the pulley wheels though. If you want to be really neat, clean the pulley wheels and the cassette in the same way as the chain.

One thing that bothers me is that the whole procedure could take half an hour, while a new chain costs only 20 EUR. If you earn 40 EUR per hour, it's perhaps not worth the effort.

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