Currently I'm re-reading through Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance. He mentions using rags to clean the chain, cogs, jockey wheels and the rest of the drivetrain. Just wondering what kind of rags people use. I generally use the blue shop towels. They work OK but they're still paper so I have to be careful that the chain doesn't shred them and I get little chunks of paper all over the drivetrain. I thought about buying a pack of cotton rags from Costco but seems like these would get expensive since I'd basically get one use out of a rag.

I live in a wet climate and use wet chain lube.

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    Whatever's at hand. I normally use plain old household paper towels, since that what we have in the shop. There are a few blue cloth mechanic's rags around, but they are too precious to use cleaning chains. Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 16:48
  • @DanielRHicks do your paper towels get disintegrated by the chain?
    – user44903
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 20:42
  • 1
    Not too bad. I almost always run the chain through a (Park) chain washer first, so the chain is not too gooey. Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 20:46
  • @user44903 "since I'd basically get one use out of a rag" — just wondering why? A square meter of cloth can be split into 10-20 smaller pieces, each of which can be used at least twice even without washing them (once to clean the frame, then once to clean the chain, then thrown away). I don't know how big the Costco pack of rags would be, but it is very likely it will serve for at least a year. Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 8:02

1 Answer 1


Whatever you have to hand. Generally chains are filthy, so I use cloth rags whose next stop is the bin. I don't wash rags for reuse - by the time they're down to cleaning chains, they're pretty dirty already.

I do use a clean paper towel for the last wipe of excess lube.

I've never bought rags in my life. I simply recycle old towels and clothes.


  • Towels/towelling
  • Cotton
  • Calico
  • Corduroy
  • Cheesecloth / muslin
  • Linen
  • Paper towels
  • Velour
  • Natural fibres are generally pretty good for cleaning.


  • Polyester
  • nylon tends to repel water, and be quite thin
  • Lycra
  • sacking / burlap tends to be quite thick and somewhat scratchy.
  • Wet Wipes


  • Fur - drops fibres like wool
  • wool - tends to be dropping little fibres when its old and worn down. Better to compost pure wool, or unpick it to a string (see below)
  • lace - too many holes
  • silk - too thin
  • leather - not very absorbent. Reuse in other ways instead.
  • Tissues / toilet paper - can't handle the water and break down quickly.
  • Sailcloth TOo hard and not absorbent. Better reuse elseways.
  • PVC and other waterproof layers - not absorbent
  • Most artificial fibres are poor for absorbing.

Yarn / wool - has use as a "gear floss" for getting dirt out of your cassette between the cogs, but is less useful elsewhere.

Feel free to raise comments with corrections, or just edit directly.

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    Anytime I'm in a situation where I get a free t-shirt, I ask for a size XXXL even though I'm typically between an American size small or medium. Then I cut up the hideous but free shirt for rags.
    – Paul H
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 22:45
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    Most places auto parts shops and office suppliers sell bags of recycled clothing for rags for a just a couple of $$$
    – mattnz
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 3:38
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    @user44903: What about bed sheets? And do you not have (at some point) any T-Shirts, underwear, towels, dish towels etc. etc. with holes beyond repair? I’ve been using leftovers of our new curtains for the last year.
    – Michael
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 5:41
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    I actually don't like towels as they shed fibres that get caught in things, and they snag. I prefer cut up bed sheets, T shirts, or denim, though tea (dish) towels and muslin cloths used for babies are great if you have enough. Cotton in general is good
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 6:17
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    @ojs yes - once I had an old skirt (not mine) which had a single silk pocket lining. It was damaged by insects so rags was the only use for it.
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 7:31

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