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People sometimes lubricate their bike chain with bees wax and other people use WD40.

When bicycling on dry dusty trails, dirt kicked up from the turning rotating wheels can stick to WD40 (oil) or bees wax on the roller chain.

Has someone done an experiment? Does dry dust stick to oily chain lubricated with WD40 worse than bees wax?

Does dust stick more badly to bees wax on a chain or stick more badly to WD40 on a roller chain?

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    WD40 in the spray can is barely a lubricant and it's not suited for chains. Is that what you're referring to? There are other WD40-branded products that actually are lubricants, but the classic Water Displacment formula #40 in a spray can is not one of them Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 22:18
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    @AndrewHenle that old claim is nonsense (from the manufacturer. Of course it's not a good chain lubricant, or a good long-term lubricant, which explains why this incorrect opinion is treated as fact. It has limited use on bikes, but from the data sheets, it's a mixture of light oils and solvents. It's even tested for lubrication. Again though, it's not very good for chains, because it goes gummy over time - but it does free up stuck links, or coat a cassette against rust on a bike stored outside (I prefer GT85 for both)
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 10:54
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    @ChrisH Water is a lubricant, too, by that "logic". Nevermind the fact that a manufacturer has a vested interest in selling their product... Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 10:59
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    @AndrewHenle it's mostly oil. It's a lubricant. I'm not particularly a fan, but have you actually tested it on stiff moving metal parts? Because I have and the lubricating properties are obvious. The fact that it's not really suitable in this application doesn't change its characteristics)
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 11:08
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    I can’t comment on beeswax specifically, but I do have prior experience with purpose-made dry chain lubricants (which are essentially fancy waxes in volatile carrier solvents), and those definitely do a better job with dry dust than wet lubricants. Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 11:46

3 Answers 3

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My name is Criggie and I'm a Waxxing addict.

Oil is quick and easy to put on - you can rejuvenate a chain in 15 seconds. Downside, it goes black with road dirt over time.

By comparison wax is a much longer process, but the results are worth it. I can grab a stationary waxxed chain at any time in its life and not get dirty. And a freshly waxxed chain is tighter because the wax somewhat fills in the wear in bushings.

Traditional WD40 is neither an oil nor a wax - WD40 is a cocktail of solvents in a light carrier oil intended to disperse water.
What makes it confusing is that "WD40" bas been evolved into a brand name with many different products, one of which is a bicycle chain lubricant specifically.
Figure out which you have.

enter image description here vs enter image description here


My process is to take the chains off all my bikes that have been ridden since the previous wax. That might be 5-7 chains. Then I clean them in an ultrasonic cleaner which might take 60 seconds or six 5 minute sessions depending how bad the chain is.

I use a dedicated electric frypan to melt parrafin wax, and then the chains fry in there until the fizzing/bubbling stops. This means all the water is out and there are no more nucleation points in the chain. A non-touch IR temp sensor reads about 180 degrees C and it does lightly mist the air with wax so do this outside or in a garage and leave the lid on the pan where possible.

Once at temp, I turn the pan off, wait 10 minutes and pull the chains from the wax with a hooked wire. I lay them out straight on cardboard to cool/set. The remaining wax in the pan is allowed to go hard ready for next time, which takes an hour or so.

When its all cool, I reinstall all the chains on the bikes and update Strava.

My road bike got 1400 km and my wet-day bike was 600 km between waxes, last time I checked which was around 10 weeks. Yes it is more work, but the ride is superior and it copes with rain better than plain oils.


It is winter here, and a month-ago I was short on time to do a wax. So I splashed on some oils directly, which quietened the chain. However shifting deteriorated and the chain/cassette/rings all got dirty and black quickly. It took multiple goes in the ultrasonic cleaner to recover that chain, and once waxxed the shifting was significantly better.

So making time to wax gives a better result than oiling, and a short-term oil is almost worse than nothing.

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    Follow up question: how do you get your SO quiet and happy about what gets those 5-7 chains inbetween waxing?
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 9:58
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    Look at the data sheets for the original multi-use product. It's mostly oil (but light, volatile fractions) plus some solvents
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 10:56
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    @SamuelMuldoon SO as in Significant Other
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 3:46
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    @TobySpeight Locally we have "CRC-556" which is similar to WD40, but smells better but has no Cyclic Redundancy Checks at all.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 10:57
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    @Criggie - nice to come clean about your addiction. ;)
    – Ted Hohl
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 16:16
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Dust will accumulate on anything. Bees' wax collects less than chain lubes.

Considering the time investment and process to wax your chain properly (as far as I know it involves removing the chain and dunking it in the hot wax) are likely better buying the chain lube appropriate for your conditions. However, waxing does last.

Generally, chain lube falls into two categories:

  1. Dry lube for dry/dusty conditions. It's not hard wearing so requires frequent application.

  2. Wet lube for wet conditions. It doesn't wash off very easily and much harder wearing so lasts longer - but being quite viscous and sticky, mud and dust will accumulate.

Plain WD40 is not chain lube; although they do make a specific chain lube, I'm guessing this is not what you're talking about here.

All in all, for chains and drive trains to last, regardless of lubrication used there is a level of preventative maintenance such as cleaning and regular lube applications you can do to extend the life.

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WD40 is a poor chain lubricant. It is mainly solvent, very little oil. After the solvent has evaporated, whatever little oil remains (so little that it won't last a long time) is not formulated to be a good chain lubricant.

Prevously, I have used thixotropic motorcycle chain lubricant in a spray can. Thixotropy means that when the lubricant is agitated, it becomes thin, when it is left settle, it becomes thick. When you shake the bottle and spray it, the lubricant is in the "thin" state, penetrating to the chain innards easily. When you leave the bike overnight, the lubricant thickens, preventing lubricant from dripping into your floor (important for me since I store my bike indoors). When you go and ride the bike, the lubricant becomes thin, reducing inefficiency of the drivetrain. When you park the bike again, it becomes thick. I have gotten 800 km out of a single lubrication run in dry conditions and about 4500 km out of a single chain (0.5% wear limit).

However, on my next chain I'll install soon I'm going to try a different lubricant (wet lubricant). It is the winner of the Zero Friction Cycling's Single Application Longevity test for dry road conditions. They got 5602 km out of a single application in a laboratory until the 0.1% wear limit is achieved, but they recognize that in real road conditions as opposed to a laboratory you get about third of that (1867 km). If I get 1867 km out of a single lubrication run, and if I get 5*1867 = 9335 km out of a single chain (0.5% wear limit), it's going to be a very good lubricant. I dropped few drops of the lubricant into a disposable shot glass and it seems very thin, so thin in fact that I'm suspicious whether it's going to be better than the thixotropic motorcycle chain lubricant from which I get 800 km out of a single application and 4500 km until the chain is 0.5% worn. Also it's so thin I have to carefully see whether it starts to drip on my floor.

I genuinely believe that the Single Application Longevity is the most important test that Zero Friction Cycling does. The reasoning is that you should never lubricate a dirty chain (because otherwise the lubrication carries external non-harmful dirt to the chain innards where it can actually do harm). Thus, when you lubricate a chain you need to devote at least 20 minutes to get it reasonably clean (if you don't then the chain will start wearing very quickly). If your time has any value, these minutes spent in cleaning the chain are the costliest component of chain maintenance, far exceeding the cost of the chain lubricant (no matter how expensive) or the cost of the chain itself. Therefore, you want to minimize the time spent in chain cleaning, and you do that by selecting a lubricant that gives as many kilometers as possible out of a single application.

In Zero Friction Cycling tests, wax shows very low chain wear. However, it needs to be applied more often than the best wet lubricant they have tested, and the lubrication process when using wax is time-consuming, taking so much time that it isn't worth it, unless your time has no value so the only cost component of chain wear is the cost of the chain.

Dust does stick to all wet lubricants. It doesn't mean you shouldn't use a wet lubricant. After lubricating the chain, you should wipe away the excess lubricant from the outside, minimizing the lubricant film thickness on the outside and minimizing the amount of dust sticking to your chain. The lubricant doing its real job is inside the chain half-bushings and around the chain pins. Some minimal amount of dust does indeed stick to the small lubricant film on the outside of the chain (since you can't get it fully dry of lubricant by wiping, and even if you could, there's a possibility some lubricant from the chain innards can exit the innards and re-coat the exterior of the chain). But before re-lubricating the chain, you clean the chain externally, removing this non-harmful dirt from the exterior of the chain that would become harmful by entering the chain innards should you lubricate an externally dirty chain.

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  • If you value time, waxing seems the best compromise to me: there's some investment in waxing (ultrasonic cleaner + melter), but there are several big time saving gains with waxing: whether you do a batch of one chain or 3 chains is not so much different, and the most time for me was not cleaning the chain, but the grit on the derailleur, chainring and cassettes (and that goes quick if you ride in dusty/muddy conditions with wet lube).
    – Rеnаud
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 15:26
  • The Rex Black Diamond is lube is a high fluor lube, the Domestique one also contains it. That is not very good for the environment. Fluor ski waxes had to be banned from competitions (Rex is mainly a cross country skiing wax manufacturer). This however concerns other teflon/PTFE-based lubes as well, not just this one. There is this so-called "future fluor" which should be degradable, but it is still not ideal. That said, I am myself stuck with many expensive fluor-containing waxes (no HF though) bought shortly before the competition ban and I will probably not just throw them out. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 11:18

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