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What is the best way to wax a chain using the immersion waxing technique?

I did some research and am attracted to the benefits of waxing my chain. I bought a few new chains to try it out but am overwhelmed by the amount of ways to immerse wax a chain.

I was sure there was already a question on this site where I might be able to compare different answers and ponder different considerations and tools but I wasn't able to find one. I feel kinda stupid asking this because it seems like an obvious question, but even the 'Similar questions' doesn't have this question listed. The closest question would be Wax lubricant - what components need wax applied to them, and what is the recommended re-application procedure? but this is specifically asking for the re-application procedure.

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There are actually two parts to the answer: thoroughly degreasing the chain, and actually waxing it. It feels like the first part is harder, at least cognitively.

Degreasing

It's considered best practice to use food-grade paraffin with a very low oil content, or any of the commercial blends that add friction modifiers like tungsten disulfide to high-quality paraffin. Oil-based bike lubes or factory lube are difficult to thoroughly clean off, but they are likely to make the paraffin not adhere to the metal surface. So you need to thoroughly degrease the chain. That is, if you run your finger on the degreased chain, not a single smudge of oil is present.

This is harder than you think. Most literature is likely to mention several baths of a solvent like turpentine, plus a couple baths of denatured alcohol to get the residual turpentine off. I know I was intimidated by this. This is probably a barrier for many. There are two solutions if you don't want to do this.

You could buy a pre-waxed chain from people like Molten Speed Wax or Silca (and there are a number of other, smaller companies that do this). You avoid degreasing entirely. You're trading money for time, but also for the need not to have several bottles of rarely-used solvents around your house. If you keep up your wax routine, you can get a lot of life out of a chain - I have had close to 5,000 miles on a used chain, and close to 10k miles on a new-ish chain that started its life with standard drip lube. Thus, the added up-front cost may not work out to be so bad.

Recognizing that degreasing chains is tricky, Silca and Ceramicspeed have made one-step degreasers. These will seem expensive, but they are said to really get the factory grease off and leave no residue, That is, you just get a glass jar, put the chain in, put in enough degreaser to cover the chain, then shake it around for a few minutes. Then you might rinse the chain off with water. I have talked to a number of people who endorse Ceramicspeed's degreaser. Silca's was only just launched. This is the other option.

NB: Ceramicspeed says you can spray this degreaser on your drivetrain, let it sit for a bit, then wipe off. This probably won't be as thorough. I'd recommend taking the chain off and washing it in a bottle.

To be clear, turpentine, many similar solvents, and bike or general purpose degreasers will leave a film on the surface, which will also interfere with the wax adhering to the surface.

Immersion waxing

One short version of the procedure is:

  1. Buy a few reusable quick links (e.g. YBN, I have personal experience with their 11s and 12s links which are rated for 5 uses, or Connex, which are infinitely reusable but they only make 10s and 11s).
  2. Buy a small crock pot. Put the wax inside. These are frequently US$5-10 used at US thrift stores.
  3. Take the chain off the bike and submerge it in molten wax every 200 miles or so.
  4. If you rode in the rain, pour boiling water over the chain and then wax it. I would prefer to clean the chain immediately after a wet ride. If you were caught in a light mist, IMO ignore it.

Others maintain a number of chains in rotation, and wax them en masse. If you feel that's simpler, then do that.

You can use a high-quality drip wax instead of immersion waxing. This saves you from needing to worry about having as many quick links. It's still best practice to do boiling water + re-wax after a wet ride. It's also best let a drip wax set for 24 hours before riding. If you perceive this as simpler, then do that. Silca, Ceramicspeed, Tru Tension, Rex, and a few others make good drip waxes. I recommend against using anything else that calls itself a dry lube.

Learning the process and fidelity to treatment

In health services research, fidelity to an intervention often means how well did practitioners on the ground implement all the steps of an intervention. Especially with organizational interventions, which are complex and also all organizations are different, it is easy to demand fidelity on paper, but you might not like what you see if you look. Or we might also talk about patients' adherence to treatment. You might think just take your pills, but not realize that it is not always simple for people to remember to take their pills and to get refills, especially if they have many pills to take.

In the context of waxing your chain, clearly people are working on making it easier to get good adherence/fidelity to the process. Because people don't do every single thing exactly as told, it's worth thinking about how strict adherence is required to get good results.

If you don't get the degreasing right, then this will make wax adhesion poorer, and your wax should absorb more external contamination because of the oil you're introducing into it (wax should set to a solid, and thus dirt can't penetrate the chain, but oil would hold dirt). So, I would rather advise people to just buy a pre-treated chain. Or you could find a local wax proponent, but be aware that they might think that their process is perfect but they could be wrong.

However, if your chain is just a bit imperfect, it may not be terrible. When I started waxing, I am not sure that my chain was 100% clean to the touch, but I believe I got acceptable results.

Fidelity on the maintenance end may not be as important. If you immersion wax a dirty chain, you will gradually contaminate the pot of wax. If you think about it, MSW has the same major ingredients as Silca's wax, and MSW is 3/4 the price (or less if you buy it former in bulk). Food-grade paraffin may be even cheaper. Hence, depending on what wax, allowing a bit more contamination in may not be terrible. Eventually, if a pot of wax is too contaminated, it should cause noticeably shorter treatment lifespan. You'd want to discard it and use new wax. High-quality paraffin without additives (e.g. food-grade paraffin) is another possibility.

In terms of maintenance intervals, if you leave your chain for too long, it will get very loud. I would strongly prefer re-wax a chain before a long event, e.g. a road ride over 100 miles, or even just 100 miles. Otherwise, you might be able to stretch the maintenance intervals a bit. I've generally gone with 200 miles or less, but I'm a bit of a stickler.

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    Those maintenance intervals would appear to rule out wax for any kind of endurance riding. Even at my level that could mean waxing every day on some trips (600km in 2 days) and certainly every 2 (averaging >200km/day for a few days straight). Yet a few people do use wax for long distance. Are your intervals exceptionally short, perhaps specific to racing?
    – Chris H
    Jul 16, 2023 at 19:06
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    @ChrisH Good question. Adam Kerin does recommend something like that interval for maximum chain life. Once a wax treatment wears out, it’s going to sound very noisy and unpleasant. If I were on a long trip, I think I’d bring drip wax lube - I should have said that a 24h set time is ideal, but lubing the chain at night before you set off in the morning should be adequate.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jul 16, 2023 at 22:34
  • @ChrisH Silca suggests that you can mix their drip wax and immersion wax, so (for example) add drip wax every 200 miles, but re-immerse every 1,000 miles. I've carried a small bottle of drip wax on long rides for this purpose.
    – Adam Rice
    Jan 24 at 21:33
  • @AdamRice all right for some but I can't imagine waxing while the clock is ticking (e.g. 42 hours to do 600km, including sleep - 200 miles into that would also be in the dark for extra hassle)
    – Chris H
    Jan 24 at 22:07
  • I've done it while on the clock. If waxing doesn't work for you, that's fine, but I don't consider spending a couple minutes drip-waxing a big barrier. I spend more time at food stops.
    – Adam Rice
    Jan 25 at 15:39
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I hot wax my chains and the procedure I use is pretty simple. I don't know if it's optimal but here's what I do:

Required items: Degreaser, regular paraffin wax from grocery store, waste rag or paper towels, and An oven safe pan deep enough to submerge chain, like a loaf pan or 8x8 casserole dish. I would not use cookware after waxing chains in it.

  1. Clean and degrease the chain - you want zero lube/oil and if the chain has been used you really want all the grit and dust out.

  2. Put wax in pan, put in oven at low temp, maybe 250°F. Wait for it to melt, might take a while, like 30 minutes.

  3. Put chain in wax, put back in oven to get back up to temp. After a bit I take pan out and agitate the chain to make sure I get wax in all the rollers.

  4. Take pan out and go outside or somewhere you can make a minor mess (over some newspaper would be fine). Use a spoke or pliers to remove chain from wax. While it's still hot, shake a bit to get excess wax off, then I like to wipe the outside of the links down to remove what didn't shake off.

Once the wax solidifies the chain will be stiff so before I put it on the bike I like to work it with my hands or roll it around some small radius to break up the wax.

Others may have different results, but my waxed chains stay clean (dry/dusty climate) and last as long as when I used dry lube. Also seem to be quieter. After 500-1000 miles I apply some drip-on wax based lube rather than re-waxing.

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I personally am a bit lackadaisical about the process, and I have yet to see a negative outcome. I wax just the chains, not the quick links, not the cassette and definitely not the freewheel. I find that I need to scrape the wax off the quicklink to fit it anyhow.

What I use for wax started out with store bought paraffin wax, and I have since added stubs of old candles and leftovers from candle making to that. I keep that in just some plastic container from the store, I'd recommend something with reasonably thick walls. If you can spare the pot, you could just let the wax set inside that and use it as a candle-recycling bin from now on. I wash the pot I use with boiling water on the off chance that I end up using it for cooking.

As for tools, I have a bit of 2mm wire bent into a hook to move the chains from the pot, and I use a clothes drying rack to hang them to cool. I cover the area from the stove to under the rack with newspaper painter's taped to the floor to catch any drips. I drape the chain over the thicker tubing of the frame bu I doubt that's strictly necessary.

Here's the process I follow;

  1. If it's a previously waxed chain, rinse with water and hang to dry.
  2. In case of a brand new chain, soak in degreaser for a few hours, then a while in denatured alcohol to get most of the degreaser off, wipe clean and hang dry.
  3. Heat up water for a double boiler. I have a pair of pots purpose built as a double boiler, but if you have two pots, one of which you can safely hang by the handles by the other's rim, you can use that. Water goes in the outside pot, wax into the inside pot.
  4. I like to use a bit of wire to mark the center link of each chain so I know what bit to drape them by.
  5. Put the chains into the pot and swirl them around for a minute or two. I sometimes just leave the chains in for a couple of minutes and give them another swirl.
  6. Lift the chains by the center link and drape them to cool down.
  7. Turn off the heat and let the wax cool for a while. Pour into whatever spare container you use.
  8. After the chains have cooled to room temperature, scrape the extra wax off the drying rack.
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Gosh, I've been waxing chains since 1977, making most of the mistakes warned against here except for starting a fire. I have learned that a very clean chain is essential for BEST results, but VERY GOOD results are obtainable with a pretty clean chain. I have used paraffin, candles, beeswax, crayons, and specially formulated chain lube products. In my impetuous youth I have just rubbed candles on the chain cold and then heated the mess with a torch. I would get over 100 miles of quiet out of that operation. Now I clean with naphtha, then ethanol, and dip the chain in a pot of melted paraffin for five minutes. Back on the bike I heat the chain with a heat gun to let the excess drip off. Paraffin is so cheap I just throw it away when it begins to look dirty. I also use drip wax, Silca brand, and bring it with me on tour, although I have gone 1000 miles in summer weather without rewaxing. I rewax when I hear the first sounds of complaint from my chain. Chain tools are expensive but it pays to have one, along with some pins, for whatever size chains are in your fleet. The technique is not that difficult to master. Quick links are drop-dead simple, and I tour on 9-speed setups specifically so I can bring them and a tiny chain tool instead of the big heavy shop-style chain tools that 10-speed-plus chains require. Although in a pinch I once repaired a 12-speed chain for a stranded cyclist with my tiny 30-year old chain tool. Not easy, though.

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    Welcome to the site - please note that the Law of Mentioning "I Never" now suggests you have a higher chance of a fire next time :) Keep up the good answers.
    – Criggie
    Mar 31 at 21:18
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Wax lubrication is always an impossibly niche thing. Test have proven again and again that it is the most efficient means of lubrication (in terms of power loss) however you have to take the chain off of the bicycle to lubricate the chain. This has become more difficult or impossible on some bikes where no chain pins are reusable. While on other bikes quick links are reusable you need to be very careful with the quick links. Be careful in ordering just the right replacement links and don't use them if anything seems off.

In regards to the waxing process, it has always been recommended to use a double boiler and perhaps also a timer to automatically turn it off if you have stepped out of the room. A double boiler boils water outside the wax so that the wax won't get hot enough to cause a flash fire.

Boiling the wax without a double boiler is extremely high risk. Don't do it indoors. Also there is Teflon on modern chains which will poison you even outdoors if you allow the wax to boil.

I would encourage you to buy multiple chains and cycle through them if you are waxing. You might as well wax a batch of chains together each time. If you spread the wear over two or three chains you'll your cassettes will last much much longer.

Waxing chains is uncommon because of the skill required to not start a fire and the skill required to install a chain link or pin. Also consider how much cleaning is required. For example a cross rider should invest in an ultrasonic cleaner, whereas waxing works well for a fair weather road rider.

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