How To Clean a Bike Chain with Household Products: The Ultimate Guide

If you’re a bike owner, you might be wondering about its upkeep. It can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re new to biking and bike maintenance.

A bike has many mechanical parts such as tires, chains, and pedals that can wear down due to frequent use. Not only this but there is always the fear of corrosion that can result if the bike is not maintained and taken care of efficiently.

Moreover, many factors can cause wear and tear on bike chains. These factors may include your riding environment, frequency of use, and even the force with which you pedal.

Even though there is a lot of focus on bike care and washing, there is always the question of how to clean a bike chain with household products.

One may wonder why anyone would want to clean their bike chains at home, but it is a cheap and effective alternative that is often less explored. People are still dependant on experts and mechanics for this service.

How to clean a bike chain with household products
How to clean a bike chain with household products

Although this may not be something that crosses your mind, bike chain cleaning is necessary if you want a functional bike that can take you places, without causing any issues.

Although one can’t assign importance to a certain bike component since all of them work in synergy, a bike chain is most definitely vital.

One way to emphasize the importance of bike chain cleaning is that it is not possible to paddle no matter how much strength you use if becomes too loose or rigid. Suddenly, your bike’s vitality is lost and you may find yourself stranded without any means of conveyance.

Therefore, before you find yourself in such a position, this article will help you understand some key aspects of bike chain cleaning and that too, with household products. Furthermore, you can also expect to be equipped with two degreasing solutions that you can easily make at home.

However, first, let’s dig into the basics of bike chains.

Why is a Bike Chain Important?

A bike chain is an important part of any bike since it has 116 links typically, making it the most used and in-action part of the bike. This explains that when you pedal, the energy from the pedaling is transferred to bike components through the bike chain.

Therefore, maintaining and taking care of it is essential due to frequent wear and tear. Other factors also influence how frequently your bike chain needs cleaning. These factors include :

  • Usage
  • The terrain on which you usually bike
  • Time/ Frequency
  • Inaction ( Bike chain can get rusty if they have been unused for a long time)

Read How Do Tubeless Bike Tires Work and Should You Switch to Them?

Tips To Know How Your Bike Chain Needs Maintenance

If you’re confused about how to know if your bike chain needs maintenance, then an obvious way to do so is by riding your bike. If you feel you have to push too hard or that your bike chain feels loose, you may have to repair it either by cleaning or changing it entirely.

Get down on the level of your bike chain to inspect it closely. If you see a lot of greasiness, then it could be lubricant and grime, deposited over time. You can also swipe your finger to be sure.

How to clean a bike chain without degreaser
How to clean a bike chain without degreaser

Not only this, but you should inspect other parts of your bike chain, including the drivetrain. It is a complete system that includes pedals, bike chains, cranks, and chainrings. If you feel any part of the drivetrain needs maintenance or looks worn out, then you will have to take care of it too.

If you don’t have time to clean each component along with the unavailability of cleaning products, then you can use a simple rag or cloth to clean it. However, bike chain cleaning is not just limited to swiping. Primarily, it includes three basic steps listed below:

  • Degreasing
  • Lubrication
  • Rust Removal

For this, you don’t necessarily need heavy-duty products. Or even if you do, it depends on the damage and how much cleaning is required. If it’s something that can be managed at home, then some products can answer the question, ‘how to clean a bike chain with household products.’ The next section covers this in detail.

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How To Clean a Bike Chain With Household Products?

If you’re lazy or want a quick solution on how to clean a bike with household products then here is a simple breakdown for you. Certain things are tried and tested in Table 1 thus, they can be used without any issue.

However, if you’re new to bike chain cleaning or inexperienced, it’s best to avoid certain products in Table 2.

Paint thinner / Homemade solutionsDegrease bike chain
Household grease such as Castor oil, cooking oilProvide lubrication
Coca-cola /Lime Juice / VinegarRemove rust

Table 1

Products Not To UseReasons
Motor oil for lubricationCan further the process of chain wear and tear before its time
Scrubbing solution consisting of particlesMay cause wear and tear as particles such as salt or sugar damage the surface which is not visible to the naked eye
Table 2

Cleaning a bike chain at home can be fun if there is detailed cleaning to be done. However, if you want to just clean it without getting into the nitty-gritty then you just use a rag to clean off the buildup and rust.

Typically, a bike chain needs to be cleaned in three ways, depending on your observation. If you can see your bike chain has rust, which is very common, then you will have to remove it before it further damages your bike chain permanently.

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Removing Rust

Rust is typically caused by unlimited exposure to dust and moisture. The only way to prevent it is by deep cleaning your bike chain at frequent intervals.

To remove rust from bike chain, you will need gloves, preferably rubber ones. To be safe, you should also wear eye protection such as goggles. Not only this, but you will also need a toothbrush or a paintbrush and a rag. Make sure you’re working outdoors or in an open space since you will need to run water and use liquids.

If you think your bike chain can be cleaned without extracting it from the drivetrain, then you can keep it as it is. However, if you think you will need to scrub and clean it repeatedly, then you can remove it, using a chain link extractor.

Using Coca-cola, lime, or vinegar, you can begin brushing the chain. If you feel the rust is coming out or your brush is getting visibly dirty, then you may begin rinsing your bike chain. Make sure you dry it later with a towel or a clean cloth as water residue can lead to further rusting.

Finally, if your bike chain is extremely rusty, then keep in a solution (any of the three) for some time, until you can see the rust has disintegrated. The next step in cleaning your bike chain is lubricating it.

How to clean a bike chain rust
How to clean a bike chain rust

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Lubricating a Bike Chain

Even though lubrication provides the bike chain with ease of movement and allows you to pedal freely, it also plays a part in keeping rust at bay. One fool-proof way to detect if your bike chain needs lubrication is if it makes a squeaky sound while pedaling.

For lubricating a bike chain, you should have grease-resistant gloves so that your hand doesn’t slip. You can either buy a heavy-duty lubricant or use items that are readily available at home. These items include alternatives such as castor oil or cooking oil.

Store it in a container and with the help of a plastic dropper, place oil drops throughout the chain. Once you’re satisfied with the quantity, use your bike pedals so that the lubricant is evenly distributed across the bike chain.

If you think you have applied more than the required quantity of lubricant, then use a rag to wipe it off.

However, make sure you don’t use motor oil as it is an extremely heavy-duty product for a simple bike chain. Included in this list is WD-40 which some bike experts believe is a rust removal and cleaner, asserting that it may not be a good lubricant for your bike.

As a general rule of thumb, using lubricants that do not attract dirt and other particles onto your bike chain.

Read How to Remove Rust from Bikes

Degreasing a Bike Chain

Make sure you have grease-resistant gloves, a brush, and a bottle or container to place the degreasing solution in to remove grease from your bike chain effectively. Make sure you do this outside, as you may have to run water on your bike chain, resulting in a little mess.

Moreover, you should be careful when degreasing your bike chain because it can slide into your bike’s braking equipment. This may be dangerous, especially when you’re riding your bike. To avoid this, you can attach a clip-on chain keeper.

Dip the brush in the homemade degreasing solution or paint thinner and apply it all over the bike chain. While doing this, make sure you pedal backward or forwards, just to ensure the solution is spread evenly.

After you have successfully degreased all parts of the bike chain and are satisfied, you should use a hose or a jug to spray it with water.

However, make sure you dry the water by running through a rag first and then leaving your bike outdoors so it can dry completely.

Although this can be easily done at home using a homemade degreaser, it depends on your bike chain’s condition.

Read How to Remove Rust from Bikes

Products Not To Use

Even though bike chains are not sensitive since they are built for rough use and tough environments, it is still advised not to use certain products. The only reason is that they can cause wear and tear extensively in a short time. Therefore, avoid using motor oil or scrubs consisting of sugar or salt, even though they may be readily available at home.


The above steps are not in a particular order so avoid following them as they have no merit. However, expert advice suggests that before removing rust from bike chains, you should degrease it to get rid of grime and dirt. And after cleaning it, you should ideally lubricate it.

And if you think your bike chain cannot be cleaned at home, then you should always take it to a mechanic. Not only this, but you can also replace your bike chain if you think it is extremely rusty and damaged, even after cleaning. It’s always better to stay safe in such cases than to find yourself stranded after a bike accident.

What is a Bike Degreaser?

A bike degreaser is one item used to clean a bike chain. If you feel you have greased your bike chain more than was required, then you may need to degrease some of the lubricants.

Moreover, a bike degreaser may also be used on other bike components such as drivetrains and brakes. There are four types of degreasers listed below:

  • Neutral Degreaser: This type of degreaser is free of solvents, therefore it has a neutral Ph value.
  • Alkaline Degreaser: As the name suggests, this degreaser is high in Ph value and is best for the effective removal of greasy surfaces.
  • Acidic Degreaser: An acidic degreaser is low in Ph value and may not be suitable for getting rid of grease. However, it can be used to remove rust from metal surfaces.

Read How To Clean a Mountain Bike

Extra Tip: Homemade Bike Degreaser

If you’re tired of buying expensive degreasers that don’t provide worth for money, then fear not. There are many ways to manufacture your bike degreaser at your home with everyday products.

There are two ways you can do this by using different products. They are listed below:

Example 1

You will need the following items for this degreaser:

  • Water
  • Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)
  • Any dishwashing liquid
  • Denatured Alcohol (Methylated Spirit)

You will need 50% of denatured alcohol to act as an alkaline booster, allowing the dirt and other contaminants on the bike chain to break down. This effect will be further enhanced by 5% sodium bicarbonate that is excellent for grease removal.

Moreover, 4% of dishwashing liquid or soap will act as a surfactant, ensuring that all that grime and grease doesn’t stick onto your bike chain will cleaning. Mix all of these items in 40% water and give it a good shake. Pour it in a cup and dip a brush into it and then onto your bike.

Example 2

For this degreasing solution, you will need the following items:

  • Water
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Borax (Sodium Borate -)

You should mix all three items in a cup in a ratio of 12:1:4 respectively. Here, the detergent acts as a surfactant while borax plays the role of an alkaline booster, ensuring that grease and dirt disintegrate effectively.

You may use a brush or an old rag and scrub the bike chain or keep it in any of the above two solutions for some time.

Benefits of Bike Chain Cleaning

There are obvious benefits of bike chain cleaning, other than a smooth ride. Some of these benefits include the following:

  • Prevent Wear and Tear

Lubrication protects from the usual wear and tear your bike chain may experience, even if you’re not using it.

  • Reduce Cost

You may not have to spend money on bike chain maintenance or replacement, provided you have been taking care of it frequently.

  • Extended Life

Ultimately, your bike chain’s life is extended every time you clean it, preventing it from further wear and tear.

  • Safeguard from Environment

Another benefit of cleaning bike chains is you won’t have to worry about the wear and tear produced as a result of your riding environment. Thus, you can ride your bike in snow, rain, or during hot days.

If you clean your bike chain at home, there is an additional benefit including all of the above. There is limited cost and you don’t even have to pay for service, without compromising on the quality of cleaning.

How to clean a bike chain at home
How to clean a bike chain at home

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The Bottom Line

One of the easiest ways to ensure your bike chain is taking care of it at home regularly. As suggested above, there are easy ways to do it within your comfort zone, without making an effort to bring it to a mechanic or a bike expert. If you have the products within your reach, you can avoid extra costs you may incur due to expert involvement.

However, as stated above, make sure to only use products that are beneficial for your bike chain and do not produce corrosive or other problems. There will always be better and advanced products you may find at mechanics and bike shops, but there are fewer places and avenues where you can learn how to clean a bike chain with household products.