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Cleaning and lubing bike chain, on the cheap?

Old 06-25-15, 12:01 PM
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Kertrek
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Cleaning and lubing bike chain, on the cheap?

My chain doesn't have the quick-release link, and I don't want to spend the money on a chain-tool, on my starving student salary. I got a toothbrush and a rag, and that alone made it smoother and stopped chain skipping, I just want to do a more thorough job, on the cheap. What's the best way to clean and lube the chain without any special tools, or overly expensive solvents?
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Old 06-25-15, 12:08 PM
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Brush off the dirt on the jockey wheels, cogs and chain rings - tooth brush is good.

Wipe chain off with a rag.

Lubricate chain with a light oil (I use Tri-Flo)

Wipe chain off with a clean rag after running through all the gears. The lubricant needs to be on the inside of the chain, not the outside where all it does is attract dirt.
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Old 06-25-15, 12:11 PM
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I'm not big on cheap tools but this should be better than nothing:

Stainless Steel Bike Bicycle Cycling Chain Breaker Splitter Cutter Repair Tool | eBay
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Old 06-25-15, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by rmfnla View Post
I'm not big on cheap tools but this should be better than nothing:

Stainless Steel Bike Bicycle Cycling Chain Breaker Splitter Cutter Repair Tool | eBay
And it will take a month or more to get it from Hong Kong.
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Old 06-25-15, 12:15 PM
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Originally Posted by PatrickGSR94 View Post
And it will take a month or more to get it from Hong Kong.
They are available from U.S. sellers for about a buck more...
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Old 06-25-15, 12:26 PM
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get a quart of odorless mineral spirits and a quart of motor oil...
mix the motor oil with 8 oz of mineral spirits to lube with and use the rest of the mineral spirits to clean with. Will last you a long time. After you clean the chain, put a drop of lube on each of the rollers...
take a rag and hold it on the chain, spin the chain until the rag comes away clean.
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Old 06-25-15, 12:28 PM
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Originally Posted by obed7 View Post
get a quart of odorless mineral spirits and a quart of motor oil...
mix the motor oil with 8 oz of mineral spirits to lube with and use the rest of the mineral spirits to clean with. Will last you a long time. After you clean the chain, put a drop of lube on each of the rollers...
take a rag and hold it on the chain, spin the chain until the rag comes away clean.
way too much oil. Most people say mix 2:1 or 3:1 MS vs. oil. I tried it myself and wasn't happy with it, so I have some ProLink I got free and also some TriFlow I picked up while on vacation.
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Old 06-25-15, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by PatrickGSR94 View Post
way too much oil. Most people say mix 2:1 or 3:1 MS vs. oil. I tried it myself and wasn't happy with it, so I have some ProLink I got free and also some TriFlow I picked up while on vacation.
oops, you are correct... use 8 oz of oil to a quart of mineral spirits...it has been awhile since I mixed any up....it works fine for me...I have 8 bikes I use it on...I actually do not use the mineral spirits to clean my chain... I use a park chain cleaner, but the op wants to spend as little money as possible..
so op, forget my original post and buy 2 quarts of odorless mineral spirits... make the lube and use the other quart to clean with. gotta go say a few hail marys now to make up for my brain fart.
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Old 06-25-15, 01:04 PM
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What about a Home Depot machine-safe degreasers? They're a lot cheaper than something I'd find at a bike shop.
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Old 06-25-15, 01:40 PM
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So year ago, I bought one of these: White Lightning Trigger Chain Cleaner
I used it here and there and when I got a tandem with disc brakes, I pulled the scrubber off and just use the cleaner spray on my rotors. I took the scrubber and put it on my can of tri-flo. Now, I just clamp it on the chain and give it a dose for a few seconds while spinning then wipe with a rag. My drive trains have never been quieter and there is actually less gook on my chainstay then ever. It's an inexpensive solution between Dick's and the local hardware store.

Last edited by Number400; 06-25-15 at 01:59 PM.
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Old 06-25-15, 08:32 PM
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What I did, I found a 2-in-1 degreaser/lubricant by finish line, a toothbrush and a rag, and got a heck of a lot of grime off the chain. It runs a lot smoother now and the chain has stopped skipping.
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Old 06-25-15, 08:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Kertrek View Post
..... I got a toothbrush and a rag, and that alone made it smoother and stopped chain skipping, I just want to do a more thorough job, on the cheap. What's the best way to clean and lube the chain without any special tools, or overly expensive solvents?
1st measure the chain (search for directions). If the chain is too worn using it will damage your cassette... and even the big rings.

The cheapest, easiest, way to clean chain is use dish soap and a scrub brush. A dollar store toilet brush will work fine. Use the same bucket of hot soapy water to clean your entire drive train. Any cheap all purpose household oil will lube a chain well enough.
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Old 06-25-15, 09:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Cutter View Post
1st measure the chain (search for directions). If the chain is too worn using it will damage your cassette... and even the big rings.

The cheapest, easiest, way to clean chain is use dish soap and a scrub brush. A dollar store toilet brush will work fine. Use the same bucket of hot soapy water to clean your entire drive train. Any cheap all purpose household oil will lube a chain well enough.
Good advice^^ Get everything sudsy and scrub with a brush in strokes away from your body only. Spread some paper around to collect the inevitable splatter. Oil with 3-in-1, silicone spray, or a bike lube. Keep a rag handy to wipe off the excess.
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Old 06-25-15, 09:27 PM
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The techs in our shop always like to use a degreaser with cloth rags to clean up the chains, then they apply a chain lube. They indicated that Tr-Flow is a little heavier than most chain oils and should be used on all other areas that should be oiled (cables and other moving parts).

I usually use a rag and chain cleaner (mineral or citrus - whichever I grab), but I try to do it every couple of weeks. I oil more often than that, though.
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Old 06-25-15, 09:42 PM
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IMO cleaning / lubing cheap would be chainsaw chain oil thinned with mineral spirits. Very cheap, and the oil is really sticky after the MS evaporates. You can use a lot to wash the junk out of your chain, the after it sits a bit, wipe the excess sticky oil using a rag damp with MS.
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Old 06-25-15, 09:56 PM
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We never lubricate our chains with oil . . .
We use the hot wax method since the mid-1970s.
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Old 06-25-15, 10:46 PM
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Originally Posted by zonatandem View Post
We never lubricate our chains with oil . . .
We use the hot wax method since the mid-1970s.
Yes, but what do you use to lubricate your chains?
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Old 06-25-15, 10:52 PM
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Originally Posted by RoadTire View Post
IMO cleaning / lubing cheap would be chainsaw chain oil thinned with mineral spirits. Very cheap, and the oil is really sticky after the MS evaporates. You can use a lot to wash the junk out of your chain, the after it sits a bit, wipe the excess sticky oil using a rag damp with MS.
I like to throw in a cap-full of Palmolive detergent to the oil and spirits. It's a lot more than just mild...
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Old 06-25-15, 11:21 PM
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Originally Posted by nfmisso View Post
Brush off the dirt on the jockey wheels, cogs and chain rings - tooth brush is good.

Wipe chain off with a rag.

Lubricate chain with a light oil (I use Tri-Flo)

Wipe chain off with a clean rag after running through all the gears. The lubricant needs to be on the inside of the chain, not the outside where all it does is attract dirt.
This is it, right here.

Edit: I would add...Put ONE drop of Tri-flo across each link/roller rather than squirting onto chain while spinning the gears.

Last edited by Wolf Dust; 06-25-15 at 11:26 PM.
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Old 06-26-15, 03:06 AM
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Originally Posted by nfmisso View Post
Brush off the dirt on the jockey wheels, cogs and chain rings - tooth brush is good.

Wipe chain off with a rag.

Lubricate chain with a light oil (I use Tri-Flo)

Wipe chain off with a clean rag after running through all the gears. The lubricant needs to be on the inside of the chain, not the outside where all it does is attract dirt.
+1

Except I'd recommend lubing with motor oil. 20w60 (or transmission SAE 90) in the summer, synthetic 5w30 in the winter.

Here's my take on cleaning and lubing a chain, wrote a blog entry on a subject:

https://www.bike.bikegremlin.com/2015...le-chain-lube/

Last edited by Bike Gremlin; 06-26-15 at 06:44 AM.
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Old 06-26-15, 05:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Wolf Dust View Post
This is it, right here.

Edit: I would add...Put ONE drop of Tri-flo across each link/roller rather than squirting onto chain while spinning the gears.

What's wrong with a little oil dripping off ... everything?
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Old 06-26-15, 05:41 PM
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That's it. I"m going to put green oil in a Palmolive bottle when I join the crew this fall at FB4K.

Originally Posted by cale View Post
I like to throw in a cap-full of Palmolive detergent to the oil and spirits. It's a lot more than just mild...
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Old 06-26-15, 11:14 PM
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I understand the starving student budget so my recommendations come with that in mind:

- If there is a bike co-op in the area check it out. They usually have use of tools, work stands, and some consumables like degreaser and lubricants for a small fee or even work-trade. They also often have inexpensive used parts.
- If you can borrow a chain tool, pop for the $2 to get a quick link of some kind (I like KMC). It will make cleaning and maintenance easier. If you can't borrow a chain tool, I can't imagine that an LBS would charge more than a couple bucks to pop out a link for you if you purchase the quick link there.
- Cheap spray degreasers aren't a bargain as you may need repeated applications to get the same result and a lot gets wasted. The best bang for your buck IMHO is still real mineral spirits (use outdoors or in a well ventilated shop or garage, not your living area). You can reuse it multiple times if you let the junk settle to the bottom and decant the relatively clean stuff off the top and running it through a cheap coffee filter. Sure you'll lose some to evaporation, drips, etc. A quart costs around $5 and will clean your drivetrain many times. A more indoor friendly alternative is one part Dawn dish soap to four parts hot water. There is also a Simple Green Bike Cleaner Degreaser. It is different than the original Simple Green which I've been told can damage aluminum surfaces in its concentrated form. It sells for about $7 for 24 oz, but that will clean your bike drivetrain numerous times.



- A quart of Mobile One Synthetic 5w30 motor oil will lube your chain until you die of old age for about $8. I won't say it's the best choice for a chain lube, but it works well and is cheap compared to those little bottles of bike chain specific lubes which go for $1 to $2 per ounce.
- One of the best ways to save money on drive train maintenance is to keep it clean in the first place. Use your lubricants sparingly, a drop on each pin, spin the crank a few times then wipe off the excess. More is not better and actually attracts dirt and grit. Spend a few minutes once a week wiping down your chain, flossing between the cogs and removing any buildup from the derailleur jockey wheels. A drivetrain doesn't have to be spotless, but don't let it get caked with dirt or covered in grit. If you live in a dry, dusty climate, a "dry" wax lubricant might be preferable to a wet petroleum or synthetic lube. There are quite a few on the market. You'll hear some people swear by hot paraffin baths but I find them a hassle with little, if any, benefit over the proper use of a liquid lubricant.
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Old 06-27-15, 07:13 AM
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Even cheaper, get an empty oil bottle out of the gas station trash. There's always enough oil in there to lube a chain 4 or 5 times, if you hold it upside down.
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Old 06-27-15, 07:20 AM
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There's no reason to take the chain off or anything complicated like that. Some of the posts above are excellent and simple. While doing a comprehensive job looks nice, a ten mile ride gets the chain more dirty again than even a quick cleaning. You are better off just doing the basic maintence, ride and enjoying yourself.
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