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Chain Cleaning and Re-Lubing Techniques

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Chain Cleaning and Re-Lubing Techniques

Old 01-16-10, 09:23 AM
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Chain Cleaning and Re-Lubing Techniques

It's winter here in the mountains of New England. A combination of snow, sand, salt, ice, and a mixture of all of these on the road (which we refer to as "winter grease") encourage me to stay indoors and wrench more and ride less.

One of my winter activities is to clean and re-lube the chains on my vintage ride. Over the years I've tried various methods for cleaning and at least a 1/2 dozen different chain lubes, none of which I ever felt were satisfactory.

During the past year I finally developed a technique and found a lube which serves me well. It's always helpful to share what we stumble upon. Share your practices on Chain Maintenance below.

My preference is for quick-release chains like SRAM, Wipperman, or KMC. In 7 easy steps the chain is clean, lubed, and ready for about 1000 miles of riding! Here's my system:

1. Remove chain, drop in plastic container which has a sealed wide mouth lid, cover the chain in undiluted Simple Green. Let soak for 24-48 hours, occasionally picking up the container, giving it a good shaking in order to help the Simple Green do its job (since developing this cleaning method I've read Sheldon Brown's very similar technique with a plastic soda bottle that he wrote about years ago).

2. Remove the chain from the container, letting the dirty Simply Green drain back into the container. I do this at a sink.

3. Rinse the chain with hot water.

4. Scrub the chain with a toothbrush in which I place at regular intervals a liberal dose of Dawn Dishwashing liquid (remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill?). I scrub each link, front and back. Rinse the chain in hot water a second time.

5. Immediately place chain in an oven at about 200F for about 20-30 minutes to dry and heat the chain. Place the container which has your chain lube in a pocket to warm it with your body heat.

6. Upon taking the chain out of the oven, stretch it out on the counter in a nice straight line. I do this on top of a waxed butcher paper squares. I place the chain with the link bearings up. Immediately place a drop of lube on each link bearing. This way the lube seeps in between the bearing and the link plates and lubes the most critical part. Allow the chain to cool.

7. Wipe the cooled chain down with a clean rag to remove as much of the excess lube left on the outside of the chain. Reinstall chain or store until installation.


I usually store the chain wrapped up in a sheet of the butcher paper and placed in a zip-lock bag while I clean the crankset and freewheel.

I used this technique recently on a 1/8 inch 40+ year old Raleigh Sports chain brought home from the dump. It nearly looks new.

My lube of choice? Chain-L. I really like the way it holds up for at least 1000 miles.

https://www.chain-l.com/



Please share your chain maintenance technique!
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Old 01-16-10, 09:29 AM
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I'd be in deep if I used the oven to dry a bike chain! Maybe I can drape it over my furnace.... As far as lube goes, I've used pedro's chain lube and it made a mess. On my new Specialized they had put some sort of clear chain wax on it and that is nice (so far).
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Old 01-16-10, 10:43 AM
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I clean with gasoline (horrors) outside, in a gatorade bottle, shaking frequently, then rinse in another. Dry with my compressor, then warm in the oven like you. (You can decant these for MANY uses, leaving the sludge to be dumped in old motor oil for recycling.)

While still warm (not hot), cool enuf to hold in your hand, I drop it in a gatorade bottle of Shell Rotella T Synthetic 5W-40, (a true heavy duty oil) and let it soak for a couple days. Agitating whenever I walk by it.

Then the obligatory wipe down with a clean rag.

I then use bike specific oil between removals. Whatever is available cheaply. I also use this oil to lube the rest of the drivetrain, frequently. Whenever shifting is less than optimal - only takes a couple minutes to wipe off, oil, and wipe down.
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Old 01-16-10, 01:29 PM
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I wonder if anyone ever tried using a vacuum pump to impregnate the link's bearings. It would be a sure fire way to get the lubricant down inside the links and rollers to coat every surface.

Hmmm. It just so happens that I have a vacuum pump and chamber. Might have to try this...

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Last edited by High Fist Shin; 01-16-10 at 07:02 PM.
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Old 01-16-10, 01:38 PM
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That would be cool! submerge the chain in a dish of oil, turn on the pump, and watch the bubbles get pulled out. That would pretty much guarantee that the oil would get in all the nooks and crannies.

If it was me, I'd use a 5W-40 synthetic motor oil, for it's excellent lubricating and cleaning abilities.
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Old 01-16-10, 01:51 PM
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I don't really like the idea of soaking a chain in motor oil, sure I can't imagine there will be any better kind of a lubricating job over a brand new chain, but thats gonna be messy as hell when its back on the bike I figure, unless maybe you let it sit for a few months before it goes back on.

I basically do the 24 hour simple green soak and rince with hot water and dry it the best I can immediatly.
Goood tip about heating chain in the oven and dropping a drop of lube on every link, I'll have to do that when spring comes around. I cleaned a few chains up at the end of the season for my normal rides and just stuck em in zip lock bags afterwords to wait for spring.
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Old 01-16-10, 01:55 PM
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+1 on simple green. i use old tupperware containers and soak my chains in undiluted simple green. i buy it by the gallon. however, i try not to let mine soak longer than overnight. i fear that simple green can remove certain coatings from metals.

+1 on the toothbrush method as well.

+1 on plenty of water and dish soap too!

i generally use these for degreasing most parts.

i do like your oven-drying technique followed by oiling. i haven't tried this. since i do all my work in my basement, i just place the chain on top of my furnace. it doesn't get hot, but it gets warm enough to dry out any hidden water within a couple of hours. i then oil it the next day. i will have to try the oven technique!
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Old 01-16-10, 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Wanderer View Post
I clean with gasoline (horrors)
Ohhh! God almighty, don't DO that. I'll send you the money to buy a bottle of mineral spirits if that's it will take to get you to buy one. I hate the thought of a C & V member going up in flames.
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Old 01-16-10, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by jonwvara View Post
Ohhh! God almighty, don't DO that. I'll send you the money to buy a bottle of mineral spirits if that's it will take to get you to buy one. I hate the thought of a C & V member going up in flames.
+1.
There is a real risk of catastrophe - do not mess with gasoline.
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Old 01-16-10, 02:54 PM
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I used to use that really, really foul smelling carburetor cleaner that came with the dip basket in a gallon can. I can't take the smell anymore.

Usually, I will soak the chain in lacquer thinner (yes, outside!), then follow with a Simple Green wash, followed by chain lube.
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Old 01-16-10, 03:27 PM
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It seems that cleaning a chain too well might be a problem, at least according to the SRAM service instructions:

• Regular lubrication will extend the chain's service life. Apply oil to the chain links rollers and allow to work in.
• Clean dirty chains before oiling. Do not use any grease-dissolving or acidic agents. Cleaning agent must be rinsed off after a few minutes with water. Apply oil after chain is completely dried.

Fwiw.

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Old 01-16-10, 03:43 PM
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Been using ATF (automatic transmission fluid) on my motorcycle chains for years. I need to try it on my next bike chain cleanup.
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Old 01-16-10, 04:01 PM
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I've been cleaning in gasoline for 50+ years, and take cautious approach always.

Mineral spirits do not do as good, or fast, as gasoline. Always out doors, always with much caution. Always stored properly, etc, etc, etc.

I don't suggest it to others, but it works well for me.
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Old 01-16-10, 05:20 PM
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Some pre-requisites are nitrile gloves, tooth brushes, plastic containers (Folgers coffee cans work well, especially for a caffeine addict like myself), old rags.
When not in a rush, I soak my chain and other nasty parts in ATF. It's high detergency, low viscosity and low volatility makes it desirable for extended periods.
If I'm rushing, it's kerosene or mineral spirits. Agitate chain in the container, work any grimy links with a brush and rinse with hot water. I follow with a liberal dose of WD-40 to remove the water. After wiping it dry, I oil it and reinstall it. I use(d) a variety of oils I had in the garage. Mostly to see their effectiveness, and I wasn't concerned about the chains as they never were allowed to get really nasty.

Tried gasoline once to clean up a 30 yr old Suntour Winner freewheel. It was very effective, but I wouldn't use it again. The gasoline gummed up my portable parts cleaner can when the stuff evaporated.

Last edited by WNG; 01-17-10 at 04:23 PM.
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Old 01-16-10, 10:21 PM
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Originally Posted by wrk101 View Post
Been using ATF (automatic transmission fluid) on my motorcycle chains for years. I need to try it on my next bike chain cleanup.
Originally Posted by WNG View Post
When not in a rush, I soak my chain and other nasty parts in ATF. It's high detergency, low viscosity and low volatility makes it desirable for extended periods.
Really?!?

I've got a whole load of ATF out in the garage from when I tried unbuggering my transmission (oh God...) and I've got 4 bikes that need cleaning...


BTW- thank you everyone for sharing your tips- this is awesome.
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Old 01-16-10, 10:48 PM
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1. Wipe down chain with rag soaked in mineral spirits.
2. Apply ProLink to the rollers on the 'inside' of the chain.
3. Let sit overnight.
4. Wipe chain down with clean rag.

and most importantly

5. Always take build pics for BF before first ride.
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Old 01-17-10, 04:12 AM
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Great additional tips! Although I'm not keen on using gasoline in anything except my Snow Thrower, this time of year!

Hopefully when someone does a search on "Chain Cleaning" or "Chain Lubing" this thread will pop up.

We need to start a thread on "Rear Derailleur Annual Maintenance" next.

Has anyone else tried Chain-L?
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Old 01-17-10, 08:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Wanderer View Post
I've been cleaning in gasoline for 50+ years, and take cautious approach always.

Mineral spirits do not do as good, or fast, as gasoline. Always out doors, always with much caution. Always stored properly, etc, etc, etc.

I don't suggest it to others, but it works well for me.
"Works for me" = "I have not been horribly burned YET." Cleaning with gasoline is by definition not a cautious approach. That's just a fact.
Not trying to start a holy war on the subject, though. I'll shut up now.
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Old 01-17-10, 08:37 AM
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Originally Posted by pastorbobnlnh View Post
Great additional tips! Although I'm not keen on using gasoline in anything except my Snow Thrower, this time of year!

Hopefully when someone does a search on "Chain Cleaning" or "Chain Lubing" this thread will pop up.

We need to start one on "Rear Derailleur Annual Maintenance" next.

Has anyone else tried Chain-L?
I have not. But any product that lasts a thousand miles between applications has to be worth a look, hasn't it? Pastor Bob, have you got any pictures of a drive train lubed with Chain-L after a few hundred miles? I'm curious to know if it blackens up the chain and has everything on the road and in the air stick to it. It is for that reason that I switched to wax based lubes a few years ago. Cleaner drive trains.

One of the problems with wax lubes is it's difficulty in reaching the inside of the links and rollers. I use Pedros Ice Wax but now I'd like to try this https://www.squirtlube.com/products/index.php

It got really good reviews from cyclingnews.com because of it's long lasting, lubricating properties. It uses a water based carrier system to penetrate the links, then sets up and stays put.

Looks like I have two products to try. Now where is that vacuum pump...

-Shin
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Old 01-17-10, 08:37 AM
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Rereading my previous post, it sounds harsher than I intended. Apologies to Wanderer--I wasn't trying to offend you, if that's what I did.. It's just that I feel strongly that cleaning things with gasoline is dangerous. Okay, now I really will shut up about it.
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Old 01-17-10, 11:09 AM
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When using Chain-L, the key is three steps:

1. Only lube the center bearing. This way the oil is not on the outside of the plates.
2. Before re-installing the chain, wipe, wipe and wipe some more. After all you are not removing the oil which has gotten into the bearing.
3. Let the remaining oil dry on the outside of the chain for a few days before riding if you can. It tends to be less sticky the more days you wait.

All of my chains are clean at this time. But I'd say that the picture of the chain below is probably after 200-400 miles of riding in mostly fair weather. Once a week or so I run the chain through a rag to remove outside dirt.

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Old 01-17-10, 11:24 AM
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Originally Posted by pastorbobnlnh View Post
When using Chain-L, the key is three steps:

1. Only lube the center bearing. This way the oil is not on the outside of the plates.
2. Before re-installing the chain, wipe, wipe and wipe some more. After all you are not removing the oil which has gotten into the bearing.
3. Let the remaining oil dry on the outside of the chain for a few days before riding if you can. It tends to be less sticky the more days you wait.

All of my chains are clean at this time. But I'd say that the picture of the chain below is probably after 200-400 miles of riding in mostly fair weather. Once a week or so I run the chain through a rag to remove outside dirt.
Thank you for that report, Bob. I will indeed give Chain-L a try.

-Shin
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Old 01-17-10, 02:09 PM
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I've always used petrol, outside.
But I have been told that kerosene is better as it is a light oil, so cleans without any solvent action, whereas petrol dissolves the all-important oil in the links.
I have always run my chains pretty oily to stop them rusting in the rain, but his does hold the grit, so I don't know the best compromise.

When I was 20 I rebuilt my car engine. I used my parents' garage. When finished, it was raining. I used lots of newspaper and petrol to clean the oil from the rebuild off the garage floor. There was a bit of rain water lying around too. So I mopped that up with a dirty old towel which also had a bit of petrol on it.
Then I took it out in the dark on the farm to the incinerator, an old 44 gallon drum with a grate 1/3 of the way up, and a hole for air cut in the base. I chucked in all the screwed up petrol-soaked newspaper, then chucked in the wet towel.
then I lit it. A huge WHUMP like a bomb, the flaming wet towel shot 40 feet in the air, and my poor mother at the kitchen window thought I was dead. But I was laughing at my foolishness.
The screwed up paper had just the right amount of air around it for the petrol vapours to explode rather than burn, and the heavy wet towel acted as a plug and was quite a sight in the night sky!

So petrolheads, beware
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Old 01-17-10, 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by jonwvara View Post
Rereading my previous post, it sounds harsher than I intended. Apologies to Wanderer--I wasn't trying to offend you, if that's what I did.. It's just that I feel strongly that cleaning things with gasoline is dangerous. Okay, now I really will shut up about it.
No offense taken! But, by definition, mineral spirits, kerosene, diesel fuel, and any other solvents, are just as dangerous if used improperly. If it burns, it's dangerous; and, anyone using ANY solvent , should not be lulled into complacency, thinking they are safe.

Sometimes, it just pays, to pay attention, to what you are doing.
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Old 01-17-10, 02:41 PM
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Chains need maintenance???!!!

That's a new one on me.

My absolute favorite is to take the dirty one off and replace it with a clean one.

:-)

I have also developed a preferred method for cleaning not just the chain but also the front and rear sprokets. Cleaning those is as essential as cleaning the chain.
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