How to Clean a Bicycle Chain

Each link of your bicycle chain has a small gap where metal pieces rub together. This gap needs to be clean and well-lubed so the surface can glide past one another and not "grab" in order for your work to be transmitted to the wheels efficiently. A dirty chain or poorly lubed chain also can be stiff and make your shifting skip.

What tools are needed?
  • There are several chain cleaning tools available. These are simply a mechanism with brushes that pass your chain through a cleaning solution. You can buy one from your local bike shop or from TowpathGuy's Amazon Store also has these items. This tool will last many years unless you run your car over it -- TowpathGuy did that once. Cleaning solutions are also available or you can use mineral spirits from your local hardware store.
  • A bike stand is optional. If you don't have one or don't want to buy one, you can put your bike on the bike rack of your car or you can simply have a helper hold up the back end of the bicycle.
What preparations are needed?
  • No specific preparations are needed. Cleaning your chain is an easy maintenance task. However, if your bike is old or well-used, you chain might be stretched. If you are in doubt, take your bike to your local shop and ask them if your chain needs to be replaced. If it does, then let them do it! Or, wait a while until instructions are posted here -- you probably can find them elsewhere on the web ...
What supplies are needed?
  • chain cleaning solution -- see tools above.
  • Lean your bike against a wall, put it in your bike rack.
  • Attach the machine to the chain -- easy instructions vary slightly with each one.
  • Add cleaning solution.
  • Turn your bike cranks.
  • Drain the solution and repeat until the solution is fairly clean.
  • Lube your Chain -- see How to Lubricate a Bicycle Chain
How often?
  • Once per year if you use wax type lube. More frequently if you use a non-wax lube.

How to Lubricate a Bicycle Chain

Your bicycle chain has more moving parts than any other part of your bike. It is important that it be clean and well lubricated. A dirty chain or poorly lubed chain can be stiff and make your shifting skip. Lubricating your chain is probably the easiest piece of maintenance, but one that is often ignored.

What tools are needed?
  • No tools are needed.
What preparations are needed?
  • None, if your chain is clean or new. If it's dirty or old, then clean it (see How to Clean a Bicycle Chain or take your bike to your local bike shop) or replace it (take your bike to your local bike shop or wait for our how-to). (Replacing your chain is an intermediate level task and will be added to this website only when the simpler things have been finished.)
What supplies are needed?
  • Chain lubricant. TowpathGuy uses two kinds:
    • White Lightning Chain Lube -- This is wax type lube. It's great for the slightly dusty and dry conditions of the towpath. This is what TowpathGuy uses regularly. (An 8 oz bottle will last a year or two.) A similar product is Pedro's Ice Wax
    • Tri-Flow Superior Bicycle Chain Lube -- TowpathGuy uses this if it's very cold. When Spring comes, he then cleans his chain and returns to using White Lightning.
  • You can get these or similar products at your local bike shop. The links above will send you to where you can get product information or order these items. TowpathGuy's Amazon Store also has these items.
  • Lean your bike against a wall so that you can turn the crank backwards and the chain faces you. Then as you turn the crank (using a pedal) dribble the chain lube on the edge part of the links. Be sure to get both edges. The center of the chain does not need to be lubed. 2-3 rotations on each chain edge is enough and then give the crank a few extra turns to let the lube work its way into the gaps between the moving parts.
  • This will take about 2 minutes!
  • Note with the wax type lube you don't need to worry about using too much lube. The extra flakes off and carries dirt and dust with it.
How often?
  • If you use the wax lube, your chain should be lubricated every 20-25 miles. If you ride daily, this might mean that you lube every 2-3 days. If you ride rarely, lube every time you ride. If you go on a long ride on the weekend, you might want to take a small bottle of lube with you and lube your chain on the trail. TowpathGuy cleans his chain once a year and replaces the chain every other year.
  • If you use the non-wax lube, your chain will not need to be lubricated as often, but it will need to be cleaned more often. The non-wax lubes hold the dust and dirt. Lube every 100-200 miles or 1-2 months. Clean every other lube -- See How to Clean a Bicycle Chain. Watch for dirt build-up and adjust this schedule to fit with your riding conditions.


Simple Bicycle Repair shows you with simple step-by-step instructions how to fix, adjust and maintain your bike. Most simple repairs need only simple tools, and many require no or few tools! In every case, the tools you need will be listed. Remember a properly maintained bike will be more fun to ride. Remember the pros who ride in the Tour de France and other big races have a team of mechanics who tear down and rebuild the racing bikes every evening. What does this mean for you? The more expensive your bike and the more you ride, the more maintenance you need to do.

The how-to's on this website are for a bike that is in good mechanical condition. If your bike is not in good shape, you'll need to find a more detailed set of instructions or take your bike to your local bike shop. As you are reading about bicycle repair, you'll find that "local bike shop" is often abbreviated "LBS". Remember your local bike shop is a good place to get advice. Go there buy supplies and ask how to use them.

TowpathGuy does most of his bike riding on the towpath of the Main Canal of the D&R Canal State Park in central NJ. This is essentially a dirt road through the woods -- yes, even in New Jersey! The conditions are generally flat, dusty and dry. Most of the items in this website are focused on the needs of these conditions and the general rider who commutes and also rides for recreation.

This website is under construction. Expect one step-by-step how-to to be added per week.