How to Clean a Mountain Bike Chain

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Cleaning your mountain bike chain isn’t just for aesthetics. Dirt and grime can cause the chain to wear out faster, leading to costly replacements.

You can clean a mountain bike chain yourself with a few simple supplies, including a firm brush, chain lube, gloves, and a rag. No need to spend money at a bike shop when you can do it at home!

Step 1 – Clean the Bike Frame
Step 2 – Degrease the Chain
Step 3 – Lube the Chain

We’ll discuss how to clean a mountain bike chain and a total supply list for you to get the job done right.

Supplies You’ll Need

  • 1 small firm brush (an old toothbrush will do)
  • 1 medium-sized firm brush
  • Degreaser (We’ve got a guide on the best chain degreasers)
  • Dish soap
  • Water (bucket for soapy water and a hose for rinsing)
  • Clean rag
  • Chain lube
  • Rubber gloves
  • Bike stand to stabilize your mountain bike while you work on it

Steps to Clean Your Mountain Bike Chain

1. Clean the Bike Frame

Washing a mountain bike
  1. Put your bike on the bike stand. You can also flip your bike upside down using the saddle and handlebars to stabilize it.
  2. Start by brushing off loose dirt and mud from the bike frame with your medium size brush. Then hose down, soap it off, and rinse. If you don’t do this part first, you’ll just end up with some of that mud in your nice clean bike chain afterward!

2. Degrease the Chain

Dirty mountain bike derailleur
  1. Put on your gloves and apply the degreaser to your small brush and paint it into the chain.
  2. Push the toothbrush bristles into the chain while backpedaling. Do this several times on all sides of the chain until it has been coated in degreaser and all the debris is removed.
  3. Next, apply the degreaser to the cassette, derailleurs, and chainrings and remove all debris from those areas.
  4. Hose all the components down. Then use the toothbrush to scrub with the soapy water and hose down again until all of the degreaser is removed.
  5. Let your mountain bike stand until completely dry. If you’re in a hurry, use a blowdryer or air compressor and rags to speed up the process.

3. Lube the Chain

Applying lube to a mountain bike chain.
  1. Now that your mountain bike chain is completely dry, apply one drop of chain lube to each chain link. Backpedal the chain until it is entirely coated.
  2. Wipe away any excess chain lube with a clean cloth.

Chain Cleaning Machines

Machine that washed your mountain bike chain

Another method for cleaning your mountain bike chain is to use a chain-cleaning machine. They are convenient devices that attach to your bike chain and clean the chain while backpedaling it through.

Chain cleaning machines are slightly less messy than the process outlined above.

A Quick Chain Lube

You can do a quick chain lube in between deep chain cleans by applying lube following steps 8 and 9. This will keep your mountain bike chain in better condition in between the more thorough clean-up jobs.

How Often Should You Clean Your Mountain Bike Chain?

Most bike shop mechanics recommend you clean your mountain bike chain at least once a month if you are using it regularly. Without regular maintenance, the dirt and buildup of debris will cause corrosion, loosen the chain links, and in general, wear out your chain faster.

Final thoughts

Cleaning your mountain bike chain isn’t hard and will save your bike chain, derailleurs, cassette, and other components from premature wear and tear. Why spend the money to have someone else do it when you can do it home!

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Paul Tuthill
Growing up in Scotland, Paul developed a love for the outdoors and a desire for adventure from an early age.