Complete Guide to Cleaning Your Chain
Degreasing Your Chain
Stripping your chain of factory grease or oil is a crucial step to waxing your chain. It can extend the life of your chain, keep it quieter, and increase the efficiency. In the last few years chain cleaning has been getting a lot more attention and there are certainly some good ways and less than ideal ways to clean your chain. Here we will outline a few different ways to strip your chain clean and prep it for wax.
The Ultrasonic Method - New Chain
- Soak your chain in mineral spirits. This applies ONLY to a new chain. Not a fairly new chain with only a few miles on it, but new out of the box. Mineral spirits is a polar non-polar solvent which will trap any moisture on the metal. Metal and water leads to rust and the mineral spirits just speeds that process up. If you use a jar you can shake the chain for 10-15 minutes or leave the jar overnight. This step in the process breaks down the cosmoline and makes it much easier to remove in the next step.
- If you have an air compressor it can be helpful to blow compressed air into the links to help blow out the factory grease between each step. This step is particularly helpful if you are degreasing a used chain that might have dirt and oil in the chain.
- Fill your ultrasonic tank with degreaser. We recommend Simple Green Aircraft, Chemical Guys Orange, or our own Bio Degreaser as great options that won’t risk Hydrogen Embrittlement. We strongly suggest you don’t use the standard Simple Green formula and you can read more on why over on our Hydrogen Embrittlement blog.
- Heat the tank to 40C/104F and use the appropriate mixture for each. Chemical Guys we recommend using 6 parts water:1 part degreaser, Simple Green Aircraft 13:1, and full strength bio degreaser.
- Run a 15-30 minute ultrasonic cycle in the degreaser bath. The degreaser should remain fairly clean if the mineral spirits did its job. If you are degreasing a used chain, repeat this step until the degreaser doesn’t change color. You can reuse the degreaser for a second cycle, but it should be replaced for a third cycle. The air compressor to blow out any dirt that has been broken loose but not removed. Between each bath it will also help to rinse the chain in running water. This will help move that debris out as well.
- Empty the degreaser and fill the ultrasonic tank with acetone or another polar solvent such as denatured alcohol, or even rubbing alcohol will do in a pinch. Run a 15 minute cycle in the acetone and this will remove any residue from the degreaser.
- Hang the chain to dry completely. You can shake the links and you should hear bare metal on metal and will have a distinct noise difference. This is a good test to know your chain is stripped completely.
The Ultrasonic Method - Used Chain
This is mostly the same as above but we are going to skip the mineral spirits and add in a few more degreaser steps.
- Wipe down your chain with rags/degreaser as best as possible. Getting rid of as much contaminant before submerging it will reduce the number of baths you need to do.
- Add enough degreaser to your ultrasonic tank to cover your chain completely. See above for the recommend type of degreaser and ensure you do not using something like your standard Simple Green that can cause Hydrogen Embrittlement. Heat the tank to 100-120F.
- Run a 15-30 minute cycle in the tank. This will give the ultrasonic waves enough time to help break loose the debris in the chain.
- If you have an air compressor, blowing compressed air into the links of the chain once the cycle is over can help remove the debris that was broken free of the metal but possibly still trapped in the chain. This will reduce the number of baths necessary.
- Replace the degreaser in the tank and re-heat. Repeat this step until the degreaser is fairly clear at the end of the cycle. It may be 2-5 cycles depending on how dirty the chain is. If your chain is extremely dirty, it might be better to start with a new chain.
- Wipe the tank completely clean and add enough acetone to the tank to cover the chain. Run a 15 minute cycle in acetone with no heat. This should leave the acetone clear if you have done enough degreaser baths. If you are seeing cloudy or black acetone, you need to go back to the degreaser step. See our how clean is clean post to make sure you have finished this step properly
Gatorade Bottle Method
We call this the Gatorade bottle method since the Gatorade bottle is a popular vessel to clean chains, but we particularly like using ball jars because the mouth is much wider which makes it easier to get the chain in and out. We will outline the process for new chains and the same modifications as above should be made if you are degreasing an already used chain.
- (Skip this step for used chains) Place your chain in the jar and cover with mineral spirits or another non-polar solvent. Shake for 5 minutes and let set for at least another 10 minutes. Shake for 1 minute and remove from the mineral spirits. This will give you a total of 15-16 minutes with shaking or you can leave it overnight and come back.
- Rinse the chain and blow the compressed air (if you have) to remove as much excess mineral spirits and grease as possible.
- Rinse the bottle and add degreaser to the bottle. We suggest using any degreaser approved for aircraft as it will not lead to hydrogen embrittlement. Add your chain and shake for 5 minutes.
- Remove the chain and rinse with water and blow with compressed air if possible.
- Inspect the degreaser and if it is fairly clear after this step move on to an acetone bath. If you are degreasing a used chain or the new one left the degreaser cloudy, repeat this step until the degreaser is fairly clear.
- Rinse the container and dry if possible. Add the chain to the bottle and fill with acetone. Shake for a 3-5 minutes. If you are finding the acetone is cloudy or has more than just a few flakes, repeat this step. If the acetone is clean when you remove the chain move on to the next step.
- Hang the chain to allow all the acetone to flash off and you will have a chain ready to go for waxing. If you shake the dry chain you should hear a distinct change in the sound of metal on metal without grease in-between to dampen the sound.
What is the proper way to dispose of acetone or denatured alcohol?
Hey, Love the Super Secret Wax! 2 questions:1) Should I clean my previously waxed chains as above when relaxing or can I simply pour hot water over it and brush to remove any dirt? There is usually some wax left on it. 2) How many rides in the spring on my Gravel bike when it is wet (or fall during Cross racing season) versus my mountain bike during the similar season? Obviously I understand it would be hard to give 1 number but just some basic guidelines would be great…right now if it is dirty or seems dry then I wax it again….Thanks, G
PS just got all the cleaning products at Christmas so I will be using your system for bike cleaning going forward.
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