How Clean Does a Chain Need to Be

Here at SILCA we are big proponents of cleaning your bike being one of the biggest performance gains you can have.  Dirty drivetrains can slow you down, wear out your components, be loud and annoying on the group ride, and ultimately cost you money.  We all have that friend who might clean their bike once a year and always has the noisy bike when you ride together.  If you can’t think of who that might be in your group, you might want to go clean your bike.  Your friends will thank you. 


Clean is certainly a relative term and when it comes to chains it can be hard to tell what we mean when we say you need to clean your chain.  How clean is “clean.”  We will dive into what different levels of clean might look like and when each is appropriate. 


Preparing a Chain For Wax


We get this question almost daily of how clean does the chain need to be to use a wax lubricant.  The answer is as clean as possible.  If you can get 80% of that factory grease or oil off the metal, you will get most of the benefits such as lower friction and cleanliness of wax.  You won’t however get the full benefits of lower friction, cleanliness, durability, etc.  This is because the wax won’t get the best possible adherence to the metal. 


A good way to see if your chain is “clean enough” is the final acetone step of stripping the chain.  If the Acetone comes out black, you are still far too dirty to get the benefits of waxing.  If you shake the acetone and you notice that there is a slight cloudiness and a few floating bits, then you are probably good enough to get most of the benefits.  When you want to get the optimal performance in noise reduction, cleanliness, friction, and longevity, the acetone bath should come out perfectly clear.  There is no noticeable debris in the acetone bath.  Below you will see a chain that still needs more cleaning next to one that is ready to be hung up to dry then waxed.   

Dirty ChainClean Chain


Cleaning a Chain For Oil Lubricants

If you are going to be using an oil based lube like Synergetic, it is still ideal to clean your chain before applying, but the process is a little more forgiving.  We recommend giving your chain a thorough cleaning with a high quality degreaser or something like our Brake and Drivetrain Cleaner.  The more oil and debris that you can get out of the chain the better.  The good part about oil based lubricant is that the addition of new oil will help drive out some of the contamination.  


This cleaning effect means you can get the lubricant to stick to the chain without the intense cleaning.  The cleaner it is the better, but you can be significantly more flexible.