How to Clean a Bicycle Chain, The Easy Way

5 minute read

That smudge of black grease on your pant leg isn’t a mandatory accessory when you ride a bicycle. Even the least experienced rider knows the terror of a chain stamp. Bike grease doesn’t come off easily. More tips on getting it off your skin at the end of this post. For clothing, I am still doing it poorly. I use “spray and wash” to treat the stain before washing. It does ok, but not great. Once those stain hits the dryer, it’s unlikely to ever come out.

As it’s said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What’s the prevention for bike grease? Inexperienced riders tend to just never lubricate their chains. Sure, it leads to lots of actual mechanical issues. It sounds awful, looks rusty and broken and is usually one step away from failure. I say this from experience. I volunteer as a bike mechanic for a large group ride that numbers between 900-5000 riders. It is massive. It is mostly inexperienced riders and I go through a lot of chain lube after getting questions like “why does it sound funny?” Ever touched a bone dry, two years of rust, chain? It’s nothing you are missing out on.

Until recently, I trended in the opposite direction. Forever dumping more white lightning “self cleaning” chain lube on the aforementioned mechanical rope. My chain was nearly black and constantly shed little black droplets of goo. It was merely the exact opposite of never using chain lube. I was using only chain lube, all the chain lube. On occasion, I would dump the chain in a degreaser. My chains were not lasting too long. And, since I ride fixed gear, I rely on my chain to guarantee I am going to accelerate and stop. I went through many chains. It wasn’t too horrible on the wallet. We will leave the impact on the environment for another time.

I am evolved. I tried to do it cheaply. I got what I paid for and learned my lesson. Now, I am sharing that wisdom with the Internet. The secret to avoiding a bicycle stamp? Chain cleaners. I know, it doesn’t sound that revolutionary. And, maybe you’ve already experimented with these devices. But, it may just be that you bought one of this ~$30 plastic ones. Like this, this or this.

While those work, they are made from plastic. I basically destroyed the muc off brand chain cleaner I picked up on Amazon for $35 a few months ago. It doesn’t help that my bicycle doesn’t have a rear derailleur and the chain line doesn’t leave a lot of extra space to insert gadgets. And while a brush or D-I-Y solution is probably more minimal at first, I assure you that cleaning bike grease from your living room floor isn’t a great way to enjoy your free-time.

The best solution is the Park Tool CM-25 chain scrubber tool. How to use the CM-25 chain scrubber from Park Tool.

How to Clean your Chain

  1. Mount your bicycle in a stand. If you are riding a fixed gear, you must elevate the rear tire as it will have to turn.
  2. Get out the CM-25 from Park Tool
  3. Open the CM-25 case by ensuring the lid is unlocked, it opens with the mouth away from you when holding the handle
  4. Pour a degreaser into the bottom reservoir.
  5. Place chain into CM-25. Nestle the chain into the bottom portion.
  6. Close the lid
  7. Latch the silver locking mechanism. It will be vertical when locked.
  8. Hold the CM-25 in your left hand.
  9. Pedal backwards with your right hand.
  10. Unlatch the CM-25 and remove
  11. Safely dispose of the degreaser. Do not pour into storm drains.
  12. Pour water into the chain machine
  13. Repeat steps 5-10
  14. Dry chain with a towel.
  15. Re-lubricate chain with your favorite chain lube.

It’s very important that you pedal backwards. All these chain machines are directional. Pedaling forwards will make the chain dirtier, much dirtier. And not the kind of dirty we like around here. In regards to degreaser. Park Tool makes a specially formulated kind designed for these machines. It’s expensive. I prefer Simple Green. It’s effective and environmentally friendly. I’m not linking to Amazon for Simple Green. It’s far cheaper at Walmart. Shop around.

Your chain is now cleaned and re-lubricated. Go enjoy a bike ride. You earned it!

Greasy Hands, Hungry Eyes

The secret to removing bike grease on the go and at home? A bar of lava soap or a container of phil woods hand cleaner are my usual go tos at home. However, it was during the resurgence of bicycles at the start of the 2020 pandemic from COVID-19 that I discovered an amazing way to deal with it on the go. Regular soap, dish soap and hand sanitizer will not remove it from skin. You can scrub the skin off faster than you will remove bicycle grease. Thanks to a stranger, I learned this trick. After fixing a flat tire on the side of the street in a remote part of Brooklyn for a stranger I was gifted this secret. At the end tire change, my hands covered in grease from her never-been cleaned 1970s bicycle. As I looked down at my hands, I tried in vein to get the grease off with some hand sanitizer I had with me. It was useless. Then the woman handed me a on-the-go Neutrogena face wipe. The same one women use to remove makeup. Men wearing makeup probably use it as well. Now, I join their ranks. Not because I am now wearing makeup. I don’t wear anything that didn’t get stuck to my chain after living in the streets of one of the dirtist cities in America. No. I am joining because Neutrogena face wipes are amazing. I carry several with me whenever I ride. Both for myself and the person that I may help during my journey.

Top image: “Bicycle Chain” by Hindrik S is licensed under CC0 1.0. To view a copy of this license, visit