How To Clean Your Mountain Bike Chain: (3 Easy Ways For 2023)

We Are An Affiliate: We hope you love the products we recommend. Just so you know, we may collect a small share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Thank you for using our links. We really appreciate it!

Owning a mountain bike is a dream come true for many seasoned bikers.

However, once you choose your mountain bike, you are confronted with several questions, and how to clean your mountain bike chain is an important one.

It may seem trivial, but a well-cleaned chain is essential to riding your bike more efficiently.

Is Chain Cleaning Necessary For Mountain Bike (3 Reasons)

Clean MTB Chain
A Clean MTB Chain

Yes! Cleaning your mountain bike chain is necessary.

Here are the three reasons why it is vital to clean your MTB chain regularly:

1. Clean chain slows down wearing:

Increased friction is the last thing you want between your chain links.

That is what precisely happens when dirt accumulates on your MTB chain and when you don’t clean it regularly.

The dirt that gets into the tiny crevices of the chain increases friction between the links. This does not only quicken the wearing of your chain but also slows you down.

Hence, cleaning your mountain bike chain after every ride will help slow down its wearing.

2. Smooth movement through the cogs and derailleurs:

If you want your mountain bike chain to flow through the cogs and derailleurs smoothly, you got to clean your chain regularly.

A clean chain will improve your bike’s pedaling efficiency.

The power transfer from your bike’s pedals to wheels become more seamless when the chain is free-flowing.

3. Seamless gear shifting:

There is no doubt that every mountain biker wants their gear shifting to be hassle-free.

A clean chain, which is of appropriate length, is essential in improving the efficiency of gear shifting.

This plays an important role in making sure you have an amazing mountain bike ride.

How To Clean Your Mountain Bike Chain (3 Easy Ways)

Let me be honest, mountain bike chain cleaning is not a job that can be done at the drop of a hat.

This task requires patience, and the more passionate you are about your bike, the more you will enjoy the process.

However, if you are an infrequent rider, who rides only short distances, you can get away with basic chain cleaning, mostly.

But, it is advisable that you do a deep cleaning on your MTB chain once every month.

Continue reading to find three different methods to clean your mountain bike chain:

  • Quick cleaning
  • Advanced cleaning
  • Through and through cleaning

Things to do before cleaning your mountain bike chain:

  • Keep all your cleaning supplies handy before you start the chain cleaning process.
  • Ensure, once you start cleaning, you do not interrupt yourself in between to rush to the local shop or the nooks and corners of your house or garage for the supplies.
  • If you have a garage or a courtyard, it is best to clean your bike chain there.
  • If you have to resort to cleaning your MTB chain inside of your home, then make sure you take necessary precautions to prevent the floor or carpet from getting dirty.

1. Quick Chain Cleaning:

This process would take you up to 5 minutes and is the easiest method to clean a mountain bike chain.

This basic cleaning process requires minimal supplies.

The supplies required are a cleaning rag and a good quality chain lube.

If you are wondering why you don’t need a degreaser, well, we are talking about quick cleaning, assuming that there is no significant amount of dirt accumulated on your bike chain.

It is recommended to use this method if you are an infrequent rider or your bike rides are short and on smooth biking trails.

When to do quick chain cleaning:

How to do quick chain cleaning (Step By Step):

  • Pedal backward slowly and apply a drop of lube to every link.
  • This way, coat the entire chain in lube.
  • Let your mountain bike rest.
  • Fold the cleaning cloth several times, and make a tiny cushion.
  • Hold the folded cushion against the chain as you pedal backward slowly.
  • Use all sides of the cloth to remove the dirt from your bike’s chain.
  • As you are cleaning your chain, remove the excess lube as well in case you notice it.

2. Advanced Chain Cleaning:

This cleaning would require you to invest about 20 minutes of your time.

Trust me when I say this “It is going to be really worth it”.

This method of cleaning would need more supplies than the quick cleaning method covered above.

When to do the advanced chain cleaning:

  • The advanced chain cleaning is suitable for frequent or the advanced MTB riders.
  • Use the advanced chain cleaning also when you have not cleaned your mountain bike chain for quite some time or if you noticed that your bike chain has gotten dirty riding in muddy and/or wet conditions.

Tools needed for the advanced chain cleaning:

MTB chain degreaser (any bicycle chain degreaser would also do.)

How to do advanced bike chain cleaning (Step By Step):

  • If your entire bike is dirty, clean it using a water hose to make sure that the dirt does not drop onto the clean chain afterward.
  • Put your cleaning gloves on.
  • Take the degreaser onto the brush and apply it to the chain.
  • Now, while you do back-pedal, keep the brush bristles firm against the chain from multiple angles.
  • This will help in getting rid of any dirt that is present on the chain.
  • Take more degreaser on the brush, and use it to scrub away any dirt build-up that you may find on other parts of the drivetrain.
  • Ensure your chainrings, derailleur, and cassette are cleaned up.
  • To speed up the process, keep back-pedaling the chain as you work on these parts.
  • Now, it is time to make sure that the degreaser is entirely off the chain.
  • This can be removed with the help of the remaining clean brush, soap, and water.
  • This step is very important, ensure there is no degreaser remaining on your bike’s chain. It could get complicated for the lube to stay on.
  • Let your mountain bike dry in the sun.
  • You can also use a dry rag or compressed air for quick drying of your bike.
  • After the bike dries, treat the chain with a drop of lube on each link. Back-pedal as you do this to ensure that the lube coats the entire chain.
  • Wipe away the excess lube by running the chain through a clean cloth.

3. Through And Through Chain Cleaning:

This is the most intensive type of chain cleaning which would take you at least 30 minutes.

If you regularly clean your mountain bike chain, then this type of cleaning would be required only once a year or so.

This chain cleaning method requires you to remove the chain off your bike.

You can remove it by accessing the master link, and if your chain does not have one, you may have to remove it with the help of a chain splitter.

When to use the through and through chain cleaning method:

  • You can use this cleaning method if you have not cleaned your mountain bike’s chain for ages.
  • You can also use this cleaning method if you have a lot of junk built up on your bike’s chain and other drivetrain components.
  • You shall need the same cleaning tools that you would need if doing an advanced cleaning of your bike’s chain.

How to do the through and through chain cleaning:

  • Remove the chain from your mountain bike. Watch this video to see how to do it.
  • Add the degreaser generously and place your bike chain in a bucket or small tub.
  • Leave it overnight.
  • Wear your cleaning gloves.
  • With the help of a brush, knock off any dirt or junk remaining on the bike chain.
  • With some degreaser on the brush, remove the dirt on other drivetrain components such as derailleur, cassette, and chainrings.
  • With the help of cleaning soap and water, rinse all the drivetrain components, including the chain, that has been cleaned.
  • This will help in getting rid of any remaining degreaser.
  • Leave the bike and chain to dry completely.
  • Once dry, apply the chain lube on each link.
  • Once coated with sufficient lube, re-install your chain onto your mountain bike.
  • Wipe away any excess lube using a cleaning rag. The back-pedaling technique can be used during this step.

6 FAQs On MTB Chain Cleaning

1. Can I incorporate the master link on my MTB chain?

Most chains can be incorporated with a master link if they don’t come with one.

However, removing the bike chain that does not have a master link could be daunting.

Adding a master link to your bike’s chain is easy.

You can get a suitable master link for your bike at your local bike shop else look up online for affordable master link.

2. How often should I clean my mountain bike chain?

While cleaning your mountain bike chain after every ride is advisable, you don’t always need to do that.

Keep in mind that your mountain bike’s chain has to be free of dirt and grime prior to every ride.

The more you ride your bike chain with dirt or junk, the more you are causing damage to your bike’s chain and drivetrain.

Generally, your mountain bike chain would need to be cleaned during the following conditions:

  • After every long-distance ride.
  • After a short or long ride in dusty, watery, or muddy conditions.
  • If it has been quite some time since you last cleaned your mountain bike chain.
  • Whenever you hear a squeaky noise.
  • When you find it more challenging to shift gears of your mountain bike.
  • Whenever you spot any dirt or junk on any part of your bike’s drivetrain.

3. What household items can I use to clean my bike’s chain?

There are several household items that can be used as your DIY bike chain lube.

The four most popular and widely used household items are listed below:

A. Dish Soap:

You don’t really need freshly bought bike-specific soaps to clean away the degreaser and dirt from your mountain bike chain.

A good dish soap that you have at home would be sufficient to do the job.

However, in case the dirt on the bike is minuscule and you do not have a degreaser handy, you can easily substitute it with a block of dish soap.

A liquid detergent, in fact, works way better than dish soap.

B. Old Toothbrushes:

Please do not throw away those old toothbrushes, as they could be really helpful while cleaning hard-to-reach areas in a drivetrain or the crevices of the mountain bike chain.

If you don’t have a cleaning brush bought from the bike shop, don’t worry, your old toothbrush would be just fine.

C. Old Clothes:

There is no need to buy those expensive fancy microfiber clothes when you have old clothes or rags lying useless in your drawers.

Instead, pull them out and get the cleaning job done the traditional way.

And thank you for choosing an environmentally friendly way of cleaning your mountain bike chain.

D. Baking Soda:

Readily available in every household, a baking soda can help you make an inexpensive instant degreaser at home.

So do not worry if you don’t have a degreaser, just mix some baking soda with lemon juice and a sufficient amount of water, and you have a homemade degreaser ready!

It may not be as good as the store-bought degreaser, but it could still be used if you don’t have the time to get a real one.

4. Will WD-40 clean a bike chain?

WD-40 can be used to clean a bike chain. It can also be used to remove excess water from the chain after cleaning.

However, it is not an effective lubricant.

5. Can I use any degreaser on my bike chain?

It is essential to use a degreaser on your mountain bike chain to get rid of the dirt accumulated on the chain and sometimes, the drivetrain components such as derailleurs, cassettes, and chainrings.

Several brands of degreasers are available in the market.

If you are not in a position to buy one, you could make your own degreaser with the help of baking soda, lemon, and hot water.

Baking soda and lemon are excellent cleaning agents and work wonders when used as a degreaser.

It will help in removing the not-so-hard dust, dirt, and grime that is accumulated on the mountain bike chain.

6. Can I use car shampoo on my bike chain?

Some car shampoos work fine for mountain bike cleaning.

But many car shampoos have the wax compound in them which could ruin the chains and also tires, seats, and handle grips.

So, it is better to avoid car shampoos for cleaning mountain bikes as a whole.

That Shall Be It!

I hope this guide on how to clean your mountain bike chains will help you take care of your bike’s cleaning process without any flaws.

P.S. Did you find this resource to be useful? If so then, definitely review our informative content about short and long mountain bike chains.

We also have an in-depth guide on selecting the perfect mountain bike chains, preventing chain slippage and making sure the MTB chains stay rust free.

Author Avatar

Team Biking KnowHow

Rohan runs Biking KnowHow along with his team. Rohan has been a mountain biker since 2005. His mission is to simplify mountain biking for everyone. All Biking KnowHow content piece is thoroughly fact-checked. Our content is backed up with leading research and inputs from expert cyclists.