Which bike chain cleaners are best?
Bikes are amazingly reliable machines—so reliable, in fact, that it’s easy to neglect them. A little maintenance goes a long way. A clean, well-oiled drivetrain will prevent squeaks and creaks, improve shifting performance and extend the lifetime of your chain and chainrings. Not only that, it can increase your pedaling efficiency, allowing you to go faster and further.
A simple device like the top choice Park Tool CM-5.3 Cyclone Chain Scrubber can clean your chain with miraculous ease. Your bike may feel like a whole new machine after giving the drivetrain a once-over.
What to know before you buy a bike chain cleaner
Before setting out to use a chain cleaner on your bike, it’s worth checking whether the chain needs to be replaced entirely. Using a tool like the Park Tool Chain Wear Indicator, you can determine whether your chain is worn out. If you need a new one, it’s best to go ahead and replace it immediately and skip the cleaning process.
Chain cleaning is messy business—that’s how you know it’s working! It’s important to get set up properly before you begin. Ideally, you’ll have a bike stand that allows you to turn the pedals and rotate the back wheel freely. Make sure you’re wearing clothes that can stand a few grease stains, and consider putting down a tarp beneath the bike to make your cleanup easier.
The process of cleaning your chain will remove all the grease that’s already on there. That includes all the dirt and road grime that stuck to that grease while you’ve been out riding. After using your chain cleaner, your bike chain will be sparkling clean, but it will also be dry. Make sure you have your preferred brand of bike chain lubricant on hand before you begin cleaning so you can re-lube the chain and get your bike ready to ride again.
How to use a bike chain cleaner
A purpose-built bike chain cleaner will let you easily and thoroughly clean your chain. To begin, you should shift your gears to the smallest cog in the back, which is the hardest gear on your cassette, and the smallest chainring in front, which is the easiest gear on your crankset. This will add slack to the chain, allowing the degreaser to penetrate further into its joints.
Once you’ve shifted, attach the chain cleaner to the section of chain that runs beneath your chainstay. This is the bottom part of the chain. Make sure that the chain is running between all the brushes of your chain cleaner to ensure that it will be scrubbed from all angles and thoroughly cleaned. Clip the top half of the chain cleaner onto the bottom half so that the chain is running through the device.
Fill the chain cleaner with degreaser. Most chain cleaners have a line on their plastic bodies that marks the appropriate volume of solvent to use. Once the degreaser reservoir is filled, take the pedal of your bike and turn the cranks backward for at least 30 revolutions, moving the chain through the gauntlet of brushes within the device.
Once you’ve pedaled backward an appropriate amount, the degreaser will be black with accumulated grime. That all came off your chain! Pour the degreaser into a separate container and allow it to sit. Once the particulates have settled, it will separate out, and the solvent can be reused.
Clean your chain cleaner with soapy water. Wipe down the newly cleaned chain with a clean rag and let it sit to dry. Once it’s dry, it’s important to reapply chain lube. When the chain is lubed up, you’re ready to get back on the bike.
How much you can expect to spend on a bike chain cleaner
Bike chain cleaners cost about $15 and up, and most are reusable. You can opt for a package that includes the cleaner itself, plus degreaser and some helpful brushes for a little bit more money. Alternatively, you can buy the degreaser separately.
Bike chain cleaner FAQ
How often do I need to clean my chain?
A. It depends on where you ride, how much you ride and which kind of chain lube you use. Most mechanics recommend cleaning and re-lubing your chain at least once a month or more frequently if you ride in wet or muddy conditions.
Can I clean my chain without a purpose-built bike chain cleaner?
A. Yes. By using a rag, a toothbrush and degreaser, you can clean your chain without a bike chain cleaner, but a dedicated chain cleaner will allow you to do so more thoroughly and efficiently.
How do I dispose of the used degreaser?
A. Used degreaser or solvent can be reused. Simply put it in a jar or another container and wait for the grease and other particulates to settle to the bottom. The clear liquid in the upper part of the jar can be used again the next time you need to clean your chain.
What’s the best bike chain cleaner to buy?
Top bike chain cleaner
What you need to know: Park Tool is a legendary brand for home mechanics, and this bike chain cleaner is a classic, effective device.
What you’ll love: The CM-5.3 Cyclone Chain Scrubber will clean your bike chain thoroughly and easily. With a series of internal brushes designed to scrub the chain from all angles, an extra-large solvent reservoir, and internal sponges designed to reduce mess, this device is the premier option for anyone who’s committed to getting their bike chain sparkling clean.
What you should consider: The Park Tool CM-5.3 bike chain cleaner is more expensive than some of its competitors.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top bike chain cleaner for the money
What you need to know: This offering from BOBILIFE includes a snap-on bike chain cleaner, as well as a full set of brushes and sponges.
What you’ll love: The BOBILIFE Bike Chain Cleaning Kit comes with everything you’ll need to clean your bike from top to bottom. The bike chain cleaner has multiple contact points and a sizable reservoir for degreaser, and the included hand brushes will allow you to clean the rest of your drivetrain as well.
What you should consider: This bike chain cleaner may not be as reliable or have as many contact points as the option from Park Tool.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This device comes from the bike cleaning pros at Muc-Off and includes a bottle of their drivetrain cleaning fluid.
What you’ll love: Reusable, portable and thoughtfully designed, the Muc-Off X-3 Dirty Chain Machine is a good alternative to the Park Tool chain cleaner. With 120 different contact points and a separate reservoir for the dirty liquid, it promises a thorough clean in just seconds. Additionally, the included Drivetrain Cleaner is biodegradable and can be disposed of down the drain.
What you should consider: While the Muc-Off chain cleaner comes at a higher price point, it also includes a bottle of degreaser fluid, which makes it a more economical offer.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Cody Siler writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.