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Can't get my chain clean

Old 07-08-19, 06:58 PM
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bicyclepost
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Can't get my chain clean

I have followed two or three online articles now about cleaning my chain without removing it and can never get it clean. It looks clean-er but when I re-lube it and wipe off the excess the rag comes out really dirty, as if I hadn't even cleaned it. These are the steps I took:


- Used a paint brush to brush on a diluted solution of Simple Green (50/50) on the entire drive chain and let it sit for a couple minutes

- Scrubbed the chain with an old toothbrush (and in the past I've used two pressed together) while spinning the cranks

- Used a shower head to rinse off the drive train (I live in an apartment). In the past I've also tried using a cloth with hot, soapy water

- Dried it all off with a rag which ends up black

- After letting it sit for 5-10 minutes I re-lubed and lit it sit again for a couple minutes

- Used a clean rag to wipe off the excess lube while spinning the cranks but the rag was then no longer clean as it also turned black with dirt and grease


Is it just a matter of redoing the process (pre-lube) a couple times? What am I doing wrong? And on that note, do you normally re-use rags because I can't really since they get so dirty and I don't have enough rags to clean my chain every 4-6 weeks.
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Old 07-08-19, 07:12 PM
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Sounds like a good way to clean the outsides of the chain. But it's the insides that are what wear and what benefit if clean. Strong agitation and a flowing/flushing action of the solvent is what works best IMO. Without added heat or compressed air it likely takes far more then 10 minutes to dry a chain. So when then relubing after the "cleaning" the oil is mixing with still wet inside stuff. No wonder this emulsion weeps out and carries the grime not removed.

One time tested method is to remove the chain, place it in a 20 oz soda bottle half filled with mineral spirits or kerosene, cap and shake, snake out chain with a wire/spoke. Place chain in second bottle with solvent and repeat. Do this two to four times. Let chain drip dry overnight and lube when back on the bike. The grime suspended in the MS/kerosene will settle out and the clean can be largely poured off and reused.

Don't forget the power of transfer. All the teeth and pulley surfaces will also want cleaning (and these are FAR easier done with no chain in the way) or they will dirty the "clean" chain lickity split.

I'll use a cloth rag for when I need a strong wipe. Paper towels otherwise. Paper towels for the initial and dirtiest cleaning at the minimum.

The more often you do clean the chain (and that other stuff) the less grime each time will be trying to flush away.

BTW I never allow water to see my chains (excepting when I'm caught in the rain on a ride). Andy
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Old 07-08-19, 09:15 PM
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The ShelBroCo Bicycle Chain Cleaning System

...
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Old 07-08-19, 09:30 PM
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Some lube also just wipes up black. I realized this is the case for Tri-flow after trying to be meticulous and having a degreased chain that I wiped before and after applying it.
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Old 07-08-19, 09:36 PM
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Buy a New Chain ..

The old one, take it off , soak it in an oil solvent... (outdoors)

Hang it, then blow ant remaining solvent off, with an air compressor ..









....

Last edited by fietsbob; 07-10-19 at 09:14 AM.
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Old 07-08-19, 10:29 PM
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+1 on Andy's notes. It takes a good solvent to cut through caked-on grime. I tried Simple Green (or was it Purple Power?) once and it didn't do as well of a job of stripping the chain to bare metal as good old mineral spirits. The importance of shaking the jar and not just soaking can't be overstated. And with any cleaner, it takes way longer than 5-10 minutes to dry out. I hang my chains up on a nail to dry overnight and then apply lube the next day.
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Old 07-09-19, 06:56 AM
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I could understand avoiding chain removal in the "old days", but with the advent of quick links I don't see the problem. It actually takes much less interaction time to use a real oil solvent off the bike than you have already spent trying to get the chain clean while on the bike. One does not have to watch it dry, after all. The cassette, derailleur pulleys, and chainrings are also more easily cleaned after chain removal.
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Old 07-09-19, 07:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
One time tested method is to remove the chain, place it in a 20 oz soda bottle half filled with mineral spirits or kerosene, cap and shake, snake out chain with a wire/spoke. Place chain in second bottle with solvent and repeat. Do this two to four times. Let chain drip dry overnight and lube when back on the bike. The grime suspended in the MS/kerosene will settle out and the clean can be largely poured off and reused.

Don't forget the power of transfer. All the teeth and pulley surfaces will also want cleaning (and these are FAR easier done with no chain in the way) or they will dirty the "clean" chain lickity split.

I'll use a cloth rag for when I need a strong wipe. Paper towels otherwise. Paper towels for the initial and dirtiest cleaning at the minimum.

The more often you do clean the chain (and that other stuff) the less grime each time will be trying to flush away.

BTW I never allow water to see my chains (excepting when I'm caught in the rain on a ride). Andy
Thanks for the detailed response! How often do you clean your chain like this?
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Old 07-09-19, 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by cny-bikeman View Post
I could understand avoiding chain removal in the "old days", but with the advent of quick links I don't see the problem. It actually takes much less interaction time to use a real oil solvent off the bike than you have already spent trying to get the chain clean while on the bike. One does not have to watch it dry, after all. The cassette, derailleur pulleys, and chainrings are also more easily cleaned after chain removal.
Sounds like a fairly easy process. I don't believe I have a quick link on my chain but I'll have to look closer to be sure. Thanks!
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Old 07-09-19, 07:56 AM
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Originally Posted by bicyclepost View Post
Thanks for the detailed response! How often do you clean your chain like this?
I don't clean my chain this way. I have a few times but only when I wasn't working at a shop. Now I have my own solvent tank (as well as work's). I do have friends who do use this method and it works well enough for them. It does require a bit of liquid handling and having a place to store a few bottles that you want left alone otherwise. Andy
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Old 07-09-19, 08:49 AM
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Originally Posted by cny-bikeman View Post
I could understand avoiding chain removal in the "old days", but with the advent of quick links I don't see the problem. It actually takes much less interaction time to use a real oil solvent off the bike than you have already spent trying to get the chain clean while on the bike. One does not have to watch it dry, after all. The cassette, derailleur pulleys, and chainrings are also more easily cleaned after chain removal.
Sounds like I need to stock up on some quick links...I believe the recommendation is not to re-use them, correct?
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Old 07-09-19, 08:57 AM
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Originally Posted by NoWhammies View Post
Sounds like I need to stock up on some quick links...I believe the recommendation is not to re-use them, correct?
Myself and a few others here regularly re-use quick links of all brands with zero failures. I have used a single KMC 10sp link on three different chains for well over 10k miles having taken them off and on many times. I only replaced it when grooves started appearing in the pins.
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Old 07-09-19, 09:38 AM
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I agree with a few of the posters above. remove the chain to get a good deep cleaning.
On very badly rusted, dirty chains I start with industrial de-greasers and regular dish soap in a container in the sink.
I keep working the chain until it loosens up and no more dirt seem to be coming out of the links, than rinse with water.
Next I soak it in denatured alcohol and continue agitating. alcohol will help remove smaller particles and remove water from the rinse.
Next I soak in WD40 and keep agitating. if the alcohol or wwd40 changes color its still has dirt trapped in the links so do a fluid change and repeat.
one pint soup containers w covers work great for soaking and shaking the chain.
It a slow process (1hr), but I just savaged a sedis that looked like it was trashed and when cleaned looked and functioned as new.
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Old 07-09-19, 09:48 AM
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I don't remove my chains to clean them but I should. it's a messy process. I love the youtube videos showing ppl cleaning a clean chain. not reality. I've cleaned them in my basement, on the bike, but then had to clean my basement afterwards. better to do it outside. it's best to clean them more often instead of waiting for them to get real bad. I can't imagine doing it in an apartment. if it's not clean enough yet, just keep cleaning. but also you have to clean your cogs & chain rings with brushes & an old towel wiggled between the gears. don't forget the small jockey wheels on the rear derailer. if you don't clean everything, the gunk on the other stuff, just goes back on your chain. gotta clean the other stuff, not just the chain. good luck!

Last edited by rumrunn6; 07-09-19 at 11:34 AM.
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Old 07-09-19, 09:52 AM
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Why use diluted SG? I would suggest using mineral spirit instead. Thats what I use. It works well enough, but it is better removing the chain and shake it in a jar of OMS or mineral spirit.
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Old 07-09-19, 10:00 AM
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If the OP is really interested in keeping the chain clean, I'd recommend a smaller ultrasonic bath. When I'm cleaning a chain for someone else, I place the removed chain into a clean empty mayonnaise jar with a few inches of mineral spirits. I pre-warm the ultrasonic bath and then stand the jar inside of the ultrasonic cleaner. Run for 10 minutes. Remove chain and place in a 2nd empty mayonnaise jar and fill with a few inches of isopropyl alcohol. Jar into ultrasonic, and run for another 10 minutes. Remove chain, hang to dry overnight.

While this is going on, I clean the drivetrain components carefully. The following day, re-mount the chain and lubricate as normal. Everything comes out pretty clean this way.

https://www.harborfreight.com/25-lit...ner-63256.html will do the trick.
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Old 07-09-19, 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Phil_gretz View Post
If the OP is really interested in keeping the chain clean, I'd recommend a smaller ultrasonic bath. When I'm cleaning a chain for someone else, I place the removed chain into a clean empty mayonnaise jar with a few inches of mineral spirits. I pre-warm the ultrasonic bath and then stand the jar inside of the ultrasonic cleaner. Run for 10 minutes. Remove chain and place in a 2nd empty mayonnaise jar and fill with a few inches of isopropyl alcohol. Jar into ultrasonic, and run for another 10 minutes. Remove chain, hang to dry overnight.

While this is going on, I clean the drivetrain components carefully. The following day, re-mount the chain and lubricate as normal. Everything comes out pretty clean this way.

https://www.harborfreight.com/25-lit...ner-63256.html will do the trick.
Im sure your method is great, but it sure does sound like a chore. Did you ever try just shaking the chain about in a jar with 1/2 a cup of mineral spirit for a minute or two. I find that method perfectly adequate.
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Old 07-09-19, 11:37 AM
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rubbing alcohol is so easy to find & we probably already have a bottle in the closet at home. wonder if that's all we need?

Last edited by rumrunn6; 07-09-19 at 11:44 AM.
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Old 07-09-19, 11:41 AM
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Cause you can't. https://www.sheldonbrown.com/brandt/chain-care.html
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Old 07-09-19, 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Racing Dan View Post
Im sure your method is great, but it sure does sound like a chore. Did you ever try just shaking the chain about in a jar with 1/2 a cup of mineral spirit for a minute or two. I find that method perfectly adequate.
Actually, it's the opposite of a chore. While the ultrasonic is running, I can do other things, like clean chain rings. My actual handling of the chain is minimal with this method.

The ultrasonic cleaner is also terrific for gunked up derailleurs or brake calipers. Simply plunge them into the bath (there's a submerged cage to hold loose parts) and run for a few minutes, rinse with WD-40, wipe and lubricate as normal. They come out shiny as new. I do this for restorations or when cleaning a bike for others.

As a disclaimer, I rarely go through this effort for my own bikes. Clean the chain? I lube and wipe mostly. I replace chains every 2000-2500 miles or so. It's a consumable item to me.
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Old 07-09-19, 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by davidad View Post
lol, good to know! "Only when a dirty chain is oiled, or has excessive oil on it, can this grit move inside to cause damage. Commercial abrasive grinding paste is made of oil and silicon dioxide (sand) and silicon carbide (sand). You couldn't do it better if you tried to destroy a chain, than to oil it when dirty."
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Old 07-09-19, 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by surak View Post
Some lube also just wipes up black. I realized this is the case for Tri-flow after trying to be meticulous and having a degreased chain that I wiped before and after applying it.
Black chain lube, that hides the gunk. Problem solved!
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Old 07-09-19, 03:33 PM
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A caution on Simple Green. Do not let the chain sit in it for long periods of time. It is known for attacking high-strength steels and weakening them, leading to breakage later. (I've also seen many advise rinsing very thoroughly after using it.)
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Old 07-09-19, 04:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Phil_gretz View Post
I replace chains every 2000-2500 miles or so. It's a consumable item to me.
...and the Lord said unto them, "Cast off your chains, and be free of cleansing them."
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Old 07-09-19, 04:28 PM
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Wipe it off after each ride and lube every month or as needed.

Who cares if it looks dirty... the dirt you see isn't what wears it down anyway. All that degreaser is doing is remove lube where the wear actually happens. So that cleaning may even shorten chain life.

Replace chain at 0.5% elongation.

All that time and money spent on cleaners costs you many riding miles.
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