Quick and Proper Mountain Bike Chain Maintenance With Tips and Tricks

One of the essential parts of a mountain bike is the chain. It propels the bike by transferring power from the pedal to the drive train. Keeping your chain lubricated, correctly tensioned, and well-maintained is the difference between spending time on the trails and ending up sidelined by a broken chain. Whether you’re a trail rider, enduro racer, or all-mountain aficionado, keeping your chain in top condition will help keep you on the trails and out of the repair shop. In this article, we’ll discuss quick tips for mountain bike chain maintenance. 

Proper mountain bike chain maintenance includes thoroughly cleaning the entire chain by brushing out the chain links to remove debris and degreasing the chain, cleaning off excess lubricant, and eliminating any clumps of grease and gunk. The clean chain must then be lubricated to ensure smooth riding and reduce chain breakage. 

Mountain bike chains should be wiped and checked every 15 days and undergo a deep clean after every muddy ride to prevent dirt build-up and corrosion issues, by using a stiff chain brush like this and bicycle chain lubricant. You may want to check your chain after every ride. More frequent maintenance can help extend the life of your chain and reduce costly repairs due to broken cogs and other components.

Proper mountain bike chain maintenance will prolong the chain's lifespan and the other components that the chain works with.
Maintaining and cleaning your mountain bike chain can prolong its lifespan and prevent accidents.  Image Source: Amazon.

Routine Mountain Bike Chain Problems

There are several issues that a moving part like a chain can have and it's important to understand why this happens and what you can do about it.

Routine mountain bike chain problems include slipping, jamming, and breaking. Implement simple maintenance practices to fix and avoid these problems. Failure to do so could lead to the chain falling off or rusting.  

Read our article about the symptoms and solutions for a chain that is too long for examples of ways to fix this common problem, or our article about how to fix a chain that keeps breaking for troubleshooting steps and repairs. 

1. A Slipping Chain

Slipping occurs when the chain gets too loose or the chainrings or the cassette cogs wear down over time. This will cause the chains to misalign on the cogs, resulting in the chain dropping off the sprocket occasionally. Similarly, when the chain is too loose, it will wear out the teeth of the sprocket and create an uneven surface, so when you pedal hard, the chain will slip. A loose chain also increases the chance of a fall because the rider loses control of the bike as this excerpt from the Bicycle Safety Report published by Michigan State University explains. 

Basic mountain kike maintenance could help to stop your chain from falling off the cog.
A chain that falls off the cog can cause a serious accident. Image Source: gotosellers.com.

How Can Maintenance Prevent a Slipping Chain?

Routine checks will go a long way in preventing chains from slipping. Inspecting at least twice a month will help you quickly detect when your chain starts to wear. In addition, various chain checkers like these would come in handy, from variable gauges to digital calipers like these and simple drop-in models, you can choose which works best for you, but they all work well in measuring the wear in the roller between a short range of chains. You may also want to learn how to tighten a mountain bike chain just in case ever need to take on that task or how to size a mountain bike chain. Similarly, you might be interested in learning how to fix a mountain bike chain that's jumping gears. If so, be sure to take a look at our related article to find out more.

2. Jammed Chain

A jammed chain could result from bent hangers or a damaged derailleur cage. It causes the chain to slip off the sprocket and get stuck between the spokes and cassette of the bike. Hard objects, like sticks, can also displace the chain, causing similar problems. This problem is frustrating because it hampers your ability to move the bike, making it difficult to wheel it to the repair shop, and could cause further damage if neglected. 

If your chain is jammed it could make it very difficult for you to move the bike and wheel it to a repair shop.
A jammed bike chain gets stuck between the cassette and the spokes. Image Source: singletracks.com.

How Can Maintenance Prevent Jammed Chains?

Using the proper maintenance and cleaning practices like those discussed in this post by GovVelo.com can extend the life of the chain and keep it from jamming. For example, you can avoid getting your chain jammed with a properly aligned and adjusted derailleur. You might also look for signs of wear on the chainrings. If the bike chain is broken, damaged, or bent, you may need to replace the broken chain link with a new one. Our bicycle chain installation guide will walk you through the steps to chain a broken chain and offer some handy tips for choosing the correct chain for your bike. 

3. A Broken Chain

A broken chain is one of the most common problems when riding your MTB. Many factors could cause your chain to snap, but the most common are wear-outs from overuse and a strong impact from a rock strike.

Generally, replacing the MTB chain after covering at least 2500 miles is advisable. A better indicator is when the chain length of a 12-link chain reaches 12 1/16 inches. It indicates chain stretching and wear. This is because the chain links have been forced apart as the chain stretches during pedaling and after covering long distances. 

A worn-out chain not only affects the chain; it also causes damage to the chainrings and cassette. For more details, refer to this article by Bike-Components. And when you're ready, be sure to check out our step-by-step guide to mountain bike chain installation.

How Can Maintenance Prevent a Broken Chain? 

To prevent a broken bicycle chain, perform routine maintenance checks. For example, continuously checking for a weak chainring could prevent a broken chain, because you would spot it before it breaks. 

How Often Should You Clean a Bike Chain?

Typically, a bike chain should be cleaned after every ride. Inspect the chain before every ride if riding in incredibly muddy or hazardous conditions, and be prepared to clean it accordingly. 

While Doing Routine Mountain Bike Chain Maintenance

Proper mountain bike chain maintenance requires you to lift the back wheel of your MTB off the ground while standing to one side to inspect the entire chain regularly. Slowly rotate the nearest pedal, examining each chain link for dirt accumulation, rust, and compressed links (links that do not bend easily as they pass through the rear derailleur). A bike stand will make this easier. Have a look at our ultimate list of tools needed for mountain bike maintenance to learn about other tools that will make regular maintenance a breeze.

Listen for squeaks while riding to ensure appropriate lubrication. If your gear shifting is stiff and your chain is noisy, your chain requires a spot-cleaning, with a cleaning kit like this, which entails brushing out the links with a stiff brush (an old toothbrush also works). 

Wipe your chain with a lint-free rag after each ride, and floss the cogs and jockey wheel. Apply lubrication and turn the pedals to allow the lubricant to coat the moving components. Wipe down the chain again with a clean rag to eliminate any excess lubrication —wet lube like this requires more thorough wiping.

Use a degreaser like this when cleaning your mountain bike chain and performing basic maintenance.
A bike degreaser will keep a bike chain clean. Use a rag to remove excess lubrication. Image Source: bicyclingaustralia.com.au.

After a Muddy Ride

You should always do some quick mountain bike chain maintenance after a muddy ride. Caked on sand and mud are damaging to your bike chain. Sand particles quickly become caught on the chain, gradually wearing it out, and mud wets the chain surface and attracts rust, both of which wear your bike chain down. 

An effective method to reduce the amount of mud that gets stuck on the chain is to install mountain bike fenders or mudguards on the bike to deflect more dirt and water away from the bike. Our article about how to install bike mudguards will explain the various designs and types to choose from. 

Winter riding might be more difficult because of the excess water, dirt, or ice on the roads, but it can still be pleasurable with proper care, route planning, and bike maintenance. If your chain has been exposed to water, mud, or dirt or is visibly dirty, you should clean it thoroughly with soap and water and a suitable degreaser like this

After washing and rinsing the chain and other parts, dry them with a rag or, if you have one, an air compressor like this. You can also bounce the bike to remove extra water before letting it dry in the sun. Lubricate the chain after washing your mountain bike to protect the chain against rust. This video tutorial by Park Tool explains exactly how to wash your bike

It would be a good idea to make use of a bike stand like this when performing mountain bike maintenance.
Placing a bike on a bike stand makes it easier to clean and dry it. Image Source: singletracks.

After Every 200 Miles

The instruction to lubricate your mountain bike chain at least every 200 miles is common advice in bicycle owners’ manuals like this one from Cannondale. You could rely on this tip if you ride your bike in dry, clean conditions, such as a paved bike lane. However, intense mountain biking, where you ride on dirt trails, gravel roads, and splash through river crossings, renders the "every 200 miles" recommendation insufficient.

Different Mountain Bike Chain Maintenance Methods

MTB chain maintenance methods include cleaning the chain, lubricating the chain and other bike components, and gear checking and maintenance.

Cleaning a Chain

According to this article by ParkTool, cleaning a chain requires a brush and soapy water. You can begin by cleaning the rear derailleur and rubbing the brush into all the moving parts. Next, turn the pedals to rotate the chain around, then wash it down with a damp soapy rag that is wrapped around the chain on the rear derailleur. 

Next, clean the chain ring (the front cog where the pedals attach) with a brush and water. Then wipe it with a dry cloth. Cleaning a chain is vital because it allows you to identify links that no longer roll smoothly. To find them, slowly turn the pedals and observe as each link travels through the tight bends of your rear derailleur. Identifying links that do not bend smoothly aids in the prevention of chain jams and chain slippage. 

Lubing a Chain

After cleaning your bike chain, lubricate it right away. No matter how frequently you cycle, you should always have a bottle of chain lubricant on hand to lubricate the chain and protect it from dirt and moisture according to this article by Tredz, a bicycle retailer. 

After cleaning and drying everything, slowly turn the pedals. Apply a single drop of chain lube per 2-4 links where one link joins another. Next, shift through your gears and add another 10-12 drops to ensure that everything, cassette included, has a lovely even coating. When you're through, use your rag to remove any leftover lubrication from the chain, as excess lube can trap dirt and contribute to grime accumulation.

Also, be sure to take a look at our ultimate list of mountain bike chain lube alternatives for some additional options.

Gear Maintenance

According to this article by Trek, many processes are involved in chain and gear maintenance. Starting with disc brakes or calipers make sure to clean and maintain them regularly to ensure your bike stops when needed. Brake pads that have worn out must be replaced as soon as possible. You must keep an eye on the cables because they can fray and wear out and may need replacement. Our article about how to fix a grip shifter explains how to detect cable and cable housing problems and how to replace gear cables when necessary. 

It is critical to check all of these items to detect any changes frequently. You must also keep your bike in good working order by regularly lubricating the gears and brakes. Simply remove any dust and grime from the gear and brake locations and ensure they are dry. Then spray some lubricant on all those components to ensure they move smoothly. This will quickly coat your brakes with a long-lasting lubricant. Change gears and apply the brakes a few times before wiping away any excess grease. Then you'll be set.

For more information, be sure to check out our step-by-step guide explaining how to clean mountain bike gears.

Materials Needed To Clean A Bike Chain at Home

Tool Purpose Must-Have Vs. Nice-to-Have Example Product
Lint-free cloths. Are used to clean the bike chain to remove dirt. Something to dry your bike components before lubricant application is a must-have. Aidea Microfiber Cleaning Cloths, All-Purpose Highly Absorbent, Lint Free
Brushes. Scrape the gunk off the derailleur pulley wheels and chainrings. It is nice to have; it makes cleaning tight corners more effective. Kisser Bike Chain Bicycle Chain Cleaning Brush Tool
Lubricant. It is used to grease the bike chain. You must have a lubricant. Squirt Lube

How To Clean a Bike Chain at Home

Cleaning your bike will go a long way in keeping it working well. You can decide to take your bike to a registered wash service or you can do it at home yourself. 

To clean a bike chain at home, fit the bike to a bike stand to allow easy access to all sides of the bike. Then clean the chain with a lint-free cloth and degreasing solution, next clean the chainrings and derailleur, and finally lubricate the chain. 

For more details, refer to this article by Jenson, a registered bike store. 

Step 1. Clean the Chain.

Simply wrap a clean, lint-free cloth around the chain and slowly backpedal the drivetrain through it to remove any outside dirt. 

Hold a lint-free cloth around the chain and rub excess dirt off it by rotating the pedal.
Clean the chain with an old cloth before lubricating it. Image Source: granfondo-cycling.

Step 2. Clean the Chainrings and Derailleur.

Using the rag, scrape the grime off the derailleur pulley wheels and chainrings. You could also use a hard brush to clean the links (an old toothbrush also works for mountain bike chain maintenance).

Clean the chainrings and derailleur using a soft cloth or a brush.
Clean the bike’s drivetrain with soft rags. Image Source: cyclemaintenanceacademy. 

Step 3. Lubricate the Chain.

Relubricate the chain links with chain lubricant regularly. Because oil-based lubricants float particles to the surface of the chain, you should continue the wiping process until the exterior of the chain is clean.

Lubricate the chain links regularly with a wet lubricant.
Apply one drop to each roller and let it penetrate for a few minutes. Image Source: granfondo-cycling

Step 4. Remove Excess Lubricant.

Using a clean, dry rag, wipe away any extra lubricant. Excessive lubrication can attract new dirt and form clumps of greasy residue along the chain that will hinder smooth gear shifting. You can use a chain-cleaning tool like this for a more thorough clean. Simply attach it to your chain for a quick and hassle-free way to clean it.

Materials Needed To Maintain a Bicycle Chain With Off-Chain Cleaning Methods

Tool Purpose Must-Have Vs. Nice-to-Have Example Product
Soap. Used with water to scrub the dirt off your bike chain. While some people might clean with just water, soap is a must-have for effective cleaning. Muc Off Nano Tech Bike Cleaner 
Brushes. Used to clean the dirt inside the chain that soap and detergents can’t get to. You could remove dirt using toothbrushes, but you must have standard brushes for fast cleaning.     Bike Chain Bicycle Chain Cleaning Brush Tool
Lint-free cloths.  Used to clean the bicycle chain effectively and efficiently. You could clean using rags or old clothes, but lint-free clothes are nice to have. Amazon Basics Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
Degreaser. Used to remove grease from your bicycle chain because it’s very tough to remove without a degreaser. While some might remove grease with just baking soda, industry-made degreasers are a must-have for effective cleaning. Silca Bio Degreaser Bike Chain Cleaner  
Lubricant. Used to grease the bike chain. You could use vegetable oil to grease, but lubricant made for bikes is a must-have for effective lubricating.  Rock ‘n Roll Gold Chain Lubricant
Bike stand. Used to hold and position the bike properly. While placing your bike in an upside-down position would be an alternative to a bike stand, bike stands are nice-to-have tools.  Park Tool Deluxe Home Mechanic Repair Stand
Chain cleaning device. Specifically designed to clean bike chains. While you could use rags and brushes to clean bike chains, chain cleaning devices would be nice to have. Cyclone Chain Scrubber

How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain With Off-Bike Cleaning

It is important to do an off-bike chain cleaning every few months, to remove all the grime that has built up.  Spot cleaning the chain will only remove surface-level dirt while off-bike chain cleaning offers a more thorough clean that will clear off all the grime stuck in the links and bushings. 

To maintain a bicycle chain with off-bike chain cleaning is when the chain is removed from the bike and soaked in a degreasing and cleaning solution.

Step 1. Place the Bike on a Stand.

Place your bike on a stand to effectively and efficiently clean the bike chain. A bike stand also allows you to secure your bike in the ideal position. If you don't have one, you can just turn your bike upside down so that the saddle rests on the ground and the handlebar serves to stabilize the bike.

For any mountain bike maintenance secure your bike using a bike stand, especially if you need to work on the chain.
A bike stand helps to hold the bike in place so that you can conveniently perform any repairs or maintenance on the bike. Image Source: bike24.com

Step 2. Remove the Bike Chain.

When the bike is perfectly balanced on a stand or on the ground, the next step is to identify the master link of the bicycle chain. The master link is a roller chain accessory that allows bike chains to be linked and disengaged without chain tools. 

A chain with a master link can be undone without having to use special chain tools.
A master link provides a quick-release method to attach and remove the chain. Image Source: usarollerchains.

Step 3. Remove and Clean the Drivetrain.

The third step is to remove the rear wheel, cassette, and chainrings from the crank (or remove the right-side pedal and the whole crank). Using a rag or a piece of cloth, clean the derailleur pulleys and cage. Air from a compressor like this can clean grit from pulley holes and other crevices. Otherwise, the pulleys can be disassembled and cleaned thoroughly. In a degreaser bath, manually clean the cassette, chainrings (or the entire drive side crank), and chain using a hard bristle brush. A tiny cog brush, such as this Park Tool gear cleaning brush or this Pedro's bicycle cleaning toothbrush, can aid the cleaning process.

When doing proper mountain bike chain maintenance it would be a good idea to clean the whole drivetrain.
Clean the bike's drivetrain with a brush and soap solution. Image source: cyclist.

Step 4. Clean the Chain By Removing it (if removable).

You can move the bike chain by rotating the pedals with your hands to clean the entire bike chain. Though we would strongly advise you to remove the chain from the bike during proper mountain bike chain maintenance. Doing so will allow you to use the toothbrush to remove dirt from areas a cloth cannot reach.

Locate the master link and remove the pin from it. The chain can be removed from the bicycle after you have removed the pin. For thorough cleaning, soak your bike chain in the degreaser (mixture) for 20 minutes. Then, using a toothbrush, begin scrubbing the chain.

After soaking your mountain bike chain give it a good scrub using a chain cleaning brush.
Soak the bike chain in a degreaser for 20 minutes and then give it a thorough brush to dislodge dirt and grime. Image  Source: cyclingtips.

Step 5. Rinse and Dry the Bike Chain.

After degreasing your bicycle chain, rinse it with clean water to remove the degreaser. Then dry the chain properly. You can remove the moisture from the chain by covering it with a dry cloth and squeezing it. You can also use a hairdryer to dry off the chain quickly.

Rinse the degreaser from the drivetrain after cleaning it.
Rinse the bike drivetrain with water after scrubbing it thoroughly. Image Source: cyclingtips.

Step 6. Attach Your Bike Chain to the Drivetrain (if You Removed the Chain).

If you cleaned the bike chain after removing it, you could reattach it to the drivetrain once it is dry. Take the master link and carefully reattach it. Our how-to guide on mountain bike chain installation explains this in greater detail. 

Once you have cleaned and dried the mountain bike chain install it back onto the bike.
Once the chain is dry place it back on the bike. Image Source: cyclemaintenanceacademy.

Step 7. Lubricate the Bike Chain.

When your bike chain is cleaned, the next step is to grease the bike chain with a reputable lubricant. Lubrication ensures that your bike chain runs smoothly and does not rust. Read our article about chain lubricant alternatives to learn what types of products can be used to lubricatelubricate a bike chain. Lubrication should be administered in a slow, continuous stream. Use the pedals to turn the bike chain until the entire chain has completed one full turn on the rear cassette. 

Lubricate the chain thoroughly.
Apply one drop of chain lube to each chain link and backpedal the chain until it is completely coated. Image Source: conquerthebike.

Materials Needed To Clean A Bike Chain Without Degreaser 

Tool Purpose Must-Have Vs. Nice-to-Have Price & Example from Amazon
Soap. Used to scrub the dirt off your bike chain. While some might clean with water, soap is a must-have for effective cleaning. Muc Off Nano Tech Bike Cleaner 
Brushes. Cleans the dirt inside the chain that soap and detergents can’t get to. You could remove dirt using toothbrushes, but standard brushes are a must-have for effective cleaning. Kiseer Bike Chain Bicycle Chain Cleaning Brush Tool
Lint-free cloths.   Used to wipe the bicycle chain effectively and efficiently. You could wipe using rags or old clothes, but lint-free cloths are nice to have. Amazon Basics Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
Lubricant. It is used to grease the bike chain. You could use vegetable oil to grease, but lubricant made for bikes is a must-have for effective lubrication. Rock N Roll Gold Chain Lubricant
Bike stand. Used to hold and position the bike properly. While placing your bike in an upside-down position would be an alternative for a bike stand, a bike stand is still a nice-to-have tool.  Park Tool Deluxe Home Mechanic Repair Stand

How to Clean a Bike Chain Without Using Degreaser

If your chain isn't too dirty, washing it on the bike without a degreaser can produce fantastic results. Ths quick mountain bike chain maintenance only takes soap and water, and it is best done outside. 

To clean a bike chain without a degreaser, try Dawn liquid dish soap, Muc-off, or a homemade cleaner like a baking soda paste made from 1 part water and 2 parts baking soda. After use, rinse off all the cleaner residue and thoroughly dry the chain.  

According to this article from the Mountain Equipment Company, you should always remember to lubricate your MTB chain after a thorough cleaning and to make sure it is totally dry, as this will ensure the effectiveness of the lubricant applied.

Step 1. Choose an Alternative Cleaning Liquid and Clean the Chain

If you're using a chain cleaning tool, open it up and fill it halfway with the alternate cleaner, which could be dish soap, muc-off, or a homemade cleaner like baking soda.  To begin cleaning, attach the chain cleaner to the chain. A rag will suffice if you don't have a chain cleaning tool. Pour a small amount of chain cleaner onto a folded rag and wrap it around the chain for a few rotations as you backpedal.

When cleaning your mountain bike chain during routine maintenance use an alternative cleaner like dish soap, which has grease-cutting properties, if you don’t have a degreaser.
Use Dawn dish soap to clean a bike chain without a degreaser. Image Source: bicycling.

Step 2. Rinse Excess Cleaner Off

Fill a chain cleaner with water, attach it to the chain, and back cycle a few rotations to rinse the liquid off the bike chain. If you don’t have a chain cleaning tool simply hose down your bike to remove the cleaner.

Rinse your mountain bike chain very well so that no cleaner residue is left on it.
Rinse off the cleaner with water after washing. Image source: Shimano.

Step 3. Dry the Chain.

Dry your chain thoroughly with a clean rag before applying chain lube. Moisture that is left on the chain will prevent the lubricant that is applied later from coating the chain properly. 

Dry the chain thoroughly so that the lubricant will coat the chain properly.
Thoroughly dry the chain to prevent rust. Image Source: Park Tool.

Step 4. Add Lube to Your Chain.

Select the appropriate bike lubricant like this one, for the riding conditions you encounter most often. Then, apply a tiny drop of lubricant to each roller (the lube should be applied to the area of the chain closest to the ground to avoid dropping lubricant on your bike frame).

Lubricate your mountain bike chain with a lubricant that is appropriate for your particular riding conditions.
Apply two to three drops of lubricant to the chain and cycle it through one complete rotation. Image Source: Park Tool.

Step 5. Remove Excess Lubricant.

Excess lubrication will give dirt a surface to stick to, so wipe it off with a clean, dry rag like this. After that, you'll be ready to go.

Use a lint-free cloth to wipe any excess lubricant from your mountain bike chain.
Clean off excess oil with a clean, dry cloth after lubricating the chain. Image Source: granfondo-cycling.

 Materials Needed To Lubricate A Bike Chain Without A Stand

Tool Purpose Must-Have Vs. Nice-to-Have Price & Example from Amazon
Lint-free clothes.  Used to clean and dry the bicycle chain effectively and efficiently. You could scrub using rags or old clothes, but lint-free cloths are nice-to-have tools. Amazon Basics Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
Lubricant. Used to grease the bike chain. You could use vegetable oil to grease, but lubricant made for bikes is a must-have for effective lubricating. Rock N Roll Gold Chain Lubricant

How To Lube A Bike Chain Without A Stand

Proper bike chain lubrication increases chain longevity and helps to make your cycling more enjoyable. It moves quickly and easily repels debris. It also helps to keep your chain taut and sturdy. While a bike stand makes lubrication easier it can still be done without a bike stand. 

To lube a bike chain without a stand, use a bike storage rack or car rack to support and secure the bike in the proper position, or just turn the bike upside down so that the saddle rests on the ground and the handlebars stabilize the bike. 

An oiled drive chain protects the entire drive system against deterioration. It also guards against wear on the crankset, rear-wheel gear unit, and derailleurs. For more details, refer to this article by Inno-bike, a bike manufacturer.

Step 1. Turn the Bike Upside Down. 

Because you are lubricating the chain without a stand, you can simply flip your bike over so that the saddle touches the ground and the handlebars stay in position.

If you are working without a bike stand when doing mountain bike chain maintenance, just flip your bike over and let it balance on the seat and handlebar.
Turning the bike upside down allows easy access to the chain. Image source: Researchgate.

Step 2. Choose the Appropriate Lube.

If you ride in the rain, use a wet ride lube like this. Choose this type of lube if you live in a rainy area or frequently ride over wet, muddy terrain. Since it is thicker and more durable it will withstand heavy rain and muck. Choose a thinner chain lube like this that is suitable for dryer conditions if you reside in a drier area or frequently ride on drier trails.

Make sure that the chain lube you use is suitable for the conditions that you will be riding under.
There is a range of chain lubes suitable for all weather conditions and applications. Image Source: bicyclingaustralia.

Step 3. Clean and Dry the Chain

It's best to properly clean and dry your bike's chain before lubricating it. With the bike placed upside down, grip the chain with the moistened rag and pedal the chain through the rag two or three times until each link has repeatedly been through the rag. Repeat this step with a clean rag to remove excess cleaner residue and to dry the chain.

Make sure that all the moisture and residual cleaning product is removed.
Rotate the chain through the drying rag several times to remove all the moisture. Image Source: Outdoor sports.

Step 4. Apply Lubrication

Before using, properly shake the lube container. Place the bottle's tip upside down above the chain. Squeeze it gently so that 2-3 drops fall onto a link in the chain, then pedal backward with your free hand to spread it along the entire chain length. Place a finger over the chain and rub it through your fingers to massage the lubricant into the link plates. You should be able to feel spots missing lubrication, so rub the lube along the chain. More is not always better. Let the product soak overnight. Repeat this step until you are happy that the chain is properly coated.

Apply just enough lube to coat the entire chain.
A few drops of lube go a long way so don’t apply too much. Image Source: owayo.

Step 5. Wipe Off Any Extra Lubricant.

After greasing the chain's top and bottom, inner and outer edges, you'll need to clean off any excess lubricant and then mountain bike chain maintenance will be complete. Using a clean, dry rag, grasp the chain and pedal to run the chain through the rag. Continue for 2 or 3 rotations or until all the extra surface lube has been wiped away. Wiping excess surface grease will prevent dirt and debris from clogging your chain.

Make sure that you remove all the excess lubricant by using a soft lint-free cloth to wipe it off.
Use an old cloth to wipe off excess lubricant. Image Source: active.

A Comprehensive List Of Bike Chain Cleaning Tools

While there are several tools that are nice to have, chain lubricant is an essential item to include in your mountain bike toolkit as well as a few others such as degreasing cleaners. 

Bike chain cleaning tools include dish soap or detergent, chain cleaning devices, and lubricant. Use soap to scrub the dirt off the bike chain and use the chain cleaning device to clean it optimally, and lubricate the chain to protect it. While not strictly necessary, other tools like brushes, bike stands, old clothes or rags, and degreasers will make regular maintenance more manageable.

If you want to learn more about what tools we consider to be fundament to maintaining your bike, then read our comprehensive mountain bike tool kit essentials guide for tips and tricks.

Tool 1. Dish Soap

For cleaning bike chains, dish soap like this is the ideal choice. It removes grit and filth without being excessively abrasive or eliminating all of the necessary greases from the chain.

Ordinary dishwashing liquid is good enough to cut through the grease that is stuck to your chain.
Dawn Original Dishwashing Soap cuts through grime and oily grease. Image source: Amazon.

Tool 2. Chain cleaning device

A chain cleaning device like this is designed to clean bike chains by clipping onto the chain and running along the chain with rotating brushes that scrub the bottom and top of the chain simultaneously.

Cleaning your mountain bike chain with a chain cleaner is so much easier than doing it by hand with a brush.
The CM-5.3-Cyclone Chain Scrubber scrubs the button and top of the chain. Image Source: Amazon.

Tool 3. Lubricant

The basic reason for using bike lubricant like this is to reduce frictional forces and the likelihood of components seizing. As this article from Tribology and Lubrication Technology explains, proper lubrication ensures an efficient transfer of energy and reduces friction when cycling.

Lubrication is important as it ensures frictionless energy transfer while pedaling.
Rock N Roll Gold Chain Lubricant is an all-purpose lube for use in all weather. Image source: Amazon.

Tool 4. Degreaser

These are highly useful for removing grease and oil from the bike's drivetrain. However, you should not put degreaser directly on cables and bearings because this can result in grease accumulation that must be removed.

Use a degreaser like WD-40 to make sure that no grease or residue is left on your MTB drivetrain.
Degreaser by WD-40 removes grease and leaves no residue. Image Source: Amazon.

Tool 5. Brushes

Soft-bristled brushes from a set like this help remove softened mud and road grime, while stiff-bristled brushes should make lifting caked-on dry dirt easier.

A brush kit like this will have hard and soft brushes for you to complete your mountain bike chain maintenance tasks.
Park Tool bike cleaning brush kit includes both hard and soft bristle brushes. Image source: Amazon.
Tool Purpose Must-Have Vs. Nice-to-Have Example from Amazon
Dish soap.

Removes grit and filth without being excessively abrasive while removing grease from the chain. While some might clean with just water, soap is a must-have for effective cleaning. Dawn dish soap
Chain cleaning device. Clip onto your chain to clean it. While you could use rags and brushes to clean bike chains, chain cleaning devices would be nice-to-have tools. Cyclone Chain Scrubbe
Lubricant. Reduces frictional force and the likelihood of components seizing. You could use vegetable oil to grease, but lubricant made for bikes is a must-have for effective lubricating.  Rock 'n' Roll Gold Chain Lubricant
Degreaser. Useful for removing grease and oil from the bike's drivetrain. While some might remove grease with just baking soda, industry-made degreasers are a must-have for effective cleaning. WD-40 Solvent Based Degreaser
Brushes. Soft-bristled brushes help remove softened mud and road grime, while stiff-bristled brushes should make lifting tough dirt easier. You could remove dirt using toothbrushes, but you need standard brushes for fast cleaning. Park Tool Bike Cleaning Brush Kit

What Comes In A Bike Chain Cleaning Kit?

A bike chain cleaning kit is a set of tools that make cleaning your chain and drivetrain easier and faster. They save time and effort, and well-made ones will last for years. Examples include Park Tool CG-2.4 Bicycle Chain and Drivetrain Cleaning Kit, Muc off X-3, Muc off Ultimate Bicycle Cleaning Kit, Anndason 8-piece precision bicycle cleaning brush, etc.

A bike chain cleaning kit includes the most important tools for bike chain maintenance. A kit could consist of a chain scrubber, lubricant, and degreaser.

A Chain Scrubber

A chain cleaning device like this is designed specifically to clean bike chains. These are essential tools that you clip onto your chain. They have top and button brushes to clean both chain surfaces at the same time.

A chain cleaner.
A Park Tool Cyclone Chain Scrubber is designed to clean an MTB chain thoroughly. Image Source: Amazon.


Lubricants like this reduce frictional force and the likelihood of components seizing due to rust or mechanical failure.

Use a lubricant to prolong the useful lifespan of your mountain bike chain.
Rock N Roll Gold Chain Lubricant, 16-Ounce Complete Kit w/4oz Bottle & Applicator is suitable to lubricate a mountain bike chain. Image source: Amazon.


These are highly useful for removing grease and oil from the bike's drivetrain and other components. A high quality degreaser has active ingredients that cut through grease and grime. 

Using a degreaser like this makes it much easier to clean the chain of your MTB.
Muc-Off Bio Drivetrain Cleaner is suitable for all types of bike chains. Image source: Amazon.


These are tools used for removing grime and dirt. Soft-bristled brushes help remove softened mud and ordinary road grime. In contrast, stiff-bristled brushes should make lifting stubborn dirt easier.

This selection of brushes makes any chain maintenance task a little easier.
A 4 Pcs Bike Chain Cleaning Tool Set like this is really handy for doing mountain bike maintenance. Image Source: Amazon.
Example Kit From Amazon Must-Have Tools Included Bonus Tools
Pedro's Pig Pen II Drivetrain Maintenance Kit Brushes, degreasers, and chain scrubbers.  Lubricant.
Anndason 8 Pieces Precision Bicycle Cleaning Brush Tool Brushes, degreasers, and chain scrubbers. Chain Cleaning Brush, Tire Scrubber, Tapered Detail Brush, Wheel Brush, Sprocket Scraper, Sprocket Brush, Bike Clean Mitt.
Muc Off-Bicycle Chain Cleaning Device Brushes, degreasers, and chain scrubbers.  Premium wax -Lubricants.

What Type Of Lube Is Best For My Bike?

Green Oil Wet Lube is best for bikes ridden in wet, wintery conditions because it's thicker, requires less frequent application, and won't wash away. Bikes ridden in drier climates will have better protection when using Rock 'n’ Roll Gold oil because it is thinner and runs more smoothly, but it must be applied more frequently.

Heavy Oil

Heavy or thick oil is suitable for your bike if you often ride in rainy or damp circumstances. It is advisable to use this particular oil for mountain bike chain maintenance after it has been thinned with a solvent. The mixture will penetrate chain bearings more effectively, and the solvent evaporates, leaving the thick chain grease behind. Mixing makes it appropriate for practical commuter bikes but less suitable for racing due to its thick viscosity, which quickly gathers up dirt. Examples include Green Oil Wet Lube and this Muc-Off Wet Lube.

Different lubricants are suitable for different climates and weather conditions.
Heavy oil is suitable for wet conditions. Image Source: Amazon

Light Oil 

A light oil, often known as "dry oil," is best for your bicycle chain under average to dry riding conditions. It's lighter and runs more smoothly. It must be applied more frequently because it is more prone to being washed away by rain. Because it picks up less dirt, you can use light oil several times. Light oils effectively penetrate chain bushings and reduce the wear between the links. Examples of light oil are Rock N Roll Gold, Boeshield T-9, and Dry Lube. 

Light oil can be applied regularly as it does not lead to the collecting of dirt and grime like heavier oil does.
Light oil is best used in dry riding conditions. Image source: Amazon.

Wax Oil 

Wax-based lubes are gaining popularity because they perform well in dry environments and as an all-rounder application. Wax lubes are composed of refined paraffin particles that have been emulsified in a carrier fluid—the liquid helps the particles travel to where they need to go and then dries, leaving only the wax behind.

The disadvantage of wax lubes is that they require some elbow grease to apply and maintain. Ensure that any factory grease or old lubrication has been removed before the initial application. You should also provide enough time for the wax to harden before riding. Examples include Molten Speedway, this Silca Super Secret Chain Lubricant, and this Squirt chain lube.

Wax lubricant works well as the wax is emulsified into a liquid form to get into the areas that it is needed and then the liquid dries leaving just the wax behind.
Wax oil are all-purpose lubricants that can be used in all riding conditions Image source: Amazon

Ceramic Oil

Ceramic lubes are lubricants with bold claims of improved performance and higher pricing. Ceramic lube contains small "ceramic particles," which reduce friction and offer superior lubrication over synthetic oils when compared with normal dry and wet lubes. These lubes are more expensive, but the reduced friction should lead to increased drivetrain longevity, saving you money in the long run.

Ceramic lubricant can be used on your mountain bike chain for effective lubrication.
Ceramic oil has ceramic particles in the formula that reduce friction and prolong the longevity of the chain. Image Source: Amazon.

Spray Lubricants

While it is easy to use spray lubricants and they penetrate effectively, they are not a wise choice in any riding scenario. According to this WD-40 blog post, you need to use a special all-conditions lube because normal WD-40 is too thin to affect fast-moving parts like a bicycle chain. Furthermore, the solvents in these lubricants function as degreasers, removing any lubricant applied to the chain by the manufacturer and effectively increasing the wear on your chain.

Spray lubricants are very versatile but tend to wear off surfaces very quickly.
Spray lubricants are easy to apply but tend to wear off sooner. Image Source: Amazon.
Type of Oil/Lube Riding Conditions An example from Amazon
Heavy Oil They are good in wet conditions. Green Oil Wet Lube, Muc off Wet Lube
Light Oil Good in dry conditions. Rock 'n’ Roll Gold Chain Lubricant
Wax Oil They are good in dry and slightly damp conditions. Silca Super Secret Chain Lubricant, Squirt Chain Lube
Ceramic oil Good in dry conditions. Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Dry Chain Lube
Spray Lubricants They are not good in any condition. Use “All Condition” WD-40 lube if you really want to use this brand. WD-40 Multi-Use Lubricant Penetrant

Can I Use WD40 on My Mountain Bike Chain?

The quick response to this is no. There is a lot of issue over whether or not you should lubricate your chain with WD-40. To begin, WD-40 stands for Water Displacement-40th Attempt, meaning the formula 40 was the 40th attempt. It is essentially a degreaser/solvent that is used to get items that are stuck moving again. It leaves a thin film of lubrication in the process. Before applying lubricant, first, apply degreaser, then wash the chain properly with soap and water.

Do not use WD40 on a mountain bike chain because it doesn't have enough grease to keep a bike chain running smoothly, and the little that it does have isn't of high enough quality which makes it unsuitable for a bicycle chain.

You can find out more about proper chain maintenance and why not to use WD-40 here in this article by Devin Bovee at Stevens Bicycles, who is a member of the Fresno Cycling Club.

Should Proper Mountain Bike Chain Maintenance Include Gear Maintenance? 

Because the gears work along with the chain it would be a good idea to maintain the gears as well. Failing to maintain the gears of your mountain bike would make your mountain bike chain maintenance pointless.

Mountain bike gears should be cleaned as part of chain maintenance because dirt on the gears will transfer to the chain and affect gear shifting and pedaling. First clean and lubricate the inner cable, then clean the front and back mechanical parts, and clean the cassette. Clean the front components of the bike and the rear parts before lubricating them.

Step 1. Clean and Lubricate the Inner Cable.

To begin, remove the outer cable cover from the frame's stops. This will allow you to lubricate the shifting cable by sliding it out of the cable housing. Next, wipe off all visible sections of the inner cable using a clean towel covered with a degreaser. Finally, we will revitalize any dry sections with a little cable grease.

The best approach to oiling the inner cable is to apply grease to a rag and pull the cable through it while pressing down with your thumb and forefinger. We want to avoid globs of grease on the cable and force as much grease into the strands as possible.

Lubricate the cables so that all the strands are coated.
Apply some lubricant to cables to reduce stiffness. Image Source: cyclist.

Step 2. Clean the Front Mechanical Parts

Take some time to clean the front components. First, scrub inside, beneath, and all around the front chainrings and derailleur with a small brush such as a toothbrush or this bicycle cleaning toothbrush and plenty of hot soapy water. There will be a lot of dried filth in here, so be cautious. Use a rag to "floss" around the mechanical parts. Once everything is dry, apply a small amount of lubricant to all joints. This area is constantly stressed and needs to be lubricated.

Step 3. Clean the Rear Mechanical Parts Like Jockey Wheels.

When you switch your focus to the rear mechanicals, check that the jockey wheels in the rear derailleur are clean and free of the greasy goo that tends to collect on these components. Place a small flat-head screwdriver from a set like this on the jockey wheel face while rotating the cranks to turn the jockey wheels, allowing the screwdriver to scrape all oily buildup off these parts. Repeat the procedure on the inside of the jockey wheels.

After the heavy gunk has been removed, use the toothbrush and degreaser to clean the jockey wheels, then dry the derailleur before lubricating the jockey wheels with a small amount of lube. Because this area collects a lot of dirt and dust, use a rag to wipe away any excess lubricant after lubricating.

Step 4. Clean the Cassette

Cleaning the cassette is your last step for gear maintenance. There are numerous hidden spots on the cassette. Pick between each ring with an old spoke end until all the big debris is removed. Using a firm bristle brush and hot soapy water, scrub the cassette free of any leftover goo. To remove tough build-up, use a small amount of degreaser. This area collects a lot of dirt and dust, so try to clean the inside and outside of the rings. Run your rag between all the rings so that you'll have a clean cassette with smooth and responsive gear shifting.

Leave a Reply


This website is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.