Somewhere near the top of the list of chores we all hate doing is this one: cleaning your motorcycle’s chain.
Yes, we know it’s important, we know it makes the chain last longer and yes, we don’t want our knackered old O-ring making a bid for freedom on the outside lane of the M42 on a Friday evening – but does that make us go outside and reach for the paddock stand? No it does not.
If all you manage to do is squirt a bit of lube on your chain from time-to-time, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Despite all the guides telling you how to love your chain, not many of us lift a finger when it comes to maintaining it.
But clean it you should. If you lube your chain, that’s great but after a good few hundred miles it’ll pick up road grime, which will start to prematurely wear the chain.
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The Best Chain Cleaners
Fear not, help is at hand! There are several quality motorcycle chain cleaners on the market, that make this awkward job a lot easier.
So the next time you’re giving your motorbike a clean, give your chain some love too with a quick clean and a splash of lube.
Below are two of our best picks
Environmentally-friendly powerful degreaser
Specialist cleaning company Muc-Off have developed this biodegradable motorcycle chain cleaner to break down oil grease and grime. It’s safe on metals, plastics, carbon-fibre, anodising, rubber seals and brake pads. Available in a big 500ml tin and it gets great user reviews.
Potent degreaser makes light work of grime
Wurth’s motorcycle brake and chain cleaner might not have the eco-friendly credentials of our pick above but there’s no denying it does the business. The colourless aerosol makes light work of dirty chains then evaporates, leaving you to hose your chain clean.
The cheapest motorcycle chain cleaner
You’re not going to find a chain cleaner much cheaper than the Wurth Chain & Brake Cleaner we featured as one of our top picks above. At just under seven quid for a 500ml can, that should last you three to four cleans.
SportsBikeShop sells their own Essentials Chain Cleaner saving you a couple of quid but when the Wurth works so well, is there much point in penny-pinching?
But if the pennies really are an issue, then check out WD40’s Specialist Chain Cleaner. At under a fiver it’s cheap and the product works very well but it’s only a 200ml can, so the cost per litre is more than our pick by Wurth.
How to clean your motorcycle's chain
We're not going to pretend that you need to precisely follow this guide - you could just spray on some chain cleaner, let it sit for a few minutes then scrub it off with a bit of help from a hose but if you want to do a proper job, follow these 7-steps.
- Prepare: If you have a centre-stand or a paddock stand, get your bike up on that and get it in neutral. If you don't have the means to lift your rear wheel, you could grab one of these super-handy wheel spinners, which are easy to use single-handedly and work well with a side stand.
- Assess: Spin your rear wheel around a couple of times and check the chain as you go. Look for tight links, any damage or any rust. Check out the wear on your sprockets too. Keep a mental note of anything to check again after you've cleaned the chain.
- Apply the chain cleaner: You don't need to spray it like the champagne on a MotoGP podium. Spin the chain around one complete revolution directing the cleaning spray into the centre of the links.
- Get scrubbing: Then grab a motorcycle chain cleaning brush and work the chain one section at a time. Even though you want to get the chain looking nice, don't neglect the central links at the expense of shiny outer plates.
- Rinse and repeat: Give your cleaning brush a good hosing off, then direct the hose at the chain, rinse it off then srub the links again with the brush, then rinse again. If the chain isn't free from road crap, give it another once over with the chain cleaner and repeat the process.
- Re-lube: Dry the chain off. Whatever you use will be ruined so don't use a nice microfibre cloth. Use some old fabric (cut up socks and T-shirts work well) or leave it to drip dry and pat it down with workshop-grade paper towel. Then apply your chain lube or wax (using the old cloth to catch any overspray) and you're good to go.
Water or solvent-based cleaners
The two main types of chain cleaner are water-based or solvent-based. A solvent-based cleaner will work a little bit like a brake cleaner; a very thin, highly-potent solvent. The pressure of the spray combined with the solvent helps it strip the grease from your chain as you spray it on. It evaporates quickly. The Wurth Chain Cleaner is solvent-based.
The water-based chain cleaners will foam up when they leave the can or bottle. They ‘cling’ to the chain where the solution eats into the grease – you rinse it off after a few minutes. Our top pick the Muc-Off degreaser is water soluble.
Never be tempted to leave your bike idling in 1st gear to rotate the rear wheel. It is too easy to lose focus and get something caught in the chain and sprockets. Just search Google Images for 'motorcycle chain cleaning fingers' to see what we mean.
If you don't have a motorcycle-specific chain cleaning brush to hand, use an old toothbrush but remember not to put it back in the bathroom afterwards!
Don't pressure wash your chain, you'll just fire sticky old chain lube everywhere ad you might damage the O-rings in the chain.
Wire brushes and petrol are the enemy of motorcycle chains - don't use them!
After a long ride or a ride in pouring rain, it's a good idea to squirt a bit of chain lube onto the chain to keep it lubricated.
The top-rated motorcycle chain cleaning products.
Castrol Chain Cleaner – 400ml, solvent based
Motul C1 Chain Clean – 400ml, solvent based
Silkolene Brake and Chain Cleaner – 500ml, solvent based
Blackberry Eco Chain Cleaner – 250ml, water-based eco-friendly
Guy Martin Proper Degreaser – 1.5L, Eco-friendly and believe it or not, vegan-friendly too.
TechCote Engine and Chain Cleaner – 400ml, solvent-based
Liqui-Moli Chain and Brake Cleaner – 500ml, solvent-based
XCP Professional Universal Cleaner – 400ml, solvent-based
Putolene Chain and Engine Degreaser – 500ml, solvent-based
SDoc 100 Chain cleaner – 300ml, water-based gel cleaner
Chain cleaning FAQs
Can I use petrol to clean my chain?
No. Petrol will damage the sealed rings in your chain that are there to keep the internal links lubricated.
Can I use WD-40 to clean my chain?
While you can use it, there are more effective and cheaper products out there. If you do use WD40 to clean your chain, make sure you use a chain lube after you’ve removed the majority of the WD-40 residue. A better bet would be to use paraffin, which is cheaper and more effective than WD-40 at cleaning chains.
How do you use a chain cleaner?
See our guide above which walks you through the process step-by-step.
Where can you buy IPONE chain cleaner?
Check out eBay as there’s always a seller on there
Thanks to the following websites which helped us research and write this motorcycle chain cleaning guide: