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.
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 bike a bit of a once over, give your chain some love too with a quick clean and a splash of lube.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
Thanks to the following websites which helped us research and write this motorcycle chain cleaning guide: