Cleaning A Bicycle Chain

A quick search on Google to find what’s the best way to clean a bicycle chain will return over 11 million results. So if you’re reading this article, well done on finding it!

Whilst initially sounding like it’s the bleedin’ obvious, the best way to clean a bike chain is one in which it gets it thoroughly clean. There are many [11 million] methods to clean chains; using cloths, brushes, chain cleaning tools, muc-off, gunk, degreaser, soaking, two old toothbrushes taped together, jam-jars etc etc … all of which include using plenty of elbow grease.

The funniest suggestion came from Halfords, which provides the following words of wisdom on their help & advice pages;

  1. Stand your bike upright or on a bike work stand.
  2. Dip a chain brush in chain cleaner and use it to scrub the chain clean.
  3. Rinse the chain using water squeezed from the sponge or by using a low-pressure hose.
  4. Dry the chain with a cloth or rag

This might get rid of some surface mud and grime but it is not going to give your chain a thorough clean.

Having tried various options and combinations of brush, cloth and degreaser, I’ve been left with disappointment at the results.

So, what is the best way to clean a bike chain? Use an ultrasonic cleaner.

Ultrasonic Cleaner for Cleaning Bicycle Chains

Ultrasonic Cleaner - James Ultra 7000As we said earlier, the best way to clean a bicycle chain is one that will clean it thoroughly and nothing cleans better than an Ultrasonic Cleaner.

These devices create millions of tiny bubbles, using plain old tap water, when ultrasonic sound is passed through the liquid. The effect produces huge pressure that results in metal objectives, like bicycle chains, being cleaned with incredible results.

Whilst home Ultrasonic Cleaners like the pictured James Ultra 7000 are commonly used to clean jewellery, watches, glasses and CDs, they can also be used on any non-porous, waterproof items.

Used in domestic homes from the 1950s, Ultrasonic Cleaners became more common from the 1970s. It is perhaps therefore surprising that more cyclists haven’t latched onto the huge benefits these cleaners can have.

In addition to chains, there is no reason why the ultrasonic sounds cannot penetrate the deep recesses of all metal components, such as; cassettes, brake calipers, pedals, derailleurs, pulleys, chainrings etc.

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How to Clean a Bicycle Chain with an Ultrasonic Cleaner

The cleaning process is very simple, and also very easy. Bear in mind that this process is for an infrequent, deep clean and doesn’t replace the more regular cleaning routine, which is unlikely to include removing the chain and the use of the ultrasonic cleaner.

  1. Degrease the chain either on or off the bike.
  2. Rinse with water.
  3. Remove the chain.
  4. Place the chain in the Ultrasonic Cleaner as per the instructions.
  5. Leave for around 3 mins (adjust time accordingly).
  6. Rinse the chain with water.
  7. Dry the chain and spray with a small amount of mositure repellent like WD40.
  8. Replace the chain and lube.

James Ultrasonic Cleaner Ultra 7000

The James Ultra 7000 ultrasonic cleaner is an affordable way to deep clean your chain. Whilst traditional cleaning methods will give the appearance of a clean chain, the pre and post results of the ultrasonic cleaner will convince you of it’s merits.

The following photograph is a before and after view of using the cleaner. Prior to using the device, the chain was cleaned using a leading chain degreaser and as you can see, it looks quite clean but just look at the amount of grime that was left behind by the degreasing process.

Ultrasonic Cleaning Before and After

The Ultra 7000 has an easy-to-use digital timer that allows you to set the appropriate time to clean your chain, from 90 seconds upto 8 minutes.

So how much does this cost? The RRP of this particular model is around £40 but it’s currently available for less than £25 (via Google Shopping). I think that’s pretty outstanding value for something that will give you a significantly enhanced cycling experience.

Ultra 7000 Key Features:

  1. Cleans waterproof, non-porous objects like bicycle chains, cassettes, chainrings etc.
  2. Cleans to an almost new-like state in just 3 minutes without using any harmful chemicals.
  3. Environmentally friendly cleaning using just warm tap water.
  4. Uses ultrasonic bubbles to break down dirt and bring back that natural shine and performance.
  5. Digital operation with 5 cleaning programs.
  6. Effortless cleaning.
  7. Small items basket included.
  8. Mains power.

Ultra 7000 Specifications:

  • Tank size: 750ml max
  • Tank material: Stainless steel SUS304
  • Ultrasonic frequency: 42,000Hz (42kHz)
  • Power consumption: 50W Max
  • Power supply: AC 220-240V 50Hz
  • Unit dimensions (LWH): 210 x 158 x 125mm max
  • Net weight: 1kg (2.2lbs)