**Note – the following instructions apply the same when preparing a chain for waxing or any top drip lube as all of these will need to bond to clean clear chain metal**
Having been in the field for awhile now, i am constantly surprised by just how complex a process some cyclists have arrived at over the years to clean their chain, which can be a 10 to 15 step process with 5 to 8 different products involved – if ever you read a forum on best way to clean chain – wow do you read some interesting processes.
Probably the biggest – what i would call “mistake”is using petrol or diesel to clean chains. Yes its cheap, but it leaves a heavy film behind, and this can block a lubes ability to bond to chain metal.
The second is soaking too long in solvents / de-greaser which can lead to corrosive stress making metal more brittle (hydrogen embrittlement). I have had customers soaking chains in degreasers or petrol for days, which is not good.
I also recommend using mineral turps vs de-greaser as it is generally a more effective solvent for factory grease on chains, it is cleaner leaving less of film for final step to deal with, and it is easily recycled via your local councils hazardous liquid waste facilities.
Chain cleaning is always a 2 step process – step one is cleaning chain, step 2 is ensuring no film is left on chain from cleaning to ensure wax / lube can bond to clean & clear chain metal.
CLEANING NEW CHAINS WITH FACTORY GREASE
*recently there was a marginal gains podcast covering the issue of hydrogen embrittlement and people soaking chains too long / running in ultrasonics too long – and in the end recommended 2 mins shaking in a gatorade bottle. Unfortunately factory grease can be stubborn stuff, and alas 2 mins in a gatorade bottle just wont do it. I have prepped over 3000 chains for commercial sale and in all that time i have had to replace two (2) snapped chains at time of writing this process – so I am rather confident my recommended process does not risk any corrosive stress, and ensures a perfect prep for lube ever time*
- Soak factory grease chain in bath of mineral turps for 10 to 15 mins in a closed container (200ml per chain) then shake vigourously for about 30 secs.
- Move into 2 x agitated baths of 2mins per bath of mineral turps(YBN, Shimano). Campy chains normally need an extra round, sram chains normally need 2 to 3 extra rounds thanks to their factory glue they apply. ZFC does not at this time recommend KMC chains for waxing / wax based lubes as have found their coatings tend to repel wax lubes, leading to very short treatment lifespans which has chains feeling and sounding very dry very quickly – this has also led to very short chain lifespans despite running the best know lubricant choices.
- Move into 2 x agitated baths of methylated spirits (this is basically pure alcohol and ensures no film left behind from cleaning).
- Dry, wax or apply top drip lube.
Existing / Used chains
*NOTE – i do not recommend cleaning existing chains that are past 1000, maybe 1500km old (road use) as the amount of solvent required is pretty big, and your chains low friction coating will already be compromised. Cleaning a chain for waxing that is say 2,500km old is often really not worth it – either stay the course on drip lube for that chain but replace early to minimise drive train parts wear, or start with a new chain.
- You do not need to soak, simply rip through agitated mineral turps baths until chain turps is coming out basically as clear as it went in. Expect circa 10 to 15 baths at 200 to 300ml per bath.
- Once clean from turps, move into 2 x 2min agitated metho baths, dry, wax / add top lube.
Should i buy an ultraonsic?
I get this A LOT. If moving to waxing, absolutely not – you will never get the payback, once switched your cleaning days are over until cleaning next new chain, which will be a long time away. If you are staying on drip lubes, then an ultrasonic for the best periodic cleaning maintenance can be good, but again, you can get 95% of the way there with agitated container baths, and many people do a worse job with ultrasonic vs manual baths as they think the ultrasonic will just do this magic job and all is done by simply running it through a US bath. Often the solvent in US will be black after 10 seconds, so not much good cleaning is happening after that. How good a clean can one get if what is doing the cleaning is highly contaminated? Due to belief of the magic of US people skip the metho rounds leading to poor lube bond to chain. They don’t de-gas before cleaning and so on. In short, they often cause more problems vs just doing a good agitated container flush clean process as per above.
For those wishing to prep fully optimised race chains at home / re-optimise race chains – pls refer to my Race chain /Ultrasonic Guide. Apologies its bit clunky atm, i will tidy up when i can. DO NOT BUY AN ULTRASONIC BEFORE READING THIS GUIDE is my strong recommendation – Ultrasonic prepping wax chains really needs temp control Ultrasonics, quality ones cost decent $$, cheap ones dont work for long. I prep around 1500 pre waxed / race chains per year so obviously i get my moneys worth from top quality ultrasonics – will you at home prepping a race chain a handful of times per year? for the avid tinkerer – for sure its worth it, for 99.9% of cyclists, no it is not – they are sexy and made to look like a magic easy way to get the perfect clean – not so much – you need to know what you are doing if using to prep for the top waxes and lubricants.
**NOTE – LITERALLY OVER 95% of ZFC chain sales the customer chooses pre-prepped chains as the chain is prepped perfectly every time, customer doesn’t have to faff with solvents and solvent disposal, and ZFC re-cycles all solvents used. Customer can skip straight to the fun part of just re-waxing / re-lubing with top lube. ZFC is the only place in the world where one can choose chains to be prepped with either Mspeedwax, Silca Hot Melt, or absoluteBlack Graphene. All top drip lubes can be added straight over top of these treatments, so you do not have to worry if not continuing with waxing, at least you have a prepped chain where factory grease has been dealt with, and you can now merrily re-lube with chosen top lube.
ZFC also is proud to offer an “OEM clean and wax service” – this was introduced as many returning customers were throwing away the brand new chain on new bike purchase as didn’t want to deal with cleaning factory grease, and getting straight onto a top chain prepped with one of the worlds best lube options. Throwing away new chains is very wasteful, and ZFC is proud of how much drivetrain parts waste we save by ensuring riders run a top lubricant choice that suits their needs. As such for any prepped chain sale, you can send to ZFC your OEM chain and i will ultrasonic clean and wax for free, you just need to cover the return shipping cost by either including a return satchel, or purchasing the OEM clean and wax product service. NOTE THIS IS FOR NEW CHAINS ONLY.