Homemade Bike Chain Degreaser – How To Make & Use It


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Instead of using the traditional degreaser found in the market, you can use a homemade one that can be prepared using ingredients easily available in your kitchens, like vinegar, baking soda, borax, table salt, etc. It can be applied simply by using some cloth and old brushes.

Imagine you are on a scenic ride, but your bike chain decides to function oddly. It suddenly requires you to exert more force, and the shifting is not smooth at all. It starts slipping off the cassette. Or even worse, the chain breaks. Wouldn’t that ruin your entire journey?

While there can be a host of reasons for something like this to happen, the most common thing that leads to most bike problems is an unclean and greasy chain.

That is why it is recommended to clean your bike chain once every 3-4 weeks thoroughly.

A degreaser is the solution to all these troubles. This article will guide you through the entire procedure of making an effective degreaser at home and the best way to use it.

Homemade degreaser - how to make and use it

What is a Degreaser?

Many water-insoluble substances like oil, grease, abrasive dirt, lubricants, corrosive products, etc., cannot be cleaned by simple means. So they still remain even after the regular wash-up sessions.

You need to use special solvent-based cleaning agents called degreasers for such dirt and filth. They are chemical products made specifically to remove water-insoluble dirt and filth.

These cleansing agents have applications both on a commercial and domestic scale. From kitchen cabinets to heavy aircraft, degreasers are ordinarily used for the elimination of grease.

Most commercially produced degreasers are made to clean some specific sort of grease.

But some manufacturers in the cleansing industry make all-purpose degreasers that are less powerful but get rid of a wide variety of usual greases.

Advantages of Using Homemade Degreasers

Although you can purchase several types of degreasers from the market to clean your bike chain, there are many convincing reasons to prefer a DIY degreaser.

Following are some of the important advantages of using a degreaser for your bike chain prepared at home.

Cost-Effective

Conventional degreasers are often very expensive. Making one at home is much more cost-effective, as all the ingredients involved are cheap and easily available.

Eco-Friendly

Some of the commercially produced degreasers contain environmentally harmful substances, such as kerosene oil and petrol.

But in the case of homemade degreasers, all the ingredients used and the preparation procedure is completely environment friendly.

Non-Toxic

Regularly used cleansing agents consist of several substances that are not supposed to be around food storage and meal preparation areas.

Moreover, you have to be extra careful while using them. So why not use a degreaser that is all-natural and contains no toxic components?

Easy Application

There are several ways you can use a homemade degreaser. You can spray it on the chain directly, soak it in the mixture for some time, or apply using an old cloth or brush.

The application depends on the recipe you used, but all methods are very simple and effortless.

Dirty bike chain ready for degreasing
Homemade degreasers are a budget and eco-friendly alternative to shop-bought items

How to Prepare a Homemade Degreaser?

Several recipes can be used to make degreasers at home. Following are some of the most-used techniques that have proved to be highly effective when it comes to cleaning bike chains.

1. Mixture of Salt, Washing Soda & One Or More Vital Oil

This degreaser is one of the less intense ones and is effective to remove dirt and impurities that are not too stern.

There are two steps to this technique:

First, take 1/2 cup of salt, 1/4 cup of washing soda, and 16 ounces of baking soda.

Add 1/4 cup of water and mix all these in a bowl. Apply the mixture on the surface and leave it for some time.

For the next step, mix ten drops of thyme oil, ten drops of vital citrus oil, and 3/4 cups of distilled vinegar in a spray bottle. Shake it properly and spray it over the paste. Now, wipe it clean.

This technique is not suitable to clean chains, and that’s why it is recommended for parts like cassette cogs.

2. Baking Soda, Vinegar & Ammonia

For this recipe, you will need a gallon of water, a cup of ammonia, 1/2 cup of vinegar, and 1/4 cup of baking soda.

Pour each element into a bucket or a big container, and stir nicely. The mixture can be stored to use later. However, you will have to keep it covered and shake it before each use.

The mixture should be strong enough to reduce most of the grease, but if needed, you can make it even stronger by adding a little more vinegar and baking soda.

As a result of their remarkable grease-removing capabilities, both these elements are essential components of almost every cleansing product. 

This degreaser is pretty much an all-purpose cleanser, and from the kitchen floor to under the hood of your car, it can clean everything.

3. Borax, Vinegar, and Salt

Borax is a chemical compound (sodium borate) derived from the natural minerals found in dry lakes.

It is a powdery white substance and must not be confused with boric acid, which is used in manufacturing pesticides. Borax is a booster component in detergents and household cleaners.

Borax is a great alternative for baking soda and is an effective ingredient for bike chain degreasers.

For this recipe, take a gallon of water, 2 cups of borax, 8 cups of white (distilled) vinegar, and 2 cups of salt.

Stir everything nicely. And just like the previous recipe, if the solution is not strong enough, you can add more borax and vinegar.

You can spray it directly on the surface or submerge the chain into the solution. However, be careful while using this degreaser, as borax can cause irritation on contact with skin.

Dirty bike chain
Many substances can be added to homemade degreasers, such as ammonia, borax, baking soda, and washing soda

4. Ammonia & Water

The last recipe for a homemade degreaser on our list is an ammonia and water mixture.

Ammonia is probably the most popular choice for cleaning agents for oils, lubricants, grease, etc.

It is mostly used in small portions along with water and citric acid, but that mixture is not powerful enough for your grimy bike chains.

To get rid of the clinging dirt from your bike chain, make a 50/50 mixture of ammonia and water. Then add a small amount of Castile soap, and stir the solution properly.

Remember that ammonia is a powerful chemical, and it can cause problems in patients with asthma, bronchitis, etc. It is advised to make this degreaser in a well-ventilated area.

Best Ways to Use a Homemade Chain Degreaser

So far, I have gone through the advantages of homemade degreasers and covered different recipes to prepare them.

But what are the most productive ways to use them?

How to clean your bike chain with a homemade degreaser in such a way that no unwanted dirt or grease is left?

Follow the methods given below to get the best results from a degreaser prepared at home.

On-Bike Degreasing & Cleaning Without Removing Chain

If your bike chain is non-removable with no master link, or you do not think that it needs an intense, in-depth cleaning session, you can clean it using this simple degreasing technique.

You will need a rug, a cleaning brush with stiff bristles, a garden hose, a chain keeper (optional), and a container for a degreaser.

There are two approaches to this method. One involves the use of a chain keeper, while for the other one; you do not need any special tools.

Put the bike on a freestanding rack or rest it upwards with the wheels directed skywards. Spray the degreaser on the chain, or use wet wipes to apply it thoroughly. Now place the cleaning brush on the chain.

Remember that the bristles of the brush should be moderately stiff, i.e., not so soft that it can’t scrape off the muck and not so stiff it damages inner links.

Similarly, the pressure should also be somewhere in the middle. Now scrub and brush the degreaser by backpedaling the chain through the brush at different angles.

In case you are worried that the excess degreaser will damage your breaking surface or hub bearing, you can remove the chain off the cassette and set it on a chain keeper.

After you’re done cleaning the chain, it’s time for the other parts of the drivetrain. Apply the degreaser to the cassette and chainring. It’s time to brush each crank and cog.

Do the same for derailleurs. Rinse the chain and all the remaining parts using the hose.

Finally, dry the bike using a piece of cloth and apply any standard lube.

Such cleansing sessions should be done once or twice a week, more often in the case of off-road mountain bikes.

Detailed Bike Chain Degreasing & Cleaning

Although the method mentioned above will work for most regular riders, sometimes your bike chain needs more intensive cleaning.

Moreover, it is necessary to properly wash your bike chain and rest of the drivetrain time-to-time to save the parts from wearing out soon.

Using your homemade degreaser, this next technique will help you give a professional workshop-level detailed wash at home.

Tools that are required for this degreasing method are cassette and chainring removing tools (lockring tool, chain whip hex keys, etc.), a stiff-bristled brush, a container (preferably plastic), an air compressor (optional), and a homemade degreaser.

First of all, remove the bike chain using chain removal tools. The chain with quick reusable links can be removed very easily.

Remove the rear wheel and cassette with the help of a chain whip and lockring tool. Remove each crank of the chainring, or remove the side pedal and then take out the whole chainring.

Place the dirty chain in a jar/container full of degreaser and shake it vigorously. Leave it for some time. While the chain is soaked in degreaser, apply degreaser on cassette sprockets and chainring cranks, and scrub off all the crud using a rug or a cleaning brush.

Now, take the chain out of the degreaser container, and brush it thoroughly at different angles along the whole length. Rinse all three components with water and dry them out.

Clean derailleurs, cage, and rest of the drivetrain with the rag.

Use an air compressor to push grit out of the holes and cutouts. If the air compressor isn’t available, you can use an old toothbrush or any cleaning brush with stiff bristles.

Reinstall all the components and lube the chain.

Not only does this degreasing technique allow you to clean the chain and other parts minutely, but it also gives you a timely opportunity to inspect any damaged or worn-out part.

More Things to Remember

There are some important things to know about homemade bike chain degreasers and how to use them.

How Strong Should The Degreaser be?

The degreaser should only be moderately strong. If it is too powerful, it can damage the chain and other components of the bike.

How Often Should I Clean My Bike Chain?

While every rider should clean and degrease their bike at least once every week, the number should be higher if you ride more than usual.

Similarly, off-road and mountain bikes also need to be degreased more frequently.

Can I Use Dishwasher Soap To Clean My Bike Chain?

Yes, you can. In fact, dishwasher detergents, like Dawn Washing Soap, are the most popular alternative for degreasers.

Are all Homemade Degreasers Non-Toxic and Eco-Friendly?

Since homemade degreasers are made from ingredients normally found in homes, they are all eco-friendly and degradable.

Plus, almost every homemade degreaser is significantly less toxic to use compared to commercially produced ones. However, precautions are always necessary. 

Final thoughts

In the end, the advice is to prefer preparing the bike chain degreaser at home as it is more cost-effective and fairly easy to make. Always keep your drivetrain clean and free of all the unnecessary grease. Happy (and clean) riding! 

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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