How to Clean and Lubricate a Motorcycle Chain

Cleaning and lubricating a motorcycle chain is one of the easiest ways to dip your feet into bike maintenance.  And while with modern chains such as the O-ring and X-ring chain, lubrication is provided by grease sealed into the working area between the O-rings, you still need to lubricate the areas of the chain – the parts that are exposed to the environment and make contact with front and rear sprockets of your bike.

Some will argue that given the cost to replace both a bike chain and sprockets, it isn’t worth the money on cleaning and lubrication products, nor the time to apply them.  To a degree, this is true.  It certainly isn’t as important to maintain your chain and sprockets nearly as much as say, ensuring your front brake pads are in top order or that you have enough pressure in your tires.  But nevertheless, by cleaning and lubricating your chain you will decrease friction and heat on it which will not only extend chain and sprocket life, but improve the efficiency of the drive too.  That means better bike performance and surely that is worth some time and money?

If you are going to do this, you’re really going to want a rear stand.  Yes, it can be done without one, but the only way to do it is by moving the bike forwards (or backwards) to rotate the chain which is a time consuming process.

Cleaning the Chain

Regardless of what product you use or what method you employ to clean your chain, it’s best to warm it up first by going for a 10 to 15 minute ride.  This will make it much easier to get rid of the grime and grit that will have accumulated on your chain after only a few hundred miles (or less).

When applying cleaning product to a chain, avoid any solvents.  Between the inner and outer side plates of the chain is rubber and while it’s hardy, you will shorten your chains life with products that are designed to dissolve things.  Kerosene (or Paraffin as it’s called in some parts of the world) is fine and generally very cheap to buy.

If you really want to go all out, you can purchase a specially formulated motorcycle chain cleaner, such as Motul Chain Clean or Motorex Chain Clean.  They’re a little more expensive than straight kerosene, probably only make cleaning the chain slightly easier, but come in a handy aerosol can.

Whatever product you choose, cleaning is just a simple matter of applying the solution and if it’s particularly dirty, use a brush to scrub whatever else remains.  A toothbrush will do the job, but a grunge brush will be much more effective (and not much more expensive, either).  Place some rags or cardboard behind the chain where you’re spraying and scrubbing to prevent the cleaning liquid and the grime from getting on other parts of your bike.

The Grunge Brush

Once you’ve finished cleaning the chain, let it sit for around 10 minutes to allow the cleaning solution to dry.  Again, if your chain was particularly dirty, give it a quick spray with the garden hose afterwards.

Chain Lubrication

It’s recommended that for lubricating your chain you buy a specific lubricant made for motorcycle chains.  Many people go for WD-40 because it’s cheap and almost everyone has a can at home.  But don’t use it for your chain.  It contains petroleum based oils that are corrosive to rubber which your chain contains in-between the side plates.  It will also attract more dirt, dust and other particles onto your chain, defeating the purpose of cleaning the chain in the first place.  Lastly, it evaporates within a few weeks, meaning you could be riding around with an unlubricated chain which will ensure a short sprocket and chain life.

Other reasons to use a proper motorcycle chain lubricant is that in addition to penetrating the chain, it will turn ‘sticky’ so that it doesn’t fling off onto other parts of your bike when you’re riding at 60 mph.  Again, products like Motul Street Chain Lube are a good choice and at around $10 for a 10 oz can, it’s not considerably more expensive than WD-40 anyway.


When lubricating your chain, you can either be very precise and spray only between the end plates (you’re targeting the rubber between each plate) and on the rollers, or spray the thing like it’s a cockroach you’re trying to drown.  Either way works, it’s just up to you whether you want to be slow and precise, thus reducing the amount of lubricant you use and saving a bit of money in the long term.

How Often?

As often as your chain gets dirty is probably the most accurate answer.  Many people clean and lubricate their chain after filling up the tank twice.  Others do it after every 200 miles.  Your bike isn’t going to fall to pieces if you don’t adhere to a strict schedule of cleaning and lubrication.  Just keep an eye on it and if it you’re struggling to see the chain underneath all the dirt and grime, it’s probably time to clean your chain and apply a fresh coating of lubricant.

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  • CraigK

    I clean with kerosene and lube with 90wt gear oil. works well, and has a distinctive smell that I find not at all unpleasant.