How To Clean a Motorcycle Chain

Give some love to your bike and chains!

Modern motorcycle drive chain closeup.
Modern motorcycle drive chain closeup. Shallow dof

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A motorcycle’s final drive, or the part that makes the bike move, can be a shaft, a belt, or most commonly, a riveted master link chain. You know, like the one on your 10-speed bicycle. And just as your bicycle’s chain needs lubrication to function properly, so does a motorcycle’s. 

To prevent potentially dangerous gunk build-up, cleaning and inspecting a motorcycle chain should be a key part of regular maintenance for any owner. A chain left dry and unclean can translate into costly problems later on. The abrasive nature of road grit can wear down the chain and sprocket, while a lack of lubrication can dry out the seals or create unnecessary friction that could damage the chain and sprocket. We want to prevent that.

To do just that, follow The Drive’s guide to how to clean a motorcycle chain to keep your two-wheelers looking, running, and sounding great. Braap!

Prepare a clean and even space to clean your motorcycle chain.
Deposit Photos

The rear of a motorcycle

Basics of Cleaning a Motorcycle Chain

Estimated Time Needed: One hour

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior

What Is a Motorcycle Chain?

On select motorcycles, a chain is used as the final drive method. It pairs with two sprockets, one at the transmission near your left foot and one in the rear wheel’s hub, which propels the motorcycle. Some chains are plain and naked, while others have incorporated seals such as O-rings or X-rings that help keep lubricant within the chain.

Motorcycle Cleaning Safety

Washing a motorcycle is a simple, low-risk task, but cleaning products could be toxic. Be sure not to get any soaps, waxes, shines, lubricants, detailers, or grime in your eyes, mouth, or open wounds. Wear gloves if you want to keep your hands clean from the chemicals.

Inspecting a Motorcycle Chain and Sprocket

The health of your motorcycle chain and sprocket should be inspected on a regular basis, whether that’s every single ride or once a week. When inspecting the bike, check for these issues that might require new parts or adjustments: 

Chain

  • Loose pins
  • Damaged rollers
  • Dry or rusty links
  • Kinked or binding links
  • Excessive wear
  • Excessive slack

Sprocket

  • Worn teeth
  • Broken or chipped teeth
  • Loose sprocket nuts
A grunge brush is the best and most efficient way to clean a motorcycle chain.
Deposit Photos

A grunge brush for motorcycle chains

Everything You’ll Need To Clean a Motorcycle Chain

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done. 

Tool List

  • Motorcycle lift or stand
  • Motorcycle grunge brush or regular soft-bristled brush
  • Old, but clean, towel, rag, shirt, or sock

Parts List

*Working on your car can be messy and dangerous, especially when you’re working with flammable materials such as kerosene. Please handle with care and respect. It bears repeating that all motorcycle work should be conducted with the bike is off and the engine is completely cooled down.

**There are endless varieties of chain lubricants out there, and everybody has their own personal favorites. To determine what you need, read your motorcycle manual for the suggested type of lubricant and how to apply it.

For any specialty motorcycle equipment and chain maintenance needs, visit our fanatic friends at RevZilla.

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You still won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of hock.

Motorcycle chains require regular cleaning and lubrication.
Deposit Photos

A relatively clean motorcycle chain

Here’s How To Clean a Motorcycle Chain

Let’s do this! 

  1. Wash and dry the motorcycle. (Read The Drive’s guide for How To Wash a Motorcycle)
  2. Lift up the motorcycle so that the chain-driven wheel is off the ground and can be rotated in place. This can easily be accomplished by inserting the stand beneath the wheel.
  3. While rotating the wheel and chain, spray the chain with kerosene or wheel cleaner.
  4. After a moment of soaking, use your brush to scrub the chain and break up grime.
  5. Wipe the dirt and cleaner away with a towel or rag. 
  6. Repeat steps 2-4 until you feel comfortable with the level of cleanliness. 
  7. Wipe chain dry.
  8. For plain metal chains, apply lubricant liberally. For sealed chains apply a small amount of chain lubricant. Be sure to hit the inside of the chain, the outside of the chain, as well as both side portions.
  9. Gently wipe off excess lubricant from the chain and clean the surrounding area of chain lube.  

Great work, you're ready to ride.

Lubricant is key to keeping the motorcycle chain running smoothly and quietly.
Deposit Photos

Spraying a motorcycle chain

Pro Tips to Cleaning a Motorcycle Chain

Over the years, The Drive’s editors have cleaned and lubed our way through dozens of motorcycle chains and other parts. Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way.

  • Never, ever, ever use the throttle as a way to spin the wheel while cleaning. The severe risk isn’t remotely worth any time-saving benefits you think you’re getting. DON’T. 
  • While you’re down there, check the tire tread to kill two birds with one stone.
  • If you lubricate a motorcycle chain, clean it first. If you clean a motorcycle chain, lubricate afterward. Consider the two a pair rather than individual acts.

Get Help With Cleaning Battery Terminals From A Mechanic On JustAnswer

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you.

A dirty motorcycle chain can speed up wear and tear on your bike.
Deposit Photos

A dirty motorcycle chain

How Often Do You Need To Clean a Motorcycle Chain?

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to clean and lubricate a motorcycle chain with O-rings at least every 600 miles, while plain chains require more frequent attention. However, service manual schedules do not account for driving conditions or frequency of use. Riders should inspect their motorcycles every time they ride. If the chain looks nasty or too dry, it’s best to clean it and lubricate it.

How Much Does It Cost To Clean a Motorcycle Chain?

Between the costs of kerosene, chain cleaner, a grunge brush, and chain lube, this job should cost roughly $30-40.

How Long Do Motorcycle Chains Last?

Motorcycle chains can last about 20,000 miles when properly cared for and maintained.

How Much Do Motorcycle Chains Cost?

Depending on the type of motorcycle, a chain will typically cost between $50-200. A kit, which includes a chain and sprockets, will likely cost roughly $150-300.

Featured Motorcycle Chain Products

DuPont Teflon Chain-Saver Dry Self-Cleaning Lubricant

DID X-Ring Chain with Connecting Link

Original Bike Spirits Cleaner and Polish

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com