Chain Maintenance for Clean Freaks

Greasy chains can be a real annoyance for bike commuters who ride in business attire. Sure, it’s simple enough to use a cuff strap or tuck a pant leg into a sock, but if you’re a numbskull like me, you still eventually manage to get grease on the cuff of every pair of khakis in your closet. Full chain cases are the obvious solution, but not everyone wants a chain case. Another approach is a belt drive, but again, we’re talking a specialized bicycle. What many people may not realize is that a perfectly clean running chain lube has been available all along.

Chain Waxing
Wax makes an excellent chain lube. It runs extremely clean and it seems to be good for chains. Chain waxing is nothing new (here’s an old article by Grant Petersen on chain waxing from 1992). I’ve waxed my chains on-and-off going all the way back to the 1980’s. There are those who claim a waxed chain will not last as long as a chain lubricated with modern synthetic oils (probably the manufacturers of those products), but anecdotal evidence seems to support the contrary. Personally, I’ve put what I’m guessing to be 10,000 miles on a waxed chain, and I’ve seen claims of up to 15,000 miles. Whatever the numbers, it seems waxing is sufficiently effective to assuage any concerns about bicycle chain life. The obvious downside to chain waxing is that it’s a bit of a process, so if your chain maintenace method consists of dribbling a little oil on your chain every few weeks and calling it good, the waxing process may may be too much and you can stop right here. But, if you’ve had it with greasy chains and you’re interested in an alternative, read on!

First you’ll need a 1lb. block of paraffin, available at most grocery stores as “canning wax“, or at craft stores as “premium candle wax” (not to be confused with bee’s wax). You’ll also need either two pots to use as a double boiler, a real double-boiler, or an old crock pot. It’s also nice to have an old spoke or a wire coat hanger handy for fishing the chain out of the hot wax when the time comes.

Here’s the process:

  1. The first time you use the hot wax method you’ll want to sanitize your drivetrain before starting (you’ll only need to do this once). Remove the chain and strip it using your favorite biodegradable degreaser (my favorite method is to fill an old plastic soda bottle 1/4 of the way with Simple Green, feed the chain in the top, put on the cap, shake like crazy, let it soak for 10 minutes, shake like crazy again, then rinse the chain thoroughly with water). While the chain is drying, scrub your chainrings and rear cogs. Use whatever method you’d like, just make sure everything is squeaky clean and dry or the wax will pick up and absorb the oily gunk that was leftover, defeating the purpose.
  2. Heat the block of wax in your double-boiler or crock pot. [CAUTION: Paraffin is flammable. Attempting to melt paraffin on the stovetop without the use of a double boiler may cause a fire! —ed.] Once the wax is completely melted and is about the consistency of water, turn the heat down a bit and carefully place your chain in the wax. You’ll notice bubbles emanating from the chain; these bubbles are the air that’s being forced out of the inner pockets of the chain by the wax (this is good!). Let the chain stew for about 15 minutes; the wax will adhere better if the chain gets up to about the same temperature as the wax. Once you’re convinced the chain is sufficiently saturated, turn off the heat and wait another 15 minutes for the wax to partially cool and thicken to the consistency of syrup.
  3. Using your old spoke, fish the chain out of the wax and hang it up to drip dry (this is best done outside). If done carefully, you won’t lose a drop of wax and your significant other won’t kill you for dripping paraffin everywhere. Once the chain is hanging, use a clean, coarse rag to wipe the excess wax from the chain.
  4. You can either just leave the remaining wax in the pot to harden for use on another day, or if you’re the frugal type, you can reheat the wax and pour it through cheesecloth into another container to filter out any dirt and grease particles that were picked up during the process. If you choose to forgo the filtering process, you’ll get 4-5 uses out of a batch of wax before you need to replace it.
  5. Reinstall your chain and enjoy the clean, silent ride of wax!

The first time out you’ll notice some wax flecks on your bike and the chain may slip a bit; both will subside as the excess wax flakes off.

Expect to get anywhere from 400-600 miles per wax job, depending upon your local conditions (just like with any lube, the nastier the conditions, the sooner you’ll have to re-apply). Be sure to re-wax your chain as soon as it starts squeaking.

Straight paraffin works well in dry conditions, but you may need to add a little Teflon (PTFE) impregnated oil such as Slick 50 to increase its effectiveness in wet conditions. One or two tablespoons of oil per 1 lb. of wax is plenty. Grant Petersen advocates mixing paraffin with bee’s wax at an 80/20 ratio. Whatever your flavor, adding anything to pure paraffin will increase its stickiness while reducing cleanliness.

Very few people still use this antiquated method to lube their chains, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but if you like the idea of a super-clean, greaseless, yet well-lubed drivetrain, you might give it a try sometime.

Note: A variation on this post was originally published on my old site, The Recumbent Blog, back in 2007.

49 Responses to “Chain Maintenance for Clean Freaks”

  • Scott Wayland says:

    Interesting. I like the clean look of all your chains! So, for subsequent wax jobs, does one need to do the scrub job (Simple Green, whatever) again? This could be a bit of a pain in that regard, especially as I ride recumbents. Talk about miles of chain. Ugh.


  • Alan says:

    Hey Scott,

    Once you get the grease and oil off of the drivetrain you typically don’t need to do the scrub job again; the old wax melts out and carries the dirt with it. As I mentioned, you’ll need to replace the wax after a few times as it will get dirty.

    I used this method on my Tour Easy and Screamer. I have to admit, it’s much easier working with the little chains on the uprights.


  • Logan says:

    I always wondered how your stable was so clean and sparkly! Thanks for sharing a few of your secrets! Off to the store to buy some simple green and paraffin wax! :)

    P.s. Do you have any good chain brands to recommend? It seems this method would get expensive on shimano chains if you have to keep buying replacement pins after each time you break the chain.

  • Logan says:

    Never-mind! I took a closer look at your photo and got my answer to your brand recommendation! :) Thanks!

  • Alan says:

    Hi Logan,

    You called it. With a Powerlink (, removing a SRAM chain is a simple operation.


  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Don’t feel bad, I’ve even managed to get chain grease on the hem of my knee-length khaki skirt. I think it’s the khaki colour that attracts it.

    I have never heard of chain waxing; thanks for the info!

  • EdL says:

    Really interesting article. Bookmarking to try this at some point when I am feeling ambitious.

  • alan says:

    Beg to differ. Used to wax my chain as described, with canned wax for chains. PITA, in my opinion. I only clean and re-oil chain every 500 miles, use simple green as a cleaner, and Triflow or Prolink as a lube. With the use of quick links the process is easy and fast, with the caveat the you need to let the chain dry thoroughly after cleaning before oiling. To rewax every 500 miles is such a pain, with so little, if any, benefit, that it causes me to wonder why I ever did it. Additionally, one only needs to wipe off the excess oil immediately after installation and again after the first ride to minimize dirt build up. But you’ll be riding for many miles with that waxed up chain before it begins to shift smoothly!

  • Alan says:


    I guess I don’t understand what you’re saying. You said, “I only clean and re-oil chain every 500 miles, use simple green as a cleaner, and Triflow or Prolink as a lube.” Then, “To rewax every 500 miles is such a pain, with so little, if any, benefit, that it causes me to wonder why I ever did it.” Since you were doing both methods at 500 miles, are you saying placing a chain in a bath of hot wax is more labor intensive than removing a chain, cleaning with Simple Green, then re-lubing? If so, I haven’t found this to be the case myself. Also, there are the chainrings and cassette to consider. When I use oil-based lubes, I find they pick up quite a lot of gunk and require cleaning along with the chain, but not so with wax (this may be the biggest benefit of wax IMO).


  • David says:

    I used to wax my chains but found that they got squeaky in the wet very quickly and I never got much life out of them. I switched over to White Lightning and found that it had all the benefits of waxing with none of the drawbacks. It’s basically a wax dissolved in a volatile solvent. It goes on quickly and feels like paraffin once dry but stands up to the wet much, much better. if you wipe off the exterior of the chain after application, it stays just as shiny as paraffin treatment. When re-aplying, the solvent dissolves the dirty wax inside the chain and carries it out.

  • Alan says:


    Curious, did you try using a teflon additive as mentioned above for wet climates, or just straight paraffin? When I lived in the Northwest I added Slick 50 which made a big difference. Here in NorCal, I so infrequently ride in the rain, straight paraffin works fine.

    I tried White Lightning, but found I ended up needing to clean my chain as frequently as when I used oil-based lubes, so I went back to the hot wax method (which doesn’t require the cleaning step after the initial set-up).

    Like so many things, the effectiveness of any one maintenance method will vary depending upon the conditions in which one rides, the time between maintenance sessions, etc.


  • Bob says:

    I’ve used hot wax baths in the past on my chains and they do work great, but now I use White Lightening. It does not work quite as well as a hot wax bath, but it gives much of the benefit of the bath with the ease of application of oil lubes.

  • Larey says:

    Add me to the list of chain waxers. I typically wipe my chains off while they are still warm so I don’t get as much wax buildup on my cassette, rings, and adjacent stays (re wax every 150-200 miles).The process is so simple that waxing every 2-3 weeks is just no big deal. I have a cheap roasting pan in my garage to melt the paraffin which saves the drips I would always get using a double-boiler in my kitchen. The pan is also a great shape for immersing the chain.

    Chain-off, Chain-on is super easy with Wipperman Connex chains.

    My newest bike has a Sram 10-spd chain and Sram says to never break the Powerlock link and simpy clean the chain on the bike. So I use Prolink for lube, do a wipe down after every ride, and de-grease/grit every 200-300 miles using the Parktool chain scrubber. I’m torn between keeping the bike all-Sram or mounting a Wipperman chain and do routine waxing.

  • Doug R. says:

    Ok folks, why all the trouble, just use a chain guard and Forgetta’ bout all the fuss! I use triflow and cleaning when the chain is looking scruffy or dry. Sheeesh!

  • Alan says:

    @Doug R.

    OK, what some folks seem to be missing here is that after the initial cleaning, waxing is EASIER than cleaning and lubing using oil-based products (plus it’s eco-friendly). Sheeesh yourself, Doug! … :-)


  • Iain says:

    @Logan & Alan
    With careful use of a chain tool a normal link can be pushed out and re-used a number of times.

  • Doug R. says:

    Hey Alan, yeah I get the eco friendly part, but really, most folks just need to do a little weekly inspection of their ride and fix accordingly. On a side note, Andy and Nico F. came out for my Rat’s Raku and we had a great time! If you can, come by sometime and step out of the pedal zone into the clay zone and have some fun! : )

  • Alan says:


    The cool thing is that you don’t need to do the weekly or bi-weekly lube-and-wipe with wax. Spend half-an-hour once every 400-500 miles then forget about it. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

    I’ll take you up on the Raku offer one of these times. We had too many work and family obligations to make it this weekend.


  • Stephen D. says:

    Here’s a way to simplify the process:

    I used this method, but with a variation.

    Buy a disposable pie-pan or other small aluminum pan at your local grocery store. Put the block of paraffin in the pan, put the pan in the toaster oven set to somewhere around 300 degrees, and when it’s melted, drop in the chain and “bake” for 15 minutes or so. After that, remove the chain from the hot bath, let dry. Leave the paraffin in the pan, let cool down and turn solid, and put away to use the next time.

    I used this method religiously on my 1985 Trek 720 touring bike.

    Forward to 2010 –
    The last time I used hot was on my 10-speed indexed SRAM drivetrain, it was noisier and shifted poorer than when I used Dumonde Tech lube. Did I not give it a chance to “break in?” I’d love to get a quiet chain, and I’m a clean-freak, but last go-around the results were not as good as with a liquid lube.

    Any comments or suggestions greatly appreciated.

  • Bob B says:

    Hi Alan, In theory, waxing sounds great — though I’ve never done it — and probably won’t.
    The single best thing I’ve done to keep my chains (and pants) clean is to have a tough chain guard on my rain bike. A Dutch style chain case has to be the end all. ProLink works well for me in the PNW. Black is a great color for all-weather bikes . . . and chains.

  • Alan says:

    @Stephen D.

    On the toaster oven idea – that sounds like a fire hazard to me. I’m glad you haven’t had any problems, but I have to recommend a double boiler or crock pot.

    I’m using your same method, only with a different heat source. In other words, the wax is left to harden in the same pan when not being used, but instead of putting it in a toaster oven, I simply set the pan in a pot of boiling water to melt it.

    Regarding Dumonde Tech; it is certainly a quiet lube, as are other sticky oils such as Phil’s Tenacious, but they sure pick up a lot of dirt, some of which mixes with the oil to create a sort of grinding compound. I’ve found with these clingy oils I have to strip the drivetrain and start anew more frequently than with wax or lighter lubes such as ProLink (if you’re finding Dumonde to be grimy like I did, you might consider ProLink as an alternative – it runs much cleaner).


  • Alan says:


    “A Dutch style chain case has to be the end all.”

    Until you get a flat. :-)

    Certainly an open chain guard solves the issue, though I haven’t seen a good one for use with a triple up front (the SKS is not that exciting). Have you seen any nicer ones for triples?

    What’s being missed here is that waxing is actually easier and requires less work than maintaining an oil-lubed drivetrain once you’re set-up. The initial stripping is a pain, but it only happens once. After that, the hot wax cleans the chain for you and the cogs and chainrings remain clean semi-permanently. On the other hand, if a person is properly maintaining an oil-lubed drivetrain, they should be stripping it at least once every 1000 miles if not much more frequently.

    But, for a person like yourself who lives in a rain forest, perhaps it’s a losing battle and doing the ol’ squirt-some-lube-on-once-a-week method is the best bet… :-)


  • alan says:

    re Alan: Yes, I’m saying that I can take off my SRAM chain, one quick wipe with an alcohol soaked rag, wipe off rings and cassette thoroughly, wash chain in water and simple green, lay out on newspaper when dry and oil and reinstall MUCH faster and with less mess than dipping the thing in hot wax. Again the caveat it the dry time – outside on a warm breezy day is less than an hour – and the oil time, which is usually less than an hour. But I’m doing those things while I’m doing s.t. else. Waxing – and again, I’m speaking from my experience – is a messy pain. Further, I seriously question the lubrication value. Does it attract less dirt? Well, yes of course. But dirt attraction is only a problem on road bikes if one allows too much surface oil to remain on the chain. Hence wiping off after installation, and after an initial ride. I seriously question the ability of wax: a. to lubricate anything effectively inside the roller of the chain where it really matters and b. to allow the roller to turn on the pin like it is supposed to. If you ever saw what the parrafin based oils did to an engine back in the 60’s itwould only reinforce this.

  • Bob B says:

    I think the key to a good chain guard is no front derailleur, so I make due with rear derailleur gears only. RIght about changing a tire with a chain case (& IGH). I try to use sufficiently protected tires as flats are hassle here in the rain forest ; – ) And the chain usually comes off once — when it is replaced.

  • Alan says:


    It seems we’ve had quite different experiences when it comes to the process of waxing, which is totally fine. To each his own, horses for courses, etc…. :-)

    Regarding how lube interacts with a bicycle chain, this is an interesting study that was conducted at John Hopkins:

    Here’s a quote from the above study:

    “The Johns Hopkins engineers made another interesting discovery when they looked at the role of lubricants. The team purchased three popular products used to “grease” a bicycle chain: a wax-based lubricant, a synthetic oil and a “dry” lithium-based spray lubricant. In lab tests comparing the three products, there was no significant difference in energy efficiency. “Then we removed any lubricant from the chain and ran the test again,” Spicer recalls. “We were surprised to find that the efficiency was essentially the same as when it was lubricated.”

    The researcher speculates that a bicycle lubricant does not play a critical role under clean lab conditions, using a brand new chain. But it may contribute to energy efficiency in the rugged outdoors. “The role of the lubricant, as far as we can tell, is to take up space so that dirt doesn’t get into the chain,” Spicer says. “The lubricant is essentially a clean substance that fills up the spaces so that dirt doesn’t get into the critical portions of the chain where the parts are very tightly meshed. But in lab conditions, where there is no dirt, it makes no difference. On the road, we believe the lubricant mostly assumes the role of keeping out dirt, which could very well affect friction in the drive train.”

    I’ve always wondered why waxed chains seem to last as long as they do since wax does not lubricate as well as oil. I suspect it may be because wax, being a solid, keeps grit out of the internal workings of the chain more effectively than oil which can grab abrasive particles and deliver them to the inside of the chain. This may explain the anecdotal evidence linking chain waxing with extended chain life.


  • Alan says:

    @Bob B

    I’m getting off-topic a little here, but I have a couple of quick questions, if you don’t mind:

    Approximately how many miles are you getting out of your chains?

    Do you replace your cassette and chainrings each time you replace the chain?

    I’m curious about how the differing weather conditions in which we ride affect drivetrain longevity (you in the rain forest, me in a semi-arid valley).


  • alan says:

    re Alan,
    Well you are right, and I agree, to each his own. I no more look askew at someone for what they drive ( I work as a tech in a new car dealership) than I do for how they lube their chain or what brand bike they ride. It’s theirs, they have to be happy with it and get good service and functionality out of it. Just passing on my experience, and why I gave up waxing. As to the JH study, it is, in my opinion worthless, like a lot of academic studies, simply because it takes place in the lab. Who rides in a dirtless environment? Let them try their ‘don’t need any lube if their isn’t any dirt’ theory in an new, clean engine. Won’t last long enough for any hydrocarbons to ‘dirty” it up! And if the rollers did not need to “roll” (which is not the same as say, “spinning”) then why doesn’t a chain manufacturer just make a solid piece? Probably because their would be too much friction and wear on the rings and cassette. Additionally, I wonder how much wax actually melts down in between the roller and the pin. I don’t use dry lubes either, not that they don’t have their place perhaps, because they simply do not seem to last.

  • Doug R. says:

    Well old friend, I have a thought on simplifying the waxing deal. I own a bunch of motorcycles and I use various chain lubes. One of them is P.J.-1 chain WAX. It is an aerosol wax lube. I use it once in a while, and boy is this stuff thick and waxy! I don’t like the mess it makes on my bike so I reverted back to petroleum based chain lubes. You might give it a go, and see if you don’t have to boil the chain in wax? I still like the simple green and triflow routine best.

  • Gee says:

    Dammit! I read this article yesterday. Today, on my way to work, I managed to get oil on my khakis even though I use pant clips… You put a curse on me ;) I’m to lazy for the waxing thing though so I guess I’ll just have to wait until I can get a bike with a belt drive.

  • Brian Liddell says:

    Here’s an interesting alternative: Scottoiler, a water-based lubrication system that you squirt onto your chain through a tube fed from a frame mounted reservoir. Claims to clean and lubricate as you ride.

    I’ve never used it, but here is a very enthusiastic review by someone who has:

    Best wishes, Brian

  • Alan says:


    I remember PJ’s from my motorcycling days – terrible, sticky stuff! :-)

    There are a number of dribble-on wax products for bicycles, the most famous being White Lightning. These run pretty clean, but they typically have to be re-applied quite often. I suppose it comes down to whether a person would rather do more ongoing, but simple maintenance, or do a slightly more involved process less frequently. And if you’re not a clean freak, the whole thing is moot (hence the title “…for Clean Freaks”). As always, horses for courses.


  • bongobike says:

    Alan wrote:

    “Certainly an open chain guard solves the issue, though I haven’t seen a good one for use with a triple up front (the SKS is not that exciting). Have you seen any nicer ones for triples?”

    I am assuming you’re talking about the SKS Chainboard. I have been considering buying one. Have you used it? What don’t you like about it.

  • Alan says:


    I haven’t used the Chainboard, but I’ve only heard lukewarm reports. One person mentioned compatibility issues with a triple derailleur. If you end up with one, I’d be very curious to get your feedback.


  • David says:

    Alan, I never added anything to my paraffin, I just used it straight. Once I switched to the White Litening treatment, I never went back to the paraffin to tinker and I found that even in rainy Seattle, I could go ~3 months between re-applications.

  • Tim S.B. says:

    I have two to toddlers at home who love to play with my bike by spinning the cranks and pedals, and in spite of my teachings they occasionally grab hold of the chain and get oil on their hands. This is another reason that a non-toxic waxed based lube would be beneficial, so I will consider this on my next cleaning.

    That being said, when I got my new bike I immediately installed SKS fenders and mounted a homemade mudflap to the front fender, and this has seemed to keep my drivetrain and bottom bracket shell much cleaner than my other fenderless mudflapless bikes.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    I clean/lube the chains on my bikes probably once every 30 days of riding (depending on the bike and conditions). With the exception of riding on wet gravel, I know that I don’t spend 30 minutes for the proces of relubing the chain and cleaning the cassette on any of my bikes. With that in mind, I’m not as concerned as others about my chain leaving a mark on me, as I don’t commute in dress clothes as you mentioned in your article. I’d consider giving this a shot on a bike that’s a lower miles, commute only bike, but none of my bikes really fit that description right now.

  • Speedlinking 4 June 2010 :: Treadly and Me says:

    […] Chain Maintenance for Clean Freaks: […]

  • The-Milkman says:


    Thanks for posting this “old” waxing method, it was new to me! I tried this out for the first time today on my Rans Xstream which has a chain length of approximately 1/4 mile. I was absolutely shocked how quiet (could barely hear it) it was when I took it out for a ride. Additionally the shifting was smooth. Very nice to be able grab the chain without the mess….thanks for posting!

  • Ben says:

    Just wondering if the direction/orientation has to be the same as originally when reinstalling the chain after a clean?

  • Captain Spalding says:

    I’ve always hated the mess of oil based lubes, and for many years I waxed my chain using the hot wax dip method. I found the drivetrain to be stiff for a few weeks afterwards. One caveat for those considering the hot wax method. Once you put your chain into the hot wax, you must leave it there long enough for the temperature of the chain to reach the temperature of the wax. If you just give the chain a momentary dunk, the relatively cooler chain will harden the wax and it won’t wick into all the crannies.

    With the advent of wax-based lubes like White Lightning or Boeshield T-9, hot wax dipping is outmoded, IMHO.

  • David osullivan says:

    I know this is an old post but am curious to try this. What happens when it rains? Do you just rewax as normal or do you need to degreese etc first? I use white lightning at the moment and it is great in the dry but I find it gets too messy in the wet. I tend to switch to prolink if I know it’s going to rain all week but then you need to degrease again etc before switching back to white lightning. I have brought a block of paraffin but haven’t made the switch yet!

  • Alan says:


    Just re-wax as normal. If you ride in the rain frequently, try adding some Slick 50 (or equivalent) as mentioned in the the OP. Optionally, a small amount of beeswax will help the paraffin cling to the chain.

    I hope that helps!

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  • Rudy Van says:

    Hot waxing chains since the early 1970s . . .
    So far have cycled over 300,000 miles, including 230,000 on tandems with my spouse/stoker.
    On a couple occasions have tried to use other lube methods, but hot wax wins every time.
    We get minimum of 6,000 miles off our drive chains, and easily double that on crossover chains on tandem (no derailling wear).We do live in a rather dtry climate in AZ, but did use it also when we lived in wetter MI.
    Am a bit of a clean freak so I do give chains/drivetrain an occasional wipe down with a rag.
    When we get the slightest ‘squeak’ from chain it’s then time to re-wax.
    Keep it simple, keep it clean!
    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

  • Bob German says:

    I have decided to try your suggested chain waxing method on a new recumbent chain for my Giro 26. Do you suggest throughly cleaning off/out the chain manufacturer’s lubricant from a NEW chain before waxing? I have read pros and cons to leaving this lube in the rollers.
    I enjoy Ecovelo and read it daily. Thanks for all the work you do on it.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Bob,

    Yes, if you’re going to wax the chain, you need to remove any existing lube, whether it be the factory lube or an aftermarket product. Leaving the factory lube on the chain will create quite a mess when it combines with the wax. If you’d like to take advantage of the factory lube, you could run your chain as is, then strip it when it needs its first maintenance.


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