Waxing a bicycle chain

Updated on .

A bicycle’s chain needs regular maintenance, but the work is typically messy and involves powerful solvents. Chains are sold with factory grease and can be augmented with light machine oil to reduce friction. The oil inevitably attracts dirt and contaminants that stain clothes and make other repairs unpleasant.

Instead of oil, chains can be lubricated with wax that sits between the chain’s rollers. This requires less upkeep and reduces dirt buildup considerably, making the chain much easier to handle. The main drawback is in wet conditions because water can displace the wax. I would not recommend riding a waxed chain in the rain. I followed the advice of Zero Friction Cycling and Silca in preparing chains and applying wax.

Waxing a chain that’s currently using grease or oil is a bit involved. First, the chain must be completely clean of any other lubricants. I try to avoid toxic compounds and found UFO Clean Drivetrain to be the best product to completely clean a new chain. Other options are methylated spirits or turpentine, but those generate more toxic waste. Put the chain into a plastic drink bottle and then add enough of the cleaner to submerge the chain when laying on its side. Shake the bottle and then let it sit for a few minutes. Remove the chain and rinse with water until the water runs clear. Then dry the chain thoroughly using a heat gun or blow dryer. Zero Friction Cycling has a much more detailed PDF on the process that describes how to clean an already-dirty oiled chain.

The next step will melt the wax into the chain’s rollers by immersion. I thought a hot plate and beaker would do the trick, but the smallest Instant Pot on its slow cooker setting delivers the most even heat. I chose Silca Secret Chain Blend Wax because it doesn’t have fluorinated lubricants and gets good reviews.

Once the wax has melted in the pot, fully submerge the chain and jostle it to ensure each link gets a fine coating of the wax. Turn off the heat and allow the wax to cool. The chain should be removed from the wax with as few drips as possible to prevent too much wax from draining out of the chain. Hang the chain to cool completely. And finally, use a dowel to break the outer wax seal on each chain link.

Re-applying the wax at this point just involves brushing off any loose dirt with a rag and then re-immersing the chain.

Some miscellaneous tips: