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Hedge-blog: which are the best chain cleaner kits?

LifeLine chain cleaning kit

I've always cleaned my bike chain with concentrated bike cleaner (degreaser) and a brush, without using a specialist chain cleaner kit. I wondered whether I should use a chain cleaner kit (including a chain cleaning device), which might not set me back much more than £15 or £20, and could make my life easier. I decided to look into what chain cleaner kits are available, how much they are, and what people think of them.

Bike chain cleaner kits: why clean your chain?

First, why clean your chain at all? It's a good idea to keep the whole drive train (the chain, the chainrings, the cogs of the rear cassette, plus the derailleur jockey wheels) clean, because it will make gear shifting easier, and increase the life of your chain, derailleur, and cogs. Cleaning your bike chain is even one of CyclingWeekly's 38 ways to go faster!

Bike chain cleaner kits: how to clean your chain

A simple clean

This rei.com tutorial and embedded video suggests just using degreaser and a rag as the easiest way of cleaning the chain. You can use a brush to get the muck out from inside the chain links, and from between the cogs of the cassette, and employ a flat-head screwdriver if the dirt in between the cogs is hard to remove. The cleaner I use says it has to be washed off with water before the chain can be lubricated again.

Using a chain cleaning device

Juice Lubes Dirty Little Scrubber

Using a chain cleaning device is perhaps the next step up, in terms of being thorough - or at least it should make the same job easier. The principle is that you clip the plastic shell of the chain cleaning device around the chain. Inside the device is bike cleaner fluid, and brushes which move as you back pedal the chain through the device, cleaning between the links of the chain. This should give the chain a good clean.

Many people love their chain cleaning devices. The main grumbles are that the brushes jam rather than turning smoothly (if the device isn't a good fit for the chain), that cleaner fluid leaks out, and that the plastic shell and handle of some devices is flimsy. In general, they are easier to use if you have a bike stand.

A chain bath

The most thorough approach to cleaning a chain is to take it off, and put it in a chain bath (of bike cleaner). This may be necessary every now and then, especially for mountain bikes. 

Warning: if you don't follow the correct procedure for breaking and reconnecting your chain, you can weaken it, and make it more likely to snap. For example, Shimano have special pins for reconnecting their chains. If you're going to use this method regularly, it may be worth replacing one chain link with a 'missing link' - a special link which makes it easy to split the chain without using a link remover. A missing link is normally strong, and won't be a weak point where the chain is likely to snap.

KMC chain link

Bike chain cleaner kits: chain cleaning and lube-ing video

One of Bike Radar's excellent bike maintenance videos, How to Clean and Lube a Bike Chain, shows a chain cleaning device in action:

It is worth mentioning that in the video, once they've cleaned the chain, they lube it, putting the chain lube on the top of the chain. In the comments under the video, Ryanthemagicalwizard points out that 'he lubed the wrong side of the chain, it's more important to lube the side that hits the sprockets and cogs.'

Bike chain cleaner kits

LifeLine Essential Bike and Chain Cleaning Kit (£20)

LifeLine chain cleaning kit

This chain cleaning kit from Wiggle includes a chain cleaning device and five different brushes. It gets an average 4 stars out of 5, or 84% would recommend it, from 513 different reviews.

A mountain biker from Berkshire wrote, 'It does an excellent job of cleaning the chain. The casing is plastic, as is the handle, so you'll understand why some people might say it's flimsy, but the internal cogs and brushes are top quality, there is no need to use the handle, and the casing will stand up to everything short of serious abuse.'

Juice Lubes Dirty Little Scrubber

If you don't want the brushes as well, Wiggle do a stand-alone chain cleaning device, Juice Lubes The Dirty Little Scrubber Chain Cleaning Tool. It's £11.69 at the time of writing, and gets mixed reviews, with 76% recommending it.

Park Tools Cyclone Chain Scrubber (£14.99 at Chain Reaction Cycles at the time of writing - reduced from £27.99)

Park Tool cyclone chain scrubber

This is sold as a stand-alone chain cleaning device, and it has a decent handle on it. It gets 4.4 stars out of 5, from 141 reviews. 

A positive comment from a reviewer in Scunthorpe says, 'This product is perfect for its intended use. More durable than other competitors who try to copy this design. They have corrected the old faults of the older design, which I also had.' Some other reviews say that the plastic is a little flimsy.

Halfords Bikehut chain cleaner kit (£14.99 at the time of writing - reduced from £17.99)

This kit includes the chain cleaning device and 75ml of degreaser fluid. There are 44 reviews, with an average score of 3.6 out of 5. Opinions vary a great deal. This is an example of a positive review:

'I usually clean my chain by hand but thought I'd try this, what a quick device! My chain was spotless after just a few minutes and I only used about 15ml of the 75ml bottle provided. Easy to do. Recommended.' 5*.

Pete from Bristol liked the product, but said a down side is that it doesn't have a handle like other cleaners, so you have to hold the whole unit. Some of the more critical reviews say that it is poorly constructed with fragile plastic, it falls off the chain too easily, and the reservoir leaks.

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