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WD-40 can be used on a bike chain – but it will not offer the complete maintenance programme for one of the most essential pieces of equipment needed for the bicycle.
Twenty years ago, most hobby cyclists or infrequent commuters would think nothing of applying WD-40 to their chains. They would probably have seen it as an all-purpose oil or lubricant.
There was little competition for WD-40. In the UK, you could probably pick up some 3-in-1 oil in the metal can with a red spout. The can made a funny kerplunk noise when you depressed the walls.
The cycling maintenance industry has exploded in this time and now the chain routine involves, degreasing, bathing, wiping, drying, lubricating, and more wiping. This process should really take place once a week for the most efficient chain.
However, WD-40 does have and can play a part in the longer chain maintenance process above. Just don’t tell the purists, or those who apply electric shock treatment to their chains, or buy gold chains.
What is WD-40 Used For?
Water Displacement, 40th formula – WD40 to you and me, ironically causes more friction amongst chain aficionados than any other product. Many would not have it anywhere near their bike’s drivetrain. Some say it’s a solvent, some say it’s a lubricant. It’s cheap, versatile, and likely to be found in any toolbox or under any sink.
In terms of understanding what it can do, there’s nothing better than reading the reviews. Here are some examples, including use on a bike chain: squeaky doors, oils up car parts, unseizes door locks, rubbing out scratches on stainless steel plate, keeps blades smooth and unsticking windows.
One key benefit of WD-40 is that it loosens rusty parts. As well as a chain, on a bike this could be the nut and bolt for the front brakes, located behind the forks in a hard to reach place which attracts grime and a lot of water.
Another reason for using WD-40 is that it can clean and protect items from corrosion. This will be useful for a chain and alternatively there would be no harm in applying some to the other exposed metal parts of the bike. A rub on the cable ends underneath brake hoods, or springs inside derailleurs would not go amiss.
We would not recommend spraying these areas due to the amount that would be used. WD-40 is tacky to the surface it bonds to after use and could collect dust and grit. Better to wipe everything down so that the thinnest coat only is on any surface.
A third choice for WD-40 is that it penetrates those stuck components which allows you to free them. It can easily get into the chain links and free them up for movement or could be used on the bolts which hold your bike wheels to the frame. These can seize quite easily as you don’t need to replace or take the wheels off that frequently.
Is WD-40 a Degreaser or Lubricant?
The go-to multi-use WD-40 can which is in every home toolbox or shed is described as offering protection and lubrication. It doesn’t mention degreasing. It can prevent mud and grime from metal products if delivered in a thin enough sheen. The fact that WD-40 offers its own bicycle degreaser away from the traditional multi-use WD-40 should influence the question.
Can WD-40 Be Used to Oil a Bike Chain?
WD-40 can be used to lubricate a bike chain. The word oil is infrequently used. The thinnest of coats would need to be applied because it can attract grit. WD-40 can be said by aficionados to be too thin and drippy to be an adequate medium term solution to keeping a chain lubricated.
How to Lube a Bike Chain
After drying, you will want to lubricate the chain. You can lubricate using an all-weather product, although some prefer a slightly thicker oil in the summer. A small bottle will last months for the average rider and they retail from as little as £3/$3.50.
Most lubrication is dispensed a drop at a time via a thin spout attached to the bottle. Again, rotate the crank arm backwards before you begin application. The best method allows one drop of lubrication per pin. There is no need to lubricate the entire link, it is unnecessary and wasteful.
If you don’t have time to dab each pin, you can rotate the crank slowly and drop the lubrication onto the chain. Just make sure you keep an eye on where you started and be sure to wipe off any excess. The thinner the lubricant, the more likely it is to drip off the chain.
You may wish to put down some cloth below the chain from the cranks to the back of the rear cassette to avoid lubricant coming into contact with the floor. If you use paper towels or newspapers here, you risk the drips seeping through and making contact with the floor.
Finally take a clean, lint-free cloth and wipe off any excess lubricant.
How Do You Clean a Bike Chain with WD-40?
The key to using WD-40 on a bike chain is to ensure it is as free of as much grime and grit as possible before you apply WD-40.
Remove the wheels
If you can remove your wheels at this point, then you should. Especially the rear wheel. If you can avoid contaminating other parts of your bike with specialist cleaning products intended for the chain then your bike will thank you for it by having a longer life.
Pre-clean the chain
If you’ve removed the wheels, you’ll still need to rotate the cranks. You can do this without the wheels but a cheap ‘dummy-hub’ will allow for smoother rotation. You can apply degreaser if you want to, some apply a hybrid of dishwashing liquid and degreaser to save a few pennies. You just want to remove as much of the grit and smaller particles as possible. The reason for this is that the WD40 will inevitably attract some bits of muck and road-dirt to it when you ride.
Cleaning the chain
We cannot emphasise enough that less is best in this situation. Drowning your chain in WD40 with a constant spray is both unnecessary, wasteful and time-consuming. We would recommend a short burst, perhaps like a graffiti artist and not going back over the same area. We would definitely recommend using the small red wand that attaches to the nozzle of the spray button for more accuracy. Keep a dry, lint-free cloth close by and immediately wipe off the residue.