Rust spots and water stains and...soap.
April 16, 2012 9:34 AM   Subscribe

So I forgot to rinse my bike with water before lubing it. Oops. Would this cause problems?

Yesterday I decided to clean and lube my drivetrain for the first time, hence the newbie mistake.

I followed this guide, using a different chain cleaner and a different degreaser (the degreaser was biodegradable and water based, with "organic solvent and mild alkalis".). So I scrubbed the cassette and crank with degreaser, ran the chain through the cleaner twice with degreaser, ran the chain through a mix of Sunlight dish soap/hot water, wipe everything (reasonably, but not bone-) dry with a rag, lube.

Then I realized hours later I didn't rinse down the drivetrain to get ride of degreaser/soap residue (and it didn't say to in the guide!). Crap. Internet has given conflicting information, as usual - some say dish soap will cause rust, some say it's fine, some say it's imperative to dry with compressed air before lubing, some say rag-dry is fine, and I am confused.

So should I re-clean everything and this time, make sure I rinse before lubing? I acknowledge the reside will probably break down my lube faster, but can I get away with just re-lubing my chain a little more frequently and all is well? Will soap and degreaser residue eat my drivetrain from the inside out?

Ugh. And here I thought this was the easy part of bike maintenance.
posted by Hakaisha to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This strictly the opinion of a layman--I would not worry about the chain--just keep an eye on it and lube as appropriate. If you de-greased the bearings inside the crank I would disassemble and do it properly. Grease on any internal bearings should be clean and free of imperfections. Good Luck
posted by rmhsinc at 9:41 AM on April 16, 2012

I ride 3-5k mi/yr and just use a little Rock n' Roll Gold after most rides. If it was a super muddy cross or mountain ride, I might do it twice and/or run a rag and toothbrush over the chain quickly first to get the bulky crud off.

At least twice a year I'll probably have the whole drivetrain apart to soak it, but that's only preventative and because of mileage.
posted by kcm at 9:42 AM on April 16, 2012

I'm also a layman. I think I'd do another wash and lube if I was using expensive components that I payed a lot of money for, if not only out of paranoia. But in general I don't think a bit of soap will cause any problems. In any case, a cursory wash/rinse with water and a rag wouldn't take very long and you would be sure to get whatever soap residue is left.

I have only rag-dried the chain before lubing (geez not everyone can be expected to have access to compressed air) but you could also just leave it to dry for an hour before you apply the lube-, if you're not in a rush.
posted by beau jackson at 9:51 AM on April 16, 2012

So long as you are sure that none of your magic mix of cleaning fluids got into the cassette, hubs or bottom bracket, you should be fine with just re-lubing until the next time you get around to do a proper cleaning.
posted by wutangclan at 9:59 AM on April 16, 2012

The real problem is that soaps are emulsifiers---they stabilize water/oil mixtures. You can get oil/water mixtures trapped on the chain, which will cause minor rusting, but the big problem will happen next time the chain gets wet.

Soap residue on the chain will make it easier to wash your chain clean next time you go through a puddle or bike in the rain. An unlubricated chain wears quickly. Rust is a problem, sure, but friction is the death of most chains.

The way I usually clean chains is to run water rinses in the cleaner a few times to wash out the soap. My rule is no visible bubbles in the rinse water (bubbles = soap), then once more to be sure. I air dry for an hour or so and reoil. You can dewater with something like WD40 if you like, which really speeds up drying, but I prefer to not use aerosols if I can.

I'd rinse it a couple of times and reoil, personally, but be sure to reoil at least next time it rains.
posted by bonehead at 10:00 AM on April 16, 2012

If the chain squeaks after your treatment, lube it. If not, don't worry about it. The degreaser residue won't do any harm. FWIW, I think bicyclists have a tendency to be unnecessarily anal about chain lubrication. Cleaning and lube regimens seem to turn into a rabbit hole of folklore and quasi religious fervor. Chains are consumable items. Keel them oiled, replace often, once a year or every 1k-2k miles. And just ride.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:05 AM on April 16, 2012

Response by poster: I'll also step in to mention that I'm a recreational rider and I ride strictly in good weather only. Might (might) ride in cloudy weather, but nowhere near weather that has chance of rain or puddles. The bike is also stored inside. Not sure if this affects answers.

...I think (I am not a bike expert by any means) none of the cleaning stuff got into where it's not supposed to. I followed that guide pretty much exactly (plus a little bit of flossing with rag damped with degreaser in the nooks and crannies beside the crank), so the only possibility is a bit of degreaser dripping down through the rear cassette....into the hub? I don't even know what that's called. I thought the hub was the "sideways portion on the axle of the wheel."

Okay, stopping my threadsitting now. (And by the way, this is as much a proper cleaning as I know how to do...I don't have the tools or knowledge to dissemble/reassemble a bike for proper cleaning. Anything more complicated than this goes to the shop.)
posted by Hakaisha at 10:17 AM on April 16, 2012

Sheldon Brown would heat a chain in a pot of paraffin wax. Unless you are a dedicated cyclist doing hundreds of miles a week, this seems really overkill for a relatively inexpensive item that is meant to be replaced anyway. You want to keep the chain clean and rust free to keep from grinding down the crankset and rear cassette, shortening their life unnecessarily, because that's the expensive repair.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 AM on April 16, 2012

Hey! Thanks for taking the time to show your bike a little love!

My shop carries about ten different types of oil for a chain, and people ask me which one they should use. There are types that are better for wet conditions and types that are better for dry conditions, but I always tell them the same thing: "Well when we work on bikes we use brand X here, but honestly, as long as you keep your chain clean and lubed, it really doesn't matter." You could use olive oil for all I care.

Depending on how much love a chain needs when I'm working on a bike, I do something like the following:

You My Boo, Chain: Take a clean rag and squeeze the top/bottom of the chain (I like to pinch the chain and kinda "twist" it, so my fingers sorta act like a derailleur). Spin the pedals backwards for about 5 seconds. Now move to a clean section of the rag and grab the sides of the chain. Pedal backwards for 5 seconds. Repeat this until there's very little grime coming off the chain. Now apply one drop of lube to each roller (I like to apply it to the inside of the bottom part of the chain, if that makes sense, because I tell myself that gravity is pulling the lube into the roller). Probably doesn't matter. Once every roller has lube, spin the chain backwards for 30 seconds, then lightly wipe off excess lube by running the chain through another clean part of the rag. You're not degreasing here, just getting the excess off. Go ride.

My Dearest Chain, How I Adore You: Basically the same as above, but after the chain is clean I repeat the process with a degreaser applied to the rag. Then I use a dry rag, and then I lube. Basically I'm just getting the chain cleaner here. Go ride.

I'm About To Get All Barry White Up On This Chain: This is overkill, but damn if I don't love this method. I remove the chain and drop it into a 1-liter Nalgene bottle. I fill it 75% full with a 50/50 mixture of degreaser and water. Then I shake the bejesus out of it for about 2-3 minutes. Drain the water/degreaser and fill about 75% full with plain water, and shake the bejesus out of it for about 3 minutes. Drain that water, fill 75% full with fresh water again, and shake for a minute or so. Keep draining, filling, and shaking until the water you pour out is clean and gunk free. Now I lay the chain out on the shop's work bench and I hit it with compressed air, slowly blowing the water out of every link's roller. If I'm at home, I do this step with a hair dryer (the chain gets really hot, so let it cool before the next step). Then I put the chain back on the bike, lube every link as before, and then wipe off the excess lube. Go ride.

Don't beanplate the chain. If you're worried, just wipe it down, re-lube, and then wipe off the excess.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:33 AM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Was being slightly sarcastic about olive oil. It would work, but really, a small bottle of lube will last you a couple of seasons easily. We always reach for ProLink, unless a customer specifically requests that we use something else.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:35 AM on April 16, 2012

I've actually analyzed a bunch of chain oils and, save the crazy things the like lithium pastes, they're all more or less the same bunch of hydrocarbons. The additives make a bit of difference, but don't really affect lubricity that much. The only caveat I've found to stay with that balance of heavy enough to lube, light enough to not form a sticky coating, which holds grit on the chain. Almost any "bike oil" product will do that, but so will lots of light machine oils, even the lighter grades of engine oil.

The problem with olive oil is that it breaks down and gets sticky. Fresh, it's a decent lube, but when it goes rancid, it's a problem. There are biolubes which are just fine, but they've been treated and have additives to stop oxidation.
posted by bonehead at 10:54 AM on April 16, 2012

bonehead, have you ever taken a look at the grease that comes on factory-fresh chains to find out what makes it so godly and smooth? Or is it all a Sheldon Brown-induced placebo effect?
posted by invitapriore at 11:26 AM on April 16, 2012

No, I haven't. According to Mr. Brown though, it's waxy and applied hot, probably like melted paraffin.
posted by bonehead at 11:59 AM on April 16, 2012

I've spend a little time over the past few years learning to work with machine tools - mostly metal lathe stuff. The take home message from my reading on that is that for general lubrication of machine parts, whether it's the carriage which moves along the ways at a whopping three inches per minute, or the main spindle going at a couple hundred RPM comes in three flavors:

1) You need something specially formulated from a host of special ingredients including unicorn ear way (and we're just the people to sell it to you)!
2) Just slather some 30-weight non-detergent motor oil on it and you'll be good to go.
3)Actually, there's no reason not to use detergent oil.

Given that a bike chain kind of experiences the same stresses and machine tools (high torque, low speed, grid (from the pavement rather than metal filings) I don't think you have much to worry about. If you see some light surface rust forming, just put more lube on the chain. The action of the chain doing it's thing will polish things up soon enough.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:02 PM on April 16, 2012

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