How to Clean Bike Chain without Degreaser? 5+ Alternatives

How to Clean Bike Chain without Degreaser? 5+ Alternatives

I know how important it is to keep your bike chain properly cleaned and lubricated.

A dirty, gunked up chain not only looks gross, but it can seriously impact your bike’s performance.

However, not everyone has access to special bike degreasers or the time for an intensive cleaning process.

So in this article, I’ll share some of my best tips for getting your chain squeaky clean without relying on harsh chemical degreasers.

These are simple, homemade solutions that get the job done using common household ingredients.

If you want to save money and avoid nasty fumes, then read on for the best degreaser alternatives out there!

How to Clean Bike Chain without Degreaser?

When it comes to cleaning a bike chain, a degreaser is the most efficient option since it strips away built-up grime and lubricant quickly.

However, there are other methods you can use if you don’t have degreaser on hand:

1. Dish Soap and Water

One of the simplest ways to clean a chain is with regular dish soap and warm water.

All you need is a rag, a toothbrush, and some elbow grease! Start by shifting your bike into the highest gear so the chain is straight.

Then, apply some dish soap directly onto the chain using the rag.

Gently scrub all along the chain using the toothbrush, which will get into the nooks and crannies.

Rinse everything off with clean water and wipe dry with a towel.

It may take some extra scrubbing for very dirty chains.

2. Baking Soda and Vinegar

For a bit more heavy-duty cleaning power, you can use a baking soda and vinegar solution.

Simply mix a few tablespoons of baking soda with some warm water until it forms a paste.

Use an old toothbrush to apply this paste directly to the chain, brushing along all the links.

Let it sit briefly.

In a spray bottle, mix equal parts white vinegar and warm water.

Spray the solution onto the chain to create a fizzing reaction that further breaks down grease.

Rinse everything off thoroughly with clean water afterward.

3. Isopropyl Alcohol

If you need something stronger than dish soap, try cleaning your chain with isopropyl alcohol which can cut through oil.

Dilute some isopropyl alcohol with a bit of water and apply it to a rag.

Then wipe down the entire length of the chain until it’s free of grime.

Make sure to rinse it off and follow up with lubrication.

Isopropyl alcohol quickly evaporates so there’s no need to fully dry the chain afterwards.

4. Boiling Water Rinse

Here’s an interesting trick that uses the power of heat to clean your bike chain: Bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove.

Then take the chain off your bike and submerge sections of it in the boiling water, holding with tongs.

This hot water will cause the grease to thin and run off. Wipe any grime away with a rag as you go.

Finish by allowing the chain to fully dry.

5. Cleaning Fluid Bath

For a more thorough cleaning, you can let your bike chain soak in a solvent bath.

Make a cleaning solution by mixing a degreasing citrus cleaner or mild detergent with hot water in a container.

Remove the chain from your bike and let it soak in this bath for a few hours, or overnight if it’s really dirty.

This extended soaking time lets solvents fully dissolve gunk. Scrub and rinse the chain to finish.

While not as fast as a degreaser, all these methods will effectively clean your bike chain using regular household items.

It just requires a bit more elbow grease and time.

I recommend cleaning your chain every few weeks using one of these handy techniques.

What is a Good Home Alternative to Bike Degreaser?

When you run out of bike-specific degreaser, don’t worry – you can grab some common household cleaners from under your sink to get your chain gleaming again.

Here are some of my favorite degreaser alternatives you can use at home:

Dish Soap

As I mentioned earlier, regular old dish soap works surprisingly well to cut through chain grease and grime.

Brands like Dawn and Palmolive have great degreasing power.

Just apply some suds with a brush and rinse.

Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent designed for greasy loads like Tide or Persil does an excellent job dissolving oily gunk on a bike chain.

Make a cleaner solution with warm water and scrub it on.

Degreasing Kitchen Cleaner

Look for citrus or orange oil-based cleaners like CitraSolv or Greased Lightning.

Spray these degreasers directly onto the chain and let them soak in before a rinse.

They smell nice too!

Rubbing Alcohol

The alcohol in rubs like isopropyl quickly evaporates grease.

Dampen a rag and wipe down each link.

Just avoid getting it on any painted areas.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is mildly abrasive so it can displace stuck-on grime.

Mix it with water into a paste and apply with a brush.

Let it bubble away grease before rinsing.

White Vinegar

Vinegar can dissolve oil and lubricant, especially when mixed with baking soda.

Use it straight or dilute it for extra cleaning power.

The smell fades quickly.

Mineral Spirits

For a heavy-duty option, mineral spirits (also called paint thinner) will lift away stubborn grease and residues.

Use gloves and avoid skin contact when cleaning with mineral spirits.

Boiling Water

As mentioned earlier, a boiling water rinse can liquefy tough grime so it simply runs off the chain.

Submerge the chain using tongs.

The key is finding cleaners that can cut through lube and grease.

Avoid harsh chemicals and only use degreasers in well-ventilated areas.

With any of these handy homemade alternatives, you can definitely keep your bike chain sparking clean.

Can You Use Dish Soap to Clean Bike Chain?

You bet you can use regular dish soap to clean your bike chain!

Here’s the scoop on using this household staple as an effective bike chain cleaner:

Why Dish Soap Works

The main reason dish soap is so good at cutting through grease on your dirty chain is thanks to a process called emulsification.

Dish soaps contain surfactants that lift and surround droplets of oil, allowing them to dissolve in water for rinsing.

Basically, it breaks down stubborn grease into easily removable pieces.

How to Apply It

Start by shifting your bike into the highest rear gear so the chain is straight.

Grab a clean rag and apply a few drops of dish soap directly onto the chain.

For really dirty chains, let it soak for 5 minutes.

Then gently scrub back and forth along each link using a toothbrush or other small brush.

This agitation helps the soap do its job.

Rinsing is Key

Once you’ve scrubbed the soap in, take your bike chain to the sink for a thorough rinsing.

Hot water works best.

Keep rinsing until the water runs clear and you don’t see any more suds.

Removing all the soap prevents residue buildup.

Finish with Lube

It’s essential to re-lubricate your chain after cleaning with dish soap, as it strips away all grease and oil.

Apply a fresh coat of bike chain lube and wipe off any excess drips.

This protects the metal from corrosion.

Any Dish Soap Will Do

Opt for basic dish soaps like Dawn, Palmolive, Ajax – anything marketed as a grease cutter.

Avoid antibacterial/moisturizing soaps which leave behind residue.

And steer clear of harsh degreasers.

So while dish soap is no replacement for a bike-specific cleaner, it’s readily available and does a fine job of cleaning chains in a pinch.

Just be sure to fully rinse and relube the chain afterwards.

Now grab that bottle of Dawn and get your chain sparkling!

Can I Clean My Bike with Dawn?

You sure can use Dawn dish soap to clean your entire bike, not just the chain.

Here’s how Dawn can be used to easily degrease and clean all parts of your bicycle:

Good for All Materials

Dawn is safe for use on all the various materials found on bikes – metal, rubber, plastic, etc.

It contains no abrasives so it won’t cause scratches like other harsh cleaners might.

Cuts Through Grime

Thanks to powerful surfactants that lift and dissolve oil, Dawn is great at removing built-up grease, mud, and road grime from all over your bike frame, gears, brake calipers, rims and more.

Easy Application

Simply dilute some Dawn with warm water in a spray bottle or bucket.

Use a sponge or soft brush to apply the soapy solution over the entire bike, focusing on dirty drivetrain parts.

Let it soak briefly then rinse clean.

Speeds Drying

Since Dawn soap solutions thoroughly wash away oil and grease, your bike frame and components will dry much quicker compared to just hosing off with water.

Fresh Scent

Dawn leaves behind a light, pleasant scent after cleaning thanks to added fragrances.

Your bike will smell as clean as your dishes!


Dawn is an affordable and versatile household cleaner, so you can save money over pricier bike wash products. A little goes a long way.

With proper dilution, Dawn is gentle enough for regular bike washing.

Always avoid pressure washing.

And remember to re-lube the chain, gears, and other moving parts after rinsing to prevent corrosion.

With that, Dawn on!

Final Thoughts

Well, there you have it fellow riders – my complete guide to getting your bike chain squeaky clean without relying on harsh chemical degreasers.

While a proper bike degreaser makes chain cleaning a quicker job, it’s totally possible to dissolve even the most caked-on grime using common household ingredients like dish soap, baking soda, vinegar and more with a little extra scrubbing.

Here are some key tips to remember:

  • Relube your chain after cleaning to prevent rust and corrosion
  • Rinse thoroughly to avoid residue buildup
  • Let extremely dirty chains soak for maximum cleaning power
  • Dish soap works great but avoid moisturizing/antibacterial kinds
  • Always follow safety precautions when using any cleaner

Keeping your bike chain clean takes some work, but it will prolong the life of your whole drivetrain.

I hope these degreaser-free cleaning methods save you money and get you back to silky smooth shifts in no time.

Ride on!

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Joey B. Ramsey
Passionate cyclist, father, and blogger.
I've been riding bikes since childhood and enjoy sharing my knowledge with fellow cycling enthusiasts.
My diverse bike collection allows me to write reviews and advice based on personal experience with various bikes and accessories.
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