Can I Use WD-40 on a Motorcycle Chain?


WD-40 seems to be a regular staple in most American garages and when I was a new motorcycle owner, it was the first thing I reached for when I needed to lube my chain. But I have since learned that there are much better options for chain maintenance. But, some still ask the question.

So, can I use WD-40 on my motorcycle chain? It is highly recommended that you do not use Multi-Purpose WD-40 on your motorcycle chain. The WD stands for Water Displacement, and it is designed to disperse water away from metal parts to prevent rust. It is not designed to be a lubricant and using it on your motorcycle chain can reduce the life of your chain in comparison with using lubricants designed specifically for motorcycles.

To understand why it’s not the best solution, you need to understand the makeup of a chain. Motorcycle chains generally come in two types; with rubber seals or without rubber seals.

Chains with No Seals

If you are using an all metal chain, one with no seals, then you can use just about anything to clean away the dirt and grease. But, be extremely cautious about using products like gasoline or camp stove fuel as they are extremely volatile and the fumes can combust with the slightest spark. POOF…goodbye eyebrows. Kerosine is a much less dangerous cleaning solution and the fumes are less harsh, but still should be used in a well ventilated area.

Powerful engine degreasers are ok to use if your chain is extremely dirty and grimy. After cleaning an all metal chain, you can give it a quick rinse off with water. Before applying lubrication, dry your chain with a towel to remove as much moisture as possible. If there is any argument for using WD-40 multi-purpose on your chain, this would be a good time. It will help displace left over water inside the pins and rollers. Wipe it clean again, and apply motorcycle chain lube or wax as your final step. Do not use WD-40 as a lubricant.

Chains with Seals

Some motorcycle chains are built with a tiny rubber ring placed between the plate and the bushings. They come pre-lubricated from the manufacturer and the seals are designed to keep the lubricant in place. The seals come in two types, O-rings and X-rings. They function slightly different. O-rings seal by applying pressure to them, and X-rings seal by twisting as the chain is in motion. Some will argue that X-rings are better, but they serve the same purpose, which is to to prevent the original lubrication from leaking out.

Using heavy solvents or harsh cleaning methods can deteriorate the seals, and eventually cause the original lubrication, which was designed to be permanent, to leak out, reducing the life of your chain.

So, one of your goals in chain maintenance, is to protect the ring seals and use a cleaner and lubricant that is designed to maintain these seals rather than destroy them. WD-40 was not designed for such a purpose.

What to Use to Clean Your Chain

To clean your chain you need something that is strong enough to break away the grease, dirt and road grime, but gentle enough that it won’t erode the seals. Some de-greasers are much too harsh for this job. Here’s a list of products you should and should not use to clean your motorcycle chain.

Good ProductsBad Products 
Kerosine
Motorcycle Chain Cleaner

Gasoline
Camp stove fuel
WD-40 Multi-Purpose
Engine Degreaser
Any industrial strength degreaser

So, why not use engine degreasers on your chain? While they are perfect for eating away stubborn grime like the stuff found on your car’s engine, they will also eat away at the rubber seals and your chain won’t last as long as it’s designed to last.

Since we are on the topic of WD-40, they do make a specialized line of motorcycle chain maintenance products that are designed to clean and lube your chain without damaging the seals. I’ve never used their products so I can’t speak to their effectiveness. Choosing a brand of chain cleaner is a personal choice and, I often will use Maxima chain cleaner on my bikes. But, ask just about anyone who rides and maintains their own bike, Kerosine is arguably the best chain cleaner around. It’s cheap, safe, and works great.

What to Use to Lubricate Your Chain

There are two different types of chain lube, oil and wax. They both work effectively at protecting your chain seals but, since they have different properties, they behave differently and are designed for use in different conditions.

Oil vs. Wax. This is a common argument among motorcycle owners and both lubricants will do their job at protecting your chain, sprockets, and seals. Your best bet is to experiment with both types to see which one works best for your riding style (dirt bike, commuter, track) and for the conditions in which you ride (rain, dry weather, mud).

In either instance, you should apply it properly to make sure it seeps into and around the seals and rollers. Ideally, apply the lube to a dry chain. If you use an oil based lubricant, the chain can be cold. Spray the lube onto the inside of the chain and wipe away any excess oil that may be dripping off. Let the bike sit for 15 to 30 minutes before you ride to allow the oil to penetrate.

The same instructions apply to chain wax. Apply it to the inside of a clean, dry chain and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes so the wax can penetrate between the pins and rollers. If you are going to re-apply the wax after riding, do so when the chain is still warm from a ride. This will help be wax penetrate into the chain faster.

Personally, I ride a standard motorcycle that I use it mostly for street riding in fair weather conditions and for occasional dirt roads. I try to avoid riding in the rain and doing water crossings so, you could say that I ride mostly in dry, and dusty conditions. I have been using chain wax for a few years and I’m very happy with it. However, I have found that if I over apply the wax, there will be some fling, so I’m careful to not use too much. But, I’ve never had a problem cleaning it off or having it gunk up like some people have expressed.

I’ve used oil based lubricants in the past, but find there there is a lot more flinging of excess oil when I ride and I tend to find more dirt and gunk on my swing arm and chain guard when I use oil based lubricants. That’s one reason I switched to wax.

Maxima is the brand of chain cleaner and chain wax that I’ve been using for several years and I am more than happy with it. There’s a nice bundle of Maxima products on Amazon here. Or, you can usually find them at most local motorcycle shops.

If you live in a humid climate, such as on the coast where rust is more of an issue, I’d recommend using chain wax instead of oil. The wax forms a good seal protecting the chain from moisture.

Related Questions

Are Chain Oilers a Good Idea? An automatic chain oiler system is a mechanism that is installed on the motorcycle that adds a constant supply of oil, a drop at a time with an adjustable flow rate. Their claim is to increase your chain life. If you hate lubing your chain, if you live in a wet climate, or, if you are planning an extended trip where chain maintenance will be more of a hassle, a chain oilers would be a viable option.

How often should I clean my chain? This will depend on what conditions you are riding in. For normal riding, you should visually inspect your chain every few hundred miles. A quick wipe down before lubrication is often all it will need, but if it’s visibly filthy and gunked up, then it’s time to clean.

How often should I lubricate my chain? You should apply a small amount of lubrication every 300 to 600 miles or after you clean it. This rule is standard for normal riding conditions. But, if you ride in harsh weather, live in a humid climate, you may have to lubricate it a bit more often.

Cool Chain Maintenance Gadgets

The Grunge Brush. A must have in every motorcycle garage. Plastic bristles are more gentle on O-ring seals. Three sided brush wraps around the chain.

Tirox 360 Degree Brush. This brush wraps around the entire chain making contact with every surface.

The Grease Ninja. This chain oiler is a cool little gadget that attaches to your favorite can of chain lube. It sits on top of the chain while applying an even flow of lube to the most important parts of the chain. Avoids overspray. Only available on their website.

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