QUESTION: Can I use WD-40 to lube my bicycle chain? I’ve heard pros and cons. —Larry R.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: WD-40 now makes a bicycle-specific chain lube, so if that’s what you are asking about, the answer is yes. But I’m assuming your question is about the original WD-40 product, which for years was the only formula by that name on the market, and many of us have a can of it in our garage or shop.
Notice that I referred to the original product as a “formula” rather than as a “lubricant.” It does have some lubricating qualities, but that’s not its primary purpose. The company calls it a “Multi-Use Product” and says it “protects metal from rust and corrosion, penetrates stuck parts, displaces moisture and lubricates almost anything.”
And indeed, that’s true. Years ago, our family car was an AMC Gremlin, which had a lift-window on the back that was opened by placing the car key in the lock below it and turning it. Of course, being on the back of the car, the lock also became a repository for the water, grit and grime spun up by the rear tires, and after a while, I could no longer get the lock to turn. So using the “straw” nozzle on my can of WD-40, I shot some of the formula into the key slot. After waiting a couple of minutes, I inserted the key, which then turned easily and allowed me to open the window. Though I had the car for a few more years after that, I never had to shoot the lock with WD-40 again.
But that the original product is not primarily a lubricant is even implied in its name. The WD stands for “water displacement.” In 1953, a start-up company with a staff of three called Rocket Chemical Company created it as part of an effort to make a line of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers for use in the aerospace industry. It took them 40 attempts to get the water displacing formula figured out — and hence, the “40” in the name.
Then an aerospace contractor, Convair, used the WD-40 product to protect the outer skin of the Atlas Missile from rust and corrosion, and it worked so well that some of Convair’s employees snuck some cans out of the plant to use at home.
In 1961, Rocket Chemical produced the first full truckload order for WD-40 to enable the victims of Hurricane Carla along the U.S. Gulf coast to recondition their flood and rain damaged vehicles and equipment.
Seven years later, the product was used by soldiers in Vietnam to prevent moisture damage on firearms and help keep them working.
See more about the history of the product and the business, now called WD-40 Company, Inc., here.
But back to your question. While the WD-40 multi-use formula would not be my first choice to lubricate my bike chain, it will clean it and will not damage the chain. And it will also lube it, but only lightly, light-enough that it will come off in wet weather. But if you are willing to lube your bike often with the original product, you can get away with it. And in dry conditions, it will last on the chain for a couple of rides.
But there are plenty of other lubes made specifically for bike chains that will hold up better, including the above mentioned one made by the WD-40 Company. Experienced riders have their personal favorites. My choice is Bioshield T-9. But if you’ve been using the original WD-40, and decide to change to one of the others, be sure to first clean off all the WD-40 with soap and water, as it will drive other lubricants off the chain.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.
Lon haldeman says
I agree WD-40 is not the best chain lube but it is better than nothing or diesel fuel. On our bike tours in the jungles of rural Peru we are always looking for cans of WD-40 to clean and lube our chains.
Our favorite lube is the Boeshield T-9 because it tends to last at 300 miles in wet conditions. On our PAC Tour country bike tours with 30 riders we use one can per day.. We have a YouTube video ….How to clean and lube your bike in 2 minutes. Many times I have needed to lube and wash 30 bikes in an hour. Using Boeshield works well and lasts for a few days.
Link to video?
Joe Frost says
Fritz Mueller says
I stand in agreement that Boeshield T-9 is great as a chain lubricant. If it’s not subjected to wet conditions it will last at least 300 miles. If the carrier is allowed to flash off, the chain is dry and does not attract or hold road grit.
I have found original WD-40 useful for ‘on the fly’ cleaning chains (and other bits too) IF it is followed by a ‘real’ lube. But, unlike Stan, over the years I have found no need to deliberately clean the chain after WD-40. Just thoroughly wipe off the excess WD-40 cleaning spritz & let it dry before (liberally) applying your wet lube of choice.
FWIW- I lube my chains liberally and often (I only do a dedicated clean anymore if switching to a wax lube). After many years (30,000+ miles) of road riding, and recovery from being a “chain lube junkie’, I find a home brew 1:2 5W-20 (or 5W-30) motor oil:mineral spirits mix applied whenever the chain looks dirty (or after a rain) works almost as well as the best dedicated wet lubes (even better than some!). It is a bit messier and not quite as long lasting (~150 vs 200mi for the best). But it’s cheap enough in use to really flush out the chain-destroying grit vs the ‘1-drop per link’ practice many riders do with their $$$ lubes. My Ultegra chains generally last 3500-5000 mi (typical Midwest US chip/seal roads, replaced at 0.75% ‘elongation’) & I’m fine with that.
WS-40 may (slowly) damage plastic parts if you have such on your bike and accidentally spray them with WD-40.
Bob Eckhoff says
WD40 works great as a fish attracter . Spray your bait with it and get ready to reel. Wouldn’t use it o my bike though. Wet lubes attract dirt
Living in Portland, OR means riding in a lot of rain.
My standard chain care after a rainy ride is spraying the chain with a liberal amount of original WD-40, wiping of the excess, and several hours later applying a home brew chain lube liberally before wiping again.
My chains seem to last a long, long time and I check the chain wear routinely,
I’ve switched to Dumonde Tech Lite lube, and it lasts at least 300 miles even if rained on, when no rain gets on it then I’ve gone over 500 miles.
Mike T. says
It doesn’t take much digging to find, mostly via WD-40’s MSDS sheet and Google searches, that WD-40 is basically petroleum based oil and mineral spirits (paint thinner). Hmmmm, that sounds much like the HomeBrew chain lube I’ve been using for the past 30 years. The paint thinner thins the oil, allowing it to reach the chain’s internals easier where it soon evaporates, leaving the oil behind. Most (all?) of the negativity surrounding WD-40 is based on old-wives’ tales and their acceptance.
As a chain lube does it attract dirt? Sure, like all oils and most other “dedicated” chain lubes. But the dirt cleans off easily by using………..WD-40!