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So often, what’s old becomes new again. Dropper seat posts, road bikes designed for gravel roads, suspended stems, and tan wall tyres – yep, all old ideas.
Another thing on that list is chain waxing: the practice of dunking a bicycle chain into a pot of molten wax. Riders in the past commonly did this with a pot of paraffin wax. Some never stopped doing it, but the vast majority of cyclists took to more convenient (and widely marketed) drip chain lubes.
However, testing by the likes of Friction Facts and Zero Friction Cycling has brought renewed interest to the world of chain waxing. Great efficiency, improved drivetrain durability, lower running costs, and no greasy mess — chain waxing promises a lot, and these experts on all matters of chain efficiency and drivetrain durability are big fans of it.
Given the increased attention on chain wax, I thought it was time to answer a number of commonly asked questions – and much like we’ve done for disc brakes and road tubeless tyres – offer a one-stop technical guide to all things chain waxing. It’s a topic that’s seemingly discussed more than anything else in our VeloClub Slack group, and one that remains a mysterious concept to many.
Note: With an insane amount of information in one place, our Endless FAQs don’t make for the most exciting end-to-end reading material. Please feel free to use the jump links below to find the answers to your questions.
(Last updated: May 12, 2022)
The basics of wax
What is chain wax?
“Waxes are essentially solidified oils,” explains Jason Smith, the founder of FrictionFacts and now the Chief Technology Officer at CeramicSpeed. “Wax is a solid material at room temperature, typically pliable and soft, which softens further and ultimately liquefies at temperatures between about 100ºF to 160ºF (37-71ºC). Waxes can be hydrocarbon/mineral-based (paraffin wax), plant-based (soy wax, carnauba), animal-based (beeswax, Lanolin, Spermaceti), or synthetic.”
While animal and plant-based waxes do occasionally appear in cycling lubes, it’s the petroleum-based waxes that are most commonly used.
Melt-on waxing involves heating the wax to a liquid form, and then submerging a clean chain within it. Once dry, the wax returns to a solid state and is embedded within the individual pieces that make up a bicycle chain.
Where things get confusing is that wax for bicycle chains is available in both immersive (melt-on) and drip-on forms. The latter is seen with the likes of Squirt, Rock’n’Roll, Smoove, CeramicSpeed UFO and more recently Silca’s Secret Chain Lube and Absolute Black’s Graphene lube. All the latest drip-on chain lubes that promise to turn your chain into wine feature some form of wax as a base ingredient. The common theme is that they all use a carrier fluid to keep them in a liquid form for application onto the chain, and once dry, aim to leave the chain coated in a dry wax film.
This article mainly focuses on submersion or melt-on waxing, and where you see “chain wax” referenced, it’s related to the type that must be melted into the chain. However, you will find some answers related to drip-on wax lubes, too.
Why chain wax?
As first revealed by FrictionFacts’ testing first published by VeloNews, an immersion chain wax with friction modifiers can serve as the most efficient chain lubrication method available. Since that testing, Zero Friction Cycling has since found a direct correlation between high-efficiency lubricants and improved drivetrain durability, with such chain wax greatly improving both chain and drivetrain component durability.
However, that increased drivetrain durability isn’t just about a silky-smooth drivetrain, but rather how the wax performs in real-world conditions with real-world dirt. Here, the best wax remains perfectly dry to touch and forms a protective barrier for the chain links. In turn, dirt can’t get in past the solid wax coating, and it doesn’t stick to it, either.
With the right wax product your drivetrain will remain clean and free from any grease or dirt that can act as a grinding paste on your chain and cogs. That lack of wear on your drivetrain components directly translates to reduced running costs. Additionally, this cleanliness means you won’t need to degrease your drivetrain in future. The wax itself can be removed with hot water, meaning any dirt stuck to the chain can be cleaned with hot water, too.
These clean-running waxes also mean your drivetrain will always be clean to touch. The dreaded Cat 5 tattoo won’t come from your bike, and likewise, you don’t need to worry about grease marks when transporting or storing your bike.
How much better is drivetrain durability with a waxed chain?
This is something covered in depth within the holy grail of chain lube article.
The short answer: Adam Kerin at Zero Friction Cycling is the best resource for answering this, and his testing suggests that combining a good hot melt wax (reapplied at regular intervals) and a decent chain should get you over 10,000 km and up to 15,000 km before that chain reaches .5 mm wear. And because grit doesn’t stick to the wax, the cassette and chainring exhibit extremely little wear in this time.
By comparison, 2,000-5,000 km is a commonly seen mileage for many traditional drip lubes under the same conditions, which can cause visible cassette and chainring wear in that same time, too.
How many watts will a waxed chain save?
The actual efficiency numbers can vary somewhat and not all wax is created equal. “Just because it says hot melt wax doesn’t necessarily mean it’s super-fast,” says Smith.
“I’ve tested hot-melt dipped wax chain products which come in as high as 7 W and as low as low-3 watts of loss. Granted I developed the UFO chain series, but it’s the lowest I’ve ever tested, coming in at low-3 watts (at 250 W / 90 rpm rider output).”
Smith recently tested a number of aftermarket melt-on wax options and shared the data. The testing, done in a clean lab environment, puts some leading drip lubes ahead of many popular melt-on products. By comparison, “drip-on wax products can test to as high as 10 watts of loss to as low as the high-3 watts.” You can find a more detailed chart of how various popular lubes compare in our best chain lube feature.
Smith explains what makes a solid wax so efficient. “With a bicycle chain, total efficiency is a combination of more than just lubricity. Beyond lubricity, wax’s secret is that because it is solid, it does not create viscous drag when the chain links articulate back and forth. Additionally, stiction forces created during the back-and-forth articulation of the links are minimized with a dry solid. Yet, if the wax is sticky, oily, too soft, etc, these benefits of wax are lost.
“To illustrate, imagine lubing a chain with thick grease. Yes, that grease probably is very lubricious. But picture the viscous drag associated with the thick grease. This is an extreme example of how viscous drag can negate lubricity and decrease efficiency, but viscous drag exists and is very measurable.”
Note: Silca’s new melt-on wax was released after the above test was complete, however, it’s expected to be comparable to Molten Speed Wax.
What are some specific product examples of chain wax?
There are currently only a handful of aftermarket submersion wax products on the market and they’re not all equal. Molten Speed Wax (MSW) is perhaps the best-known and has the most data supporting it. Silca recently just entered the space with a product quite similar to Molten Speed Wax, albeit with different friction modifiers. Wend, Runaway Bike, Speedmaster, and FastWax are other products in the market, however, testing data related to these products is often scarce.
You can also buy pre-waxed chains from the likes of CeramicSpeed, Muc-Off, Molten Speed Wax, Zero Friction Cycling, and many others.
And as I’ll get to in a bit, there are DIY options, too.
“At a minimum, a suitable wax for a bicycle chain should have at least decent lubricity qualities and be able to penetrate the chain fully, whether by melting or via carrier fluid,” explains Smith. “Of course, a wax with excellent lubricity properties is the most desirable.
“Next in line for a desirable property would be dry to the touch. Some waxes are tacky or greasy, which can accelerate the accumulation of contaminants. Chain wax should not be too brittle, nor too soft. Some waxes are naturally very hard and brittle, like carnuba, or even paraffin can be very hard if it has a high melting point. If a wax is too soft, it could become mushy and melt in hot sun leading to increased viscous drag.”
How long does wax last?
This will greatly depend on the wax you use, your riding conditions, and your tolerance for chain noise. In the case of a chain treated with Molten Speed Wax, most users get around 300 km of blissful riding on a single application. Generally speaking, the more frequently you re-wax your chain, the better your drivetrain durability will be.
“If you re-wax every 200 km, wear rates will remain untraceable for a long time,” says Kerin. “Re-waxing every 300 km, the average for a top chain like YBN SLA is 15,000 km to the recommended 0.5% wear mark. Frequently pushing to 400 km plus, this drops to 8000 to 10,000 km.”
Kerin’s advice to high-mileage riders is to run multiple chains in rotation. Alternatively, you can use a top-up drip wax lube to help seal in the wax treatment and add further lubrication between hot melt waxing intervals. Both of these solutions are covered later on.
Why do some pre-waxed chains cost so much?
Like the wax products themselves, not all pre-waxed chains are equal. CeramicSpeed is perhaps the most established option in this space, and the process is quite involved.
“A fair amount of time and labour goes into properly creating an optimized chain, plus the cost of the raw chain itself,” says Smith, speaking of CeramicSpeed’s own UFO chains. “The new stock chain is broken-in under high load on a custom serpentine machine to smooth and polish the internal sliding surfaces of the links. Then the chain is completely stripped of the factory lube. Only then can the chain be submersed in the hot-melt UFO Chain base wax for optimization.
“The chain is then cooled, broken-in again to get the wax coating to its peak efficiency (so it is ready to race, right out of the box), and finally, the UFO powder is applied.”
What are the downsides to a waxed chain?
Waxing a chain requires some basic mechanical knowledge. Namely, you need to be comfortable with removing and installing a chain from the bike via a quick link.
Waxing a chain will require some new equipment, namely a way to slowly melt the wax in a controlled manner. A cheap slow cooker is a perfect tool for this, as covered later on.
While clean to touch, some wax products are flaky. This is worth noting if you often ride indoors as you’ll want to vacuum or collect these small flakes.
And as covered below, corrosion can be an issue to those in wet climates who are only waxing at long intervals.
How does it go in the wet?
According to Smith, wax-dipped chains perform well in wet conditions. “Because the wax is solidified onto the surface of the chain, it adheres better than oils,” he says. “To demonstrate this effect I’ll take a metal plate, and will drip melted wax onto the plate and allow it to harden. Next to the wax, I’ll put a few drops of oil-based chain lube. Then I’ll put the plate under a water faucet for a little bit. It is very easy to see the wax adheres to the metal plate much better than the oil, after a water wash.”
However, Smith does warn that riding in wet climates can decrease the longevity of wax. As a result, chain wax may not be ideal depending on where and how you ride. Waxed chains can still need frequent re-application in wet and foul conditions. In such conditions, you may find that more traditional cleaning and lubing of the drivetrain, while cleaning the bike, is more effective.
Does wax resist surface rust?
Yes, but also, no. The wax itself offers a great barrier from corrosion, however, if left too long between applications, that wax can chip off the outer plates of a chain, leaving the chain exposed to the elements. If you often ride in wet conditions or where the roads are salted, you’ll likely need to wax far more frequently and so it may not be the easiest option for you.
Is wax good for mountain biking, cyclocross, or gravel?
Yep! The way wax forms a barrier from grit and the general non-stick nature means a waxed chain will run cleaner and smoother for longer. You will, however, likely need to clean the chain (with boiling water) and re-wax more often than if you were on the road.
If wax is so great, why isn’t it more popular?
Convenience and ease of explanation.
Drip lubes are simple to use and not at all intimidating to consumers. A bottle of drip lube can be extremely cheap, while the maintenance process is easy to show and practical for anyone to replicate.
By contrast, hot-melt waxing requires you to remove a key component from the bike and use additional equipment. And in many cases, removing the chain from the bike (outside of replacement) has traditionally been against recommendations from the likes of Shimano and Campagnolo.
And to put on my tin hat, it’s also business. Drip lubes are a profitable business. They’re a non-bulky item with a good profit margin. Drip lubes can also be packaged with matching degreasers and on-bike chain cleaning tools.
By comparison, hot-melt wax is bulkier to ship and store, and arguably there’s far less room for product differentiation.
Why don’t pro cyclists use waxed chains?
Some do. Waxed chains are commonly seen on the bikes of those going for important stage wins or Monuments. More often you’ll find waxed chains used by leading time trial specialists at pinnacle moments.
However, it’s worth remembering that every top-level cyclist will have their bikes cleaned and re-lubed prior to every race day. The cleanliness and improved drivetrain durability that wax offers has less benefit to pro riders who have the luxury of having their bike serviced by a mechanic after every single ride (at least while away for racing or at training camps).
Can I use my chain wax to make my legs super silky?
Sadly it’s too slippery and won’t adhere to hair. Don’t ask how I know this.
Are there any drip lube products that can compete with wax?
Yes, there are a number of new drip lube products on the market that offer comparable drivetrain durability and even improved efficiency compared to popular do-it-at-home melt-on wax products. Absolute Black’s new Graphene lube is one such example. However, link penetration remains a barrier for a lube like Absolute Black’s and so using this premium product still requires you to remove the chain from the bike and submerge the chain in the lube. More recently Silca and CeramicSpeed have released drip-on wax lubes which have tested extremely well and perform admirably in the real world.
Just be warned that most drip lubes will require future use of degreasers to clean the chain and sprockets, whereas most melt-on products can typically be cleaned off with nothing more than hot water.
Is submersion chain waxing right for me?
Are you confident with using a chain quick link and installing a chain? And secondly, are most of your rides in dry conditions without excess rain and/or wet? If you answered yes to both, then chain waxing is certainly worth serious consideration.
What do I need to get started?
Chain waxing can be broken into two stages:
1. You need to remove all existing greases, dirt and oil from the chain, including the residue left over by most degreaser products.
2. You dip the chain into the melted wax.
The easiest entry into chain waxing is to start with a pre-waxed chain. Doing so will remove the need for that first stage, meaning you won’t require any cleaning products. From there all you need is a way to melt the wax (ideally a crockpot / slow cooker), the wax, and spare chain quick links to allow for easy chain removal/install. You simply repeat this process for each application of the wax.
If you’d like to try chain waxing, starting with either your existing chain or a new one, then you’ll need to add a few cleaning products to ensure the chain is stripped down to bare metal. This is covered in the next section.
Chain prep for wax
Are all chains good for wax?
All chains can be waxed, but some are certainly better than others.
Some chains with low-friction coatings seem to repel the wax, leading to poor longevity of the wax coating. According to Adam Kerin, and as covered in the best chain article, both KMC and higher-end Shimano chains have exhibited some wax adhesion issues.
How clean must the chain be prior to waxing?
The chain must be stripped to bare metal and free of oil residue. Any pre-existing lubrication will repel the wax from adhering to the metal. This is especially true for factory-applied grease and lubricants which can be stubborn to remove from the inner sections of the chain.
Many degreasers will leave an oily residue that will prevent the wax from adhering to the bare metal. Even once visibly clean, the chain must be flushed with an evaporating solvent. After this, the chain is ready for wax.
This process is outlined in our complete guide to chain cleaning.
What’s the best way to prepare a chain for waxing?
The video below will talk you through the steps. Alternatively, see our complete guide to chain cleaning.
Can I wax an old chain?
Yes. As long as it’s stripped of all pre-existing lubrication and dirt.
That said, unless the chain is extremely new, it’ll likely prove more economical long-term to simply start the wax process with a new chain that has no measurable wear.
Do I need an ultrasonic cleaner?
Absolutely not. In fact using an ultrasonic cleaner may falsely lead you into believing your chain is ready, when it still has oil residue. According to Kerin, the false sense of clean that ultrasonic cleaners can provide is the most common reason for his customers having issues with wax-treated chains.
Ultrasonic cleaners use sound waves to agitate items clean. They are amazing pieces of equipment, but they’re also only as good as the fluid you use within them. This fluid will quickly become contaminated, and so you’ll need to replace it at multiple stages to ensure your chain is free of oil residue.
Using a beaker or a plastic container of cleaning fluid within your ultrasonic cleaner is one way to achieve a high standard of cleaning without wasting copious amounts of fluid.
Otherwise, basic jars of cleaning fluid can achieve the same level of cleanliness as an ultrasonic cleaner, it’ll just take more manual labour.
What ultrasonic cleaner is best?
Ok, so the previous section didn’t talk you out of this noise machine. Josh Poertner of Silca has a useful video on what to look for in an ultrasonic cleaner.
His findings ring true with my experience. I’ve found the smallest and cheapest cleaners often lack the power to significantly clean a chain. 6 L to 10 L units are ideal to ensure there’s room for cassettes and chainrings, too. My opinion is that while ultrasonic cleaners are nice to have, they’re a tool I could easily do without (and often do).
Do I need to clean the rest of the drivetrain prior to installing a waxed chain?
Putting a waxed chain on a dirty, oily, or (worse) greasy drivetrain will see the waxed chain become sticky and attract contamination. You’ll also contaminate your wax pot if this chain is not correctly cleaned prior to re-application.
For best results, degrease the whole drivetrain to be visibly clean of any dirt, grease, or oil. However, these parts don’t need to be sterile-level clean like the chain itself. If done correctly, you’ll likely find that your chainrings, pulley wheels and cassette will remain acceptably clean from then on.
Is there a benefit to buying a pre-waxed chain?
Absolutely. Assuming the price is fair, then a pre-waxed chain will save you from ever having to deal with harsh chemicals in an effort to get the chain initially clean. The cost-saving of the chemicals may be worth the extra expense alone, otherwise, time saved and health benefits are worth considering, too.
In Australia, Zero Friction Cycling offers pre-waxed chains at only an AU$25 surcharge (more depending on desired wax) and even offers a buy one/get one treated service. Other options include Molten Speed Wax in the USA, or for those seeking ultimate performance, then something like a CeramicSpeed UFO chain is worth a look too.
What’s the best degreaser for the first step of stripping stock chain grease?
This topic is already covered in our complete guide to chain cleaning. As a refresher, you need a strong solvent to break down the chain packaging grease or pre-existing lubricant, and then a second sterile solvent to ensure no oil film remains on the chain.
The tried-and-trued solvent for the first step is mineral turpentine (aka, “turps”), also known as white spirit (UK) or mineral spirits (USA/Canada). Unlike petrol or more traditional automotive degreasers, this solvent leaves behind only minimal residue for the final clean.
More expensive bicycle-specific degreasers will also perform the task, but many of these are weakened to not cause harm to painted surfaces, something that isn’t required when dealing with solvents in a contained manner.
Worthy of note, Jason Smith was formerly a strong proponent of using toxic petrochemicals for such chain prep, but has since changed his opinion.
“I dismissed the ‘green’ cleaners at first,” he says. “I’m old school and was biased towards using the bad stuff. However, when we developed the UFO Clean product, my opinion of biodegradable and non-toxic degreasers changed completely. What I learned was that some of these green products can be as effective as traditional solvents. I say ‘can be’ because the effectiveness depends on the types of green solvents and concentration.
“If a green degreaser is formulated correctly, it can be just as effective at removing factory grease as traditional solvents. Case in point: CeramicSpeed uses a large dip tank filled with UFO Clean to strip the factory grease from stock chains prior to the UFO optimization process. This is the same UFO Clean formula in the consumer bottles. So the green solvent blend we use is so powerful that we use it in-house to strip grease. And it’s non-toxic and biodegradable too.”
What’s the best degreaser/chemical for the final stage prior to immersive waxing?
Denatured alcohol, otherwise known as methylated spirits, is the go-to option for the final cleaning prep prior to waxing. If you’re unable to find this, then isopropyl alcohol or acetone are both great for the task, although they are significantly more expensive.
The chain is ready for waxing once it can be agitated in this fluid without any sign of discolouration or dirt particles appearing.
How do I best remove and connect a chain for waxing?
With a quick link. See our dedicated article about the best quick links, how they work, and what tools to use.
What is the difference between reusable links and single-use only links?
This is covered in our complete guide to chain quick links.
Can I use a different brand of quick link with my chain?
Yes, but there are some compatibility issues to be aware of. This topic is covered in our complete guide to chain quick links.
What’s the exact step-by-step process for waxing a chain?
- Turn on slow cooker with wax inside. Leave to begin melting.
- Remove fresh chain from packet. Alternatively remove chain from bike, ideally with a quick link or by using a chain breaker. You’ll need to use a quick link for re-installation later.
- Meticulously clean chain to bare metal. This is outlined above and in our complete guide to chain cleaning. Do similar for cassette and chainrings.
- Loop an old wire coat hanger (or similar that can double as a handle and for hanging the chain, such as a zip tie or old spoke) through the cleaned chain and allow to dry (should only take a few minutes).
- Place the clean and dry chain on top of the wax in your pot and wait for it to melt in.
- Once the wax has become liquid use the looped coat hanger to swish your chain within the wax. This process mixes the friction modifiers through the wax and lets the wax get into the chain. Air bubbles rising to the top is normal.
- Allow the chain to sit in the wax for another minute and then repeat the swishing. By now you shouldn’t see any air bubbles come to the surface.
- Now using that coat hanger handle, carefully remove the chain from the pot and watch for wax drips. Hang the chain somewhere clean (with a container or rag below for wax drips) for it to cool.
- Once cool the chain should be stiff and should resist articulation. Manually break up the wax bonds at each link. Wrapping the chain around something is the most efficient way to do this.
- Your chain is now ready to install on the bike. Ensure it’s sized correctly. Close it with a quick link
- It’s normal to experience rough and jumpy shifting for the first few minutes of riding. Be careful as chain skips from tight links can happen if you didn’t break up the wax bonds thoroughly. The chain should begin to feel wonderfully smooth after approximately 20 minutes.
- Occasionally rub your calf against your chain and big chainring to remind yourself of your handy work.
What’s the best way to melt the wax?
With a slow cooker. Using such a device will help prevent you from overheating the wax. It’s also safe and controlled and allows you to simply keep the dry wax in the slow cooker pot ready for the next application.
What’s the best slow cooker size?
As small as you can find. The perfect slow cookers are those designed for single meal prep. These are typically 1.5 to 2 L in capacity, however, they can be hard to find. In Australia, Woolworths sells these under the Adesso brand name for just AU$16 (approx US$10). Those elsewhere in the world should be able to find similar at low-cost department stores.
Failing that, try to keep your slow cooker under 4 L to ensure a bag of wax will provide enough depth to cover a chain. Larger slow cookers, or those with a wide footprint, will require more wax.
Can I use a rice cooker?
“It must be a slow cooker,” says Kerin. “Rice cookers are tempting because they are cheap and a great size for a bag of wax. But paraffin likes to be heated slowly, as well as not get too hot. A rice cooker will blast in heat which will break down the paraffin’s long chain molecules damaging its lubricity.
“Then after rapidly heating to 100ºC, the rice cookers then switch to warm. So if you pop the chain in and turn the rice cooker on and come back sometime later, the wax will be at 60ºC, near its point of setting solid again. The result will be a messy chain and a waste of wax.”
Can I melt my wax in a plastic bag?
Yes, as long as the bag is designed to cope with the heat.
Silca’s new Super Secret Hot Melt wax is marketed with this very idea, with the inclusion of a food- and temperature-safe reusable bag. The bag allows the wax to be melted in a pot of water, or even used within an ultrasonic cleaner.
At this time, using a dedicated (and low cost) slow cooker remains the most time-efficient and cleanest way to wax a chain.
What’s the ideal temperature to melt wax?
Paraffin has a melting point of about 60ºC (140°F), and so anywhere between 70-100ºC (158-212°F) is good to correctly melt the wax.
“I recommend to put the slow cooker on low and with the lid off and the chain on top of the set wax,” says Kerin. “Go away and play with something for a while, come back in about an hour to swish the chain around, then hang it to set [the wax].”
Kerin suggests that it’s almost impossible to overheat the wax using a slow cooker with the lid off. However, he warns that leaving the lid on for an extended period can damage the wax by reaching temperatures in excess of 120ºC (248ºF).
Is there anything different I need to do for SRAM Flat Top 12-speed chains?
SRAM’s Flat Top (AXS Road) chains tend to have tighter fitting pieces than most chains on the market and so proper lube penetration can be an issue. Molten Speed Wax recommends that you get the wax hotter than usual, specifically up to around 93 °C (200 °F). Secondly, it’s important to swish the chain longer than usual. The hotter wax offers a thinner viscosity that’ll more effectively get under the inner link shoulders and around the pin.
Why use multiple chains?
Using multiple chains in rotation is an old trick that works for anyone, regardless of whether you use wax or not. However, its application to immersive waxing is most obvious.
In this case, you can prep and wax your chains in bulk, greatly reducing the frequency and labour of the process.
From there, you have multiple chains to wear through at a slowed rate, further reducing the wear on your drivetrain components. Kerin suggests that users of Molten Speed Wax are able to get in excess of 30,000 km of riding from a cassette and chainrings.
For those who race, Kerin’s suggestion is to have a race-day (or weekend) chain and a week-day chain. The race-day chain should be kept clean and ready for your most important events, while the weekday chain behaves as the workhorse. Those doing massive distances will likely need two weekday chains, and a race-day chain (three chains in total).
Should I wax the quick links?
Yes, on first application. For following applications, Molten Speed Wax says yes, while Zero Friction Cycling says no.
Zero Friction Cycling’s reasoning is based on the fact that waxed quick links are much harder to install, and could lead to a risk of incorrect connection.
Do what you feel is best.
Can I apply the wax with an ultrasonic cleaner?
Yes, as long as the ultrasonic cleaner has a heating function that can reach approximately 80ºC (176ºF).
Josh Poertner of Silca suggests that an ultrasonic cleaner is the ultimate tool for getting the wax correctly distributed into all nooks and crannies of a chain. Poertner also suggests that this process can be done with the wax in a bag, suspended by water in the ultrasonic cleaner.
Adam Kerin disputes these claims, stating that it’s more important to ensure that the low-friction modifiers in the paraffin wax are correctly mixed throughout – something that’s likely harder to achieve by using a bag of wax. Kerin suggests that simply swishing the chain in the hot melt wax is likely to produce better results than using an ultrasonic cleaner alone.
However, Kerin suggests that vigorous swishing of the chain in a hot melt bath followed by a second wax bath in an ultrasonic cleaner is the pinnacle, and that this is how many race day chains are treated.
Either way, most affordable (cheap) ultrasonic cleaners have rather poor heating elements, and so you’ll likely be waiting a long time for your wax to reach the right temperature.
The best products for waxing a chain
What’s the best wax?
While the market is saturated with drip lube offerings, options are surprisingly scant for immersive wax products. The wax with the most supporting data is Molten Speed Wax, a tweaked production version of the wax recipe originally published by FrictionFacts in 2013.
The secret ingredient to Molten Speed Wax seems to be the food-grade paraffin wax. “The base wax in Mspeedwax is the highest food-grade paraffin available – you can literally eat this paraffin with no ill effects,” says Kerin. “This high-grade paraffin is expensive; I have looked at lab-grade paraffin from Norco chemical supplies in Australia, and a 1 lb bag of just the paraffin costs more than a 1 lb bag of Mspeedwax.”
Silca’s new hot melt (US$40 for a 500 g bag) looks to be a viable alternative to Molten Speed Wax, however, it’s extremely new to the market and there’s currently little test data to prove that it is more efficient than the cheaper Molten Speed Wax (US$20 for a 500 g bag).
Be wary of other chain products that use a lesser base wax. Some waxes are blended with oil, something that can aid in lubricity and decrease brittleness. “At more than 2-3% oil content, the oil can sweat out of the wax, creating an oily surface which can easily pick up contaminants,” explains Smith. “By definition, slack wax contains between 5% and 20% oil. Further refined are scale waxes, which contain 1-5% oil. Fully refined paraffin waxes (and food-grade paraffin) contain less than 0.5% oil.”
How long does a bag of wax last?
Molten Speed Wax suggests a bag of its wax is good for up to 30 uses. Based on Zero Friction Cycling’s 300 km recommended re-wax interval, this is 8,000 to 9,000 km per bag.
Keep in mind that putting dirt-covered chains or chains treated with drip-on waxes will reduce the effective lifespan of the wax pot.
How can I get the best efficiency from my waxed chain?
This depends on your starting point. If buying a pre-treated chain from the likes of CeramicSpeed or Zero Friction Cycling, then the chain will be ready to race immediately.
For those doing the waxing at home, Molten Speed Wax recommends that the chain will only become efficient after a minimum of 20 minutes riding, where the wax is broken in and polished. The company claims that the chain will hit its lowest friction point after 35-40 minutes of use.
Adding a “race day” powder to the exterior of the chain is another method for gaining even more speed than wax alone. This is how a product like the CeramicSpeed UFO chain is supplied. Molten Speed Wax also offers an efficiency-enhancing powder, something that should only be applied once the waxed chain is broken in. According to Smith’s testing, adding the Molten Speed Wax powder to a treated chain saves approximately 0.4 watts.
For those obsessed about every fraction of a watt and considering such a powder, then also consider using a dedicated chain for race days.
Can I make my own wax?
Yes! However, finding the ingredients to create a good one can be tricky.
“The simplest wax recipe, and still relatively fast, is a basic single-ingredient recipe-food-grade canning paraffin, such as Gulf Wax,” reveals Smith. “Simply dip the chain into straight paraffin.”
Want it to be faster? Use five grams of pure PTFE (Teflon) and one gram MoS2 (molybdenum disulfide) powder and mix it in with 500 grams of paraffin wax. This was the original FrictionFacts formula, a recipe that was shared by our own James Huang for BikeRadar back in 2013.
“However, to get the fastest hot-melt chain, it would be a very difficult DIY project,” says Smith. “For example, to replicate a home-brew blend to match the latest UFO Chain formula efficiency, we’re using a blend of waxes and friction modifiers that are either not available for consumer purchase or only available in inappropriate consumer quantities.”
I love the idea of wax, but want something without Teflon or other environmentally harmful friction modifiers. What do you recommend?
If efficiency isn’t important to you, then you can simply use pure food-grade paraffin wax by itself. Expect such a thing to give up approximately 0.7 W (at 250 W, 90 RPM) compared to a product like Molten Speed Wax. That slight increase in friction will also likely coincide with an increase in chain wear – although the exact difference will likely be negligible.
Can I use candle wax?
“Candles are made with cheap paraffin and commonly contain a high mineral oil content of typically around 7%,” says Adam Kerin of Zero Friction Cycling. “This means it will become quite gunky quickly, and this gunky part will gather more contamination, so the wax in the pot will soon become contaminated, too.”
So, no – probably best not to.
Can I use ski wax?
There are some wax products marketed for cycling which are awfully similar to what’s sold in the ski industry, however Smith’s testing points out that the required properties of a chain wax are vastly different to that of a ski wax.
“This happens to have high fluorocarbon content,” he says. “This is great for ski wax, because the surface tension is high, and the water in the snow cannot bind as well to the wax, making it faster. It’s terrible for chain waxes.
“The surface tension of the melted wax was so high that it didn’t wick very well into and onto the surface of the metal. The fluorocarbon, to some extent, created a wax-metal repulsion.”
What about beeswax, lanolin or other waxes?
Without getting too far into the weeds, there are countless wax combinations that could work in theory. However, to date many of these waxes haven’t been thoroughly tested and so they remain an unknown.
“There is a fairly unbelievable amount of home blending going on out there,” Kerin says. “Everyone thinks they have an astounding blend or have seen a supposedly astounding blend on YouTube [they] want me to test.”
Kerin believes that unless the base ingredient is food-grade paraffin, then it’ll be a lesser product.
“Some blends can certainly have a longer treatment lifespan, but at the cost of greater contamination. I recommend anyone who seriously wishes to assess their blend to buy a digital chain wear checker (or use vernier callipers) and accurately track wear rate to 0.5 mm net wear as a starting point. If it gets over 10,000 km then they have a good wax blend.”
Is it a good idea to add paraffin oil to my wax?
“Adding paraffin oil will make Mspeedwax or other paraffin wax treatments last longer, but it will eliminate the unassailable advantages of immersive waxing and running a slippery solid lubricant on your chain,” explains Kerin. “Not only do you re-introduce viscous friction and increase stiction which are two key areas where solid wax has an efficiency advantage over drip lubes, but airborne particles will stick like any other wet lube.”
What about a dry roll-on wax?
The experts say no.
The key benefit to immersive waxing is that the wax can flow into the inner components of the chain, where the lubrication is needed most. Quality wax-based drip lubes try to replicate this by suspending the wax in a liquid carrier.
It should be pretty obvious that rubbing solid wax onto the outside of the chain isn’t going to get it inside of the chain where it’s actually needed.
According to CeramicSpeed’s internal tests, using Wend Wax On + Wax Off results in a chain that hits a 6 W loss figure at its lowest, and quickly degrades from there. According to Smith, this puts it in a comparable efficiency range to 3-in-1 oil, motor oil, etc.
Do I need to clean the chain prior to re-waxing?
“In most cases, no, not all,” says Kerin. “For dry condition road riding or if caught in a light spray, just pop the chain off and re-wax.”
If you’re caught in a solid wet or mucky ride, then your wax will thank you for cleaning the chain prior to re-waxing. The process for this is described next.
My waxed chain looks dirty, how do I clean it prior to the next application?
With hot or boiling water. No chemicals are needed.
One easy approach is to take the chain off the bike, and then use a piece of coat hanger or an old spoke to loop the open ends of the chain together. From here the metal wire acts as a safe handle, while you pour the boiling water over your chain. Another method is to boil a pot of water and swish the chain in that.
Kerin warns against putting the chain in a closed container of boiling water. “Shaking very hot water releases steam; the steam pressure will explode the lid off in a dangerous fashion.”
Kerin also suggests drying the chain of its water prior to re-waxing. This can be done with compressed air, a hairdryer, or combining a clean rag with a little patience.
Another easy cleaning option involves a microfibre towel and some Isopropyl alcohol. Simply back-pedal the chain through the alcohol-damped rag to remove the worst of the gunk from the outside of the chain. Both Silca and Zero Friction Cycling now recommend doing this prior to adding any wax-based drip lube (aka top up lube) to the chain.
How do I know if I have overheated and damaged my wax?
At least for Molten Speed Wax, Kerin says, “if the wax has been overheated when it cools it will have a distinct yellowish tinge to it. If the wax has not been overheated it will cool to a dark grey, light grey, or white colour.”
How do I know if my pot of wax needs to be replaced?
According to Kerin, each re-wax will introduce a small amount of contamination into your wax pot. “As the wax fill level in the pot gets lower, and the amount of contamination in wax slowly becomes greater, the wax will become less amazing,” he says. “The contamination will abrade the wax off faster and so you will notice the treatment will start to feel and sound drier at a lower distance than what you remember.” This is a sign to treat yourself to a fresh lot of wax.
Smith suggests replacing the wax in the pot when it’s visibly dirty, or if the “waxed chain, after drying, has an oily feel”. That oily feel is likely a sign of the wax having been contaminated due to using a chain that wasn’t perfectly clean prior to being waxed.
I followed all the instructions and I’m using a good wax, but my chain feels and sounds drier much more quickly than expected. What has gone wrong?
According to Kerin, this is often seen with users of Shimano and KMC chains, and is the result of special low-friction coatings used.
“The issue isn’t just with immersive waxing either; it was found during chain longevity test projects that some chain coatings tend to rid off lubricants much faster than others, so many top drip lubes will also have a lesser treatment lifespan,” he says.
These low-friction coatings will wear off over time, but you’ll need to do more frequent waxing in the meantime. Otherwise consider using chains from SRAM, YBN, Campagnolo or Connex.
My waxed chain builds up a sticky mess everywhere, is this normal?
This will happen if you’re using a wax with a high oil concentration. Ensuring your initial cleaning process is correct and the use of a higher-grade wax should stop this issue.
Another potential issue is that you didn’t clean the chain (or drivetrain) well enough to begin with and the original grease is making things sticky. That factory chain grease is far more stubborn to remove than most people think!
My waxed chain remains clean, but my 11 and 12T cogs get gummed up, is this normal?
Yes, this can be normal as the smaller cogs don’t have space for the wax to clear itself. When you see this happening, just take a pokey tool, such as a small flat-blade screwdriver or old spoke, and scrape it away. It’s rather low maintenance in the grand scheme of things.
My waxed chain makes a flaky mess and my Zwifting is causing domestic tension. Is this normal?
Yes, this is normal for most immersive wax products. You won’t notice this on the road, but it’ll make a bit of a mess indoors.
“[Wax flakes] are easily vacuumed up, and any build-up on the trainer itself you can just brush off with a stiff brush, and then vacuum up,” says Kerin. “You can minimise the excess a bit by wiping the outside of the chain with a cloth after removing the chain from the pot and hanging to set.”
Using a drip-on wax lube as a top-up lube is another option (covered below). Doing this will help seal in the hard wax that might others flake off.
What’s the best method for reducing the frequency of waxing?
Putting multiple chains into rotation is the best method.
Alternatively, you can consider using a top-up lube, but do beware that there are seriously limited options for great drip-on waxes that maintain all the benefits of melt-on waxing. CeramicSpeed UFO Drip (new generation) is a fantastic option. Silca’s Super Secret lube is another great option, although tends to not run quite as cleanly as the CeramicSpeed lube. And Tru-Tension BananaSlip Tungsten All-Weather is another that comes highly recommended by Zero Friction Cycling.
Meanwhile, popular wax-based drip lubes such as Squirt and Smoove can be used, but these will certainly attract more dirt into the chain, and therefore a reduction in cleanliness and drivetrain longevitiy.
My chain went very stiff after waxing, what’s up with that?
That’s the wax hardening and is perfectly normal. You need to break up the exterior wax bonds manually to get the chain articulating.
This is best done in an area where you don’t mind wax flaking off. The most efficient method is to wrap the chain around a cylindrical object, such as a broom handle or old seatpost. Otherwise manually moving each link with your hands will achieve the same result.
I waxed my chain and now it’s missing a roller! Help!
While rare, this can happen, especially on chains that are somewhat worn. Don’t fret, this roller is most likely at the bottom of your wax pot. To retrieve it, melt the wax, pour into an aluminium BBQ tray, retrieve the roller, then pour the wax back into the pot.
Zero Friction Cycling says that if you’re worried about this happening, then use a paperclip through the end of the chain.
How do I know when my chain is due for re-treatment?
According to Kerin, “when wax treatment begins to wear thin, you’ll hear or feel a noticeable ‘zzzz, zzzzz,zzzzz, zzzzz’ sound with each pedal stroke. This noise and feeling happens well in advance of squeaking, and so is a clear indicator to re-wax.
“On-road this advance warning is [after] about 200 to 300 km; if it’s a really harsh-conditions event (think muddy CX) the warning window will be short, but so is the race.”
Squeaking sounds are a sign that things have simply been left too long. Re-waxing or using a top-up lube at more regular intervals is the best way forward here.
I live in a very hot region. Is there a risk of melting the wax from the ambient temperature?
“It is possible in hot countries (i.e. Dubai) where temperatures are in the high 40s (Celcius), that the wax will soften and act a bit more like a wax drip lube vs solid wax coating, likely to be of a consistency like Smoove or Squirt,” says Kerin.
“However it will still be very highly contamination-resistant as it will not be an actual liquid until around 60ºC (140ºC), so the majority of dust will still bounce off / not stick on contact.”
Can I add lube over the top of my wax? If so, which is best?
Yes. Although do be aware that this often carries compromises in regards to contamination.
If you’re set on using a top-up lube, then you’ll retain the best results, and make your next re-waxing process easiest, if you use a true wax-based drip-lube. These include Tru-Tension Tungsten All weather, CeramicSpeed UFO Drip, Smoove, Squirt, and Silca’s Super Secret lube. Some higher-performing lubes such as Absolute Black Graphene lube are also a good choice but carry a higher asking price.
Originally it was suggested to only add such top-up lubes once the wax begins to wear thin, but the latest advice is that a high-quality top-up lube (which have progressed greatly in the past two years) can help to seal in the melt-on wax while also adding further lubrication. This top-up method is something that Silca recommends doing with its products. Both Silca and Zero Friction Cycling recommend using a microfibre towel (or at least something that is clean and lint-free) and some Isopropyl alcohol to wipe down the outside of the chain prior to adding a drip-on wax. This small cleaning step will ensure that you don’t seal dirt into the chain with the drip-on lubricant.
Do consider that many drip lubes use a different wax type to immersive wax products and so may not adhere to the chain perfectly. Likewise, expect many of these drip products to collect more contamination and require cleaning – sometimes with more than just boiling water – prior to the next immersive waxing.
Use of any wet oil-based lube is not recommended. According to Smith: “the solid wax and liquid oil will combine to create a paste-y concoction. It violates all of the rules: massive viscous drag, stiction, and the goop would be a contaminant magnet.” Using such an oil will require you to reset the chain back to bare metal prior to the next immersive waxing – the hardest part about chain waxing.
I’m going on a riding holiday (or doing a multi-stage event) and don’t feel like packing a slow cooker. What do I do?
The ideal would be to pack extra pre-waxed chains. This would ensure your drivetrain retains all the benefits of immersive wax.
Otherwise use a top-up lube.
Another tip thrown around is to use a hairdryer (often provided in hotel rooms) to remelt the wax into the links of the chains. It’s a technique that may help but will have a limited impact. Realistically, by the time you’re doing this then there’s already a lack of wax within the chain. A top-up lube is a better option.
That’s the end of the endless FAQ to chain waxing. We’ll update this post as more questions/information surface. In the meantime, you can continue down the rabbit hole into the world of bicycle chains.