I don’t know that I have ever gone for a ride and avoided getting bike grease somewhere on my person.
Usually it’s that telltale “chain tattoo” on my leg. You know, the one where you get that lovely chain stamp on your leg because you leaned your leg up against the chain?
I mean, that chain tattoo is pretty much just a mainstay of my rides. It’s a feature! No matter how hard I try to keep myself clean and free of bike grease, it seems to magically appear.
I find it on my leg from leaning my chain up against it. Or, I find it on my hands because I was helping someone with a flat. And then, I transfer it to my handlebars and they feel sticky and gross…you get the picture!
The worst, though, is when you get bike grease on your clothes. You can rub that leg raw for 30 secondsin the shower and remove the grease, but when it’s in your clothes? It can take a LOT more work.
Of course, it always seems to be our favorite cycling clothes that we manage to get bike grease all over!
As someone who generally gets all the things all over herself in every situation, I have had a lot of experience removing stains from clothing. Even as a grown adult I constantly find food that I have dribbled down my front. Or, worse, someone else sees it and points it out!
I have found in my stain removal experience that different stains require different methods and products. Bike grease is its own little animal, but luckily it’s a VERY easy animal to deal with when handled properly.
Read on for a truly simple, step-by-step process to remove bike grease from your clothes!
Step 1: Grab the Right Stuff
All you need is Dawn and an old toothbrush. That’s it!
Bike grease has oil in it, and anything that has oil in it needs a degreaser (think you need to remove the grease!). One of the best degreasers I have ever come across in my stain-fighting career is Dawn dishwashing liquid.
Dawn is glorious for this purpose. It is mild, cheap, and readily available. At my grocery store I can usually snag a small bottle for about $1.50.
There is something about that age-old, trusty, blue bottle of Dawn that cuts grease like nothing I have ever seen. Whether you have a bike grease stain or you dribbled an oily salad dressing down your shirt, Dawn is going to be your best friend.
I mean, I use it to clean my bike chain, so it’s not too much of a stretch to use it to clean my cycling clothes too! Now, I am sure there are plenty of commercial degreasers that are more powerful, but I literally have never had a bike grease stain beat me when I have had Dawn by my side.
I know, this sounds very dramatic, but it’s true! I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing stains disappear that look like they are IN there for good.
In this particular instance, I am sharing my experience with a beautiful white pair of cycling socks from Peppermint. I absolutely LOVE these socks but…well…they are white and they are on the taller side. This means that just about every time I wear them they will have a big ole grease stain on them from my bike chain.
This just means I have to give them a little extra TLC. And, thanks to my easy method for removing bike grease, it’s actually not THAT big of a deal to get the bike grease out.
In addition to the Dawn, you might want to also grab an old toothbrush. You will only use this if you absolutely need it though, and you have to be very gentle with it. Most of the time the bike grease will come out of your cycling clothes pretty easily without much of any work on your part.
Please note that you can certainly opt to use a different degreaser. I have heard of people who use WD-40 even on their bike grease stains! The idea though is that you want to be careful with the fabric.
The mildest degreaser for the job is usually the best. The last thing you want to do is damage the delicate fibers of your cycling gear by using something on it that’s too harsh.
Additionally, some swear by adding some baking soda to the dawn and making a paste to attack the stain. I personally have never found this to be necessary, but it’s worth a try if you don’t have success with dawn alone.
Step 2: Attack That Stain ASAP!
Now, here is my confession. This particular stain sat on these socks for WEEKS. Truly.
I last wore my Peppermint socks when this photo was taken, and that was SIX WEEKS ago. That is a LONG time for a black bike grease stain to be sitting on a WHITE clothing item.
I remember taking them off, throwing them in my bag, and heading home. I got home late and forgot all about the socks. Then, when I was writing this article I remembered them and decided that this would absolutely put my method to the test!
I do not recommend waiting six weeks. The quicker you get to a stain and lift it out of the fabric, the easier it will lift and the less intervention will be required on your part.
The idea is to fully saturate the stain in the degreaser (Dawn). Do not be stingy here. Make sure that your stain is completely covered in blue.
Because the stain had been sitting there for so long, I actually let the degreaser work its magic for a few hours before I did anything. This lifting time is important for tough stains. The last thing you want to do is rinse the degreaser right out of a baked in there stain without giving it a chance to do its job.
If you get to the stain right away, however, you can probably just gently work the Dawn in there with your fingers and rinse it right on out. Or even just saturate the item with Dawn and run it through the laundry…I have had this work too!
Since I didn’t get to it right away, and after a few hours I could still see the stain was very much there, I gently, VERY gently, worked in a circular motion with the toothbrush to help lift the stain.
You want to be gentle for two reasons. 1) You don’t want to just mush that grease/dirt in there further and 2) You don’t want to break up the fibers of your clothing.
In the past I have addressed stains on these socks right away, and they didn’t need any toothbrush action. This is way better because it keeps the fibers from the added stress of my toothbrush action. After six weeks, however, the toothbrush proved to be necessary.
Whether you are using the toothbrush or your finger to work the stain, you want to gently (even if you’re just using your fingers you should still be gentle!) work up a nice white lather so you don’t even see the stain anymore. It should look something like this.
Step 3: Rinse and Repeat if Necessary, and Wash as Usual
Once you have that lather worked in, give the item a good rinse and survey your handiwork. You can also just throw it in the washer like I did and see how it comes out! Side note, if your clothes ALSO stink, this WIN detergent for athletic fabrics works pretty well too!
Honestly I had my doubts this time around, but I shouldn’t have. The grease was gone to the point where I couldn’t even tell which sock had the stain to begin with.
If you see that there is still some of the bike grease present, simply rinse and repeat until it’s gone. Add some more dawn, work it in again, and rinse it yourself/throw it through the washer.
It’s rare for me that a bike grease item needs a round two of degreasing. Usually the stain comes out the first time. I find round two happens more so with oil-based salad dressing stains, interestingly enough.
Still, depending on how much work you put in with bike grease stain removal round one, you may need a round two or a round three.
Sometimes we like to make stain removal more complicated than it is. By following this simple, 3-step process and a little bit of patience, you will be well on your way to getting all the bike grease out of your cycling clothes!
More Stuff You Might Like
- How to Clean and Lube Your Bike Chain (It’s Easy!)
- 11 Ways To Find More Time To Ride Your Bike
- Cycling For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know
About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son.