How to Get Bike Grease Out of Clothes | 5 DIY Methods

Looking for some quick ways to get bike grease out of your clothes? As a cyclist, you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty, particularly when performing maintenance or repairs on your bike. Unfortunately, it’s often not just your hands that end up filthy but also your clothes.

How many times have you stained your clothes rubbing against a filthy tire while checking for a flat?

Worse, you’ve probably seen your fair share of chain lube stains, giving your garments the permanent appearance of having just been wet with water.

Worst of all, however, are bicycle grease stains. This thick, gooey substance seems to get into fabric and cling for dear life. And, unlike most chain lube, bicycle grease contains a variety of ingredients that can cause discoloration or other damage if it is not quickly removed.

That is the tricky part. You can’t just rinse a grease stain out. Nor can you toss the greasy garment in with the rest of your laundry and expect the detergent to take care of it.

Not only will that not clean the stain, it will transfer it to the rest of your clothes.

So, what methods can be used to tackle these stains? There are actually several. To maximize their effectiveness, it’s worth taking a moment to understand how bike grease defeats most methods of cleaning.

What You Need to Know About Bike Grease Stain?

You’ve probably used the terms “grease” and “lube” interchangeably, but they are different beasts. While both are lubricants, they have different applications.

Basically, grease is a semi-solid form of lubricant, used where liquid lubricants are unsuitable. On a bike, this means the wheel bearings, headsets, bottom brackets, and the seat post. It’s also applied to the threads of every screw and bolt, and the internals of the braking system.

The purpose of the grease is to allow smooth motion, prevent metal parts from seizing, and to stop water from entering treated areas. As it is applied to places that are generally not often tampered with, grease is made to remain effective for a very long time.

Bike grease is made up of three basic parts: oil, thickener, and additives.

The oil is the lubricant. These can be mineral, synthetic, or even vegetable oils depending upon intended use.

The thickener is what takes that liquid oil and holds it in a semi-solid state, usually granting it some additional properties like increased adhesion or water resistance.

Things like lithium and calcium soap are common thickeners.

The additives either enhance or inhibit the inherent properties of the other ingredients, depending upon the intended use of the grease.

Get Bike Grease Out of Cloth
Image Credit: Natalie HG | Licence: CC BY 2.0

Why is Bike Grease So Difficult to Remove?

To begin with, bike grease is made up of oils, which are hydrophobic. This means that water molecules are repelled by them. Since the act of cleaning with water only works when the water can remove the stain from the fabric, this poses a serious problem.

Worse, the thickeners in the grease are not only water resistant, but they have adhesive properties. In other words, they have molecules that are actively attracted to other surfaces.

So, not only does grease ignore water, it clings to everything else!

The Best Proven Ways to Get Bike Grease Out of Clothes

With the above information, you can now make an informed decision about which grease cleaning methods will be most effective in dealing with your stains.

Note, before you try any of these methods, test the solution on an inconspicuous portion of the garment to check for discoloration.

1. Natural Ways to Remove Bike Grease Stains

As tough as these stains can be, you don’t have to resort to complicated chemical solutions to treat them. Nature provides a variety of substances that will get the job done.

You can use a solution of water and vinegar to break down tough stains, or water and salt. Just rub them in gently with a cloth, and don’t let them sit too long — they can damage certain fabrics.

Even the gel of the aloe vera plant can be effective, if you soak the affected area in water awhile first.

The most effective natural solutions come in a dry form. Cornstarch, talcum or baby powder, and even chalk will soak up stubborn grease stains, given time.

However, the best of them all is baking soda.

2. Baking Soda

This is the simplest method, though it takes the longest. It consists of just 4 simple steps:

Spread baking soda over the stain liberally, addressing both sides of the fabric, making sure the stain is completely covered. For a thicker fabric, it can help to gently agitate the powder into the weave with a brush.

Leave it undisturbed for a minimum of 8 hours.

Brush the baking soda off thoroughly. If the stain is not completely gone, repeat the process. Then Wash the garment as normal.

This may seem too good to be true, but rest assured it’s not a miracle — just simple science.

Remember, grease is made up of oils and other hydrophobic compounds. While these things are not attracted to water, they are attracted to alkaline substances such as baking soda.

Given enough time, this attraction allows the baking soda to absorb the grease. What’s left behind after you brush the dry waste away is a far more water soluble stain that can be washed away as usual.

3. Dish Detergent and Baking Soda

Sometimes, additives in a bike grease will do additional damage to your clothing if the stain isn’t cleaned immediately. In such cases, waiting 8 hours won’t cut it.

Other times, you have a particularly stubborn grease stain, deep in a heavy fabric. Or maybe you just need those pants clean sooner than the baking soda-only method allows. That’s when this method comes in handy.

Best used on fresh stains, this combo of cleaners gets the job done. Just follow these 5 steps:

First, mix baking soda with dish detergent to form a paste. Make sure to use a detergent that specifically claims to break down grease.

Then spread the paste onto the stain, then scrub it in thoroughly with a toothbrush.

Leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Rinse the spot clean, running the water from the interior of the garment outwards. Allow the area to dry completely. If upon inspection, the stain is not completely gone, just repeat the process.

Since you already know that baking soda works, you’re probably wondering what the addition of the detergent accomplishes.

Dish detergent is a surfactant, which means it helps to break down the surface tension that holds liquids together. Fresh grease stains are more susceptible to this method, as they are not yet dried out.

The detergent contains a carefully concocted blend of hydrophobic and hydrophilic compounds. Parts of the compound attract the stain, while other parts are attracted to water. Working in tandem, they allow a stain to be washed away.

With the baking soda further breaking down the grease’s resistance to the surfactant, the stain doesn’t stand a chance.

4. Soap And Shampoo

Your everyday soap and shampoo are made to work against body oil, but you can easily turn them against the dirtiest grease stains. In fact, it is my go-to cleaning method for minor stains on cloth.

On 6 out of 10 times it will be all that you be needed for the job. Apply a few drops of shampoo onto the grease stain and spread it well with your fingers.

Leave for 10-15 minutes and rinse it well with water, this will make the grease lose easy to be cleaned with regular soap. Rub a bar of soap on the stain and rub it gently with a toothbrush for some time.

This should remove all the stains visible but need a thorough wash for a full cleanup. Go for your regular washing method then allow it to dry in shade.

5. Stain Removal Product

Finally, you can always buy a stain remover specially formulated for this task. I saved this for the end because the DIY methods above are cheaper, and can handle the problem just as well.

However, one thing a professionally formulated product can sometimes offer is colorfastness guarantees for certain pigments and fabric types.

If you choose to go this route, simply follow the instructions on the product. You will likely find they are very similar to those of the dish detergent & baking soda mixture.

Preventive Measures: How to Avoid Bike Grease on Your Clothes

You can avoid the hassle of scrubbing out stubborn stains by avoiding them altogether. Just take a few simple precautions:

Wear Coveralls: When you have to do serious work on your bike, wear coveralls to protect your clothes.

Wear Gloves: They will allow you to completely leave the grease behind, instead of having to scrub your hands only to find out you missed a spot when you leave a stain on your shirt.

Keep a Rag Handy: When you expose an area of the bike that’s covered in grease, wipe it off before you handle it.

Use a Splash Guard or Poncho: If you are cleaning greasy components, you don’t want to be splashed by the dirty water or cleaning solution. Have a splash guard in place, or wear a protective poncho.

Conclusion

Bike grease causes the worst of the bike-related stains, but, unless you are a bike mechanic, you’re far less likely to be dealing with the greased internal mechanisms.

Luckily, the methods above will work just as well on chain lube. In fact, they will probably work even better, since lube isn’t full of additives that can make stains more stubborn.

Either way, if you do have to perform serious maintenance, do yourself a favor and wear gloves and protective coveralls. There’s no way to completely avoid stains when doing that kind of work, and unless you want to start buying baking soda in bulk, it’s easier to wear something that can just remain stained.

At the very least, don’t wear your favorite, expensive clothing, because although the methods you’ve learned here will clean up the grease, some delicate fabrics will be ruined on contact.

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