Having a clean drivetrain is essential to maintaining your bike's drivetrain performance and longevity. While cleaning and lubing the chain should be done on a weekly basis (if you ride multiple times a week), there are other parts of the drivetrain that demand attention. In particular, the bike cassette needs to be cared for regularly. A dirty cassette will hurt performance while hastening wear in the chain, cogs and derailleur — all of which will hit you in the pocketbook to replace.
Cleaning your bike cassette is important to do every couple of months or so when dirt and grease build up. We put together this bike cassette cleaning guide to help riders keep their drivetrain running smoothly. Interested in learning about the drivetrain on your bike? Check out our learn center page about this topic.
There are a couple of different techniques that the bike mechanics at L9 Sports use to clean cassettes. Let's call them the "quick" way and the "thorough" way, or “deep clean”.
Tools You'll Need For The Job
Cassette lock ring tool and chain whip (for "thorough way")
Large crescent wrench
Quick Cassette Cleaning
The quick way is easy and only takes a few minutes to do. You don't even need to remove the cassette from the wheel. This method is usually fine if you're doing regular cleanings. All you need is degreaser, a rag and a cassette brush.
Step 1: To begin, remove the rear wheel from the bike. Set the wheel on a workbench.
Step 2: Pour a little bit of degreaser into a small dish or onto your brush directly.
Step 3: Use the brush to scrub the whole cassette and each individual cog. Try to get in between the gears as much as possible.
Step 4: Scrub the surface and loosen the grease. Grab a rag and use the edge to clean the excess in between each gear.
Your cassette should be decently clean and ready to install back on your bike. Clean and degrease your chain before doing this. This will prevent it from dirtying up your cassette when reinstalled.
Thorough Cassette Cleaning
The thorough way requires that you remove the cassette completely from your bike. We recommend a bike cassette deep clean if it's been a long time between cleanings or if you do a lot of mountain/trail/dirt road riding. To do this, you need the correct cassette tool for your bike cassette and a chain whip. The most common is the Shimano cassette removal tool, which works for SRAM as well. If you are using Campagnolo, then you need a special Campy cassette tool.
Step 1: To remove the cassette, you have to first remove the wheel and quick release it.
Step 2: Place the cassette tool into the splines of the cassette. Put the chain whip on the cassette so that the handle is on the left side of the cassette. The chain will wrap around the cassette and allow you to put a wrench on the cassette tool and untwist it.
Step 3: Thoroughly clean each cog with rags and degreaser. Some cassettes don't allow you to remove each cog individually, but with it off the wheel, you can soak it in a degreaser and scrub it a little better than when it is installed on the hub.
NOTE: When you are re-installing your cassette, make sure you don't forget any spacers between the gears. The gears are designed to only fit onto the freehub in the correct position, so there is no way to install one backward as if it were flipped over the wrong way. Also, be sure you install each gear from the largest first to the smallest. Once you have all the cogs back on the freehub body, tighten the cassette down with the cassette tool and wrench. You don't want to over-tighten the cassette lockring, but you don't want to leave it loose either. Most models will start to feel like they are ratcheting when you tighten them down sufficiently.
Do I Need to Lubricate or Clean a New Cassette?
Some riders have asked whether they need to clean the cassette on a bike when buying a new one. If you're buying a brand-new bike or cassette from a shop, they'll be fine. However, if you've purchased a used bike, you should thoroughly clean the cassette, since you don't know how well the previous owner maintained it.
Lubricating a cassette is generally not necessary if you'e properly greasing/lubing the chain. A sufficient amount will then spread to the teeth on the cassette as you ride. The one thing you might grease is the thread on the lock ring, as this will help it come off for future deep cleans or replacements.