How to clean skate bearings
Cleaning your longboard or skateboard bearings is quite a time-consuming exercise, but it's worth doing if you've got the time, inclination, and you want to save yourself a few quid on some new bearings. Read on with our handy step-by-step guide!
1. Tools Required
You will need:
- About half an hour that you value less than spending £15 on a new set of bearings. If you're reading this it's probably dark outside, or raining, or both. If it's sunny, stop right now and go skateboarding - cleaning your bearings is not for daylight!
- Skate Tool or 1/2" Socket to take your wheels off
- Knife blade, pin or something else small, sharp and pointy
- Grease - for maximum protection againist water at the expense of roll speed, use a thick engine grease. We recommend Bones Speed Cream - it doesn't protect from water ingress as well, but it's specially designed for skateboard bearings and it rolls much faster.
- Degreaser or solvent - we use Citrus degreaser for this. Petrol is a good alternative, or WD40 if you can't find anything else. Engine degreaser or similar will work too.
- A bit of rag
- A metal or plastic tin with a lid
- A flat work surface that's clean, dry and well lit.
- Optional - Hair dryer. We're using a heat gun set on the "cold" setting.
2. Remove bearings
You'll need to remove your bearings from your board first... Check out our "how to swap your wheels round super fast" page for a quick way of doing this...
3. Remove shields
Use the knife blade or whatever you have to remove the rubber shield. Be very careful not to bend the shield when taking it off!!!
3a. OPTIONAL - Remove cages and balls
If you're feeling brave and really want to do a proper job, you can take the balls and cages out and clean then individually. Use your knife blade to prize the cage out. Be VERY careful not to damage the cage, you're buying new bearings if you do.
Push all the balls to one side of the bearing race and drop the inner race out. It make take a bit of force to do this. Be VERY careful not to loose any of the balls! If you insist on doing this step then we can recommend doing the whole operation on a tea tray with a lip, this way if you drop anything you shouldn't loose it. A well-organised and well-lit working area really pays off here.
Put the bearings in your tin, and fill with degreaser. Put the lid on the tin, give everything a good shake. You can leave the bearings for a few minutes/and hour/overnight if you're not in a rush - it'll help all the old grease and dirt come off.
Use your rag to clean each bearing, spinning it until it's smooth. If you've taken all the balls and races out, put the bearings back together after you've cleaned each part individually.
You can just leave your bearings to dry, or you can give them a quick blast with a hair dryer to speed things up. Most degreasers just evaporate by themselves fairly quickly.
If you're using a thin grease, dab a spot on each ball. If you're using a thicker grease to keep the water out, pack the race full of it!
8. Put Shields Back on
If you managed to keep your shields flat when you took them off, they should just drop straight back in. Please be gentle to avoid bending!
9. Reassemble and skate!
How to clean your skate bearings - FAQ's
Can I use WD40 to lube my bearings?
NO. WD40 is a degreaser - not a grease!! Filling your bearings with WD40 and skating them without regreasing will result in destroyed bearings. Don't say we didn't warn you...
What's the best lube for skate bearings?
This depends on what you are trying to do. For "rain" bearings, where roll speed is less important than keeping water out, we recommend something like a Marine grease - the thick green stuff. White Silicone Bicycle Grease isn't as good in our experience, and it's often more expensive too. We recommend a thin bearing grease like Bones Speed Cream, Tri Flow, Dry Lube or similar. You can use Engine Oil if you really want...!
Can I use regular oil (like 3 in 1) in my bearings for extra speed?
Yes - BUT - be aware that centrifugal force will spin oil out of your bearings and you'll need to regrease them to stop them seizing up. It's suprising how fast an oiled bearing looses it's oil, and as soon as there's nothing left to lubricate the bearing, you risk overheating a bearing and melting a wheel. Yes, you read that right... and trust us, melting or "puking" a wheel is not something you want to experience first hand!!
Does lubing my skate bearings really make that much of a difference?
Yes - but it is quite fiddly and time consuming, so a lot of skaters just buy fresh bearings instead. Cleaning your bearings is a good way to rescue a set that you have skated in the rain, and will prolong their life quite substantially, saving you some cash in the long run. But we find that wheel choice makes more of a difference than cleaning your bearings, unless your bearings are really so bad that they hardly spin round. One thing you can do that will really help is to keep a set of skate bearings filled with as thicker grease as your "rain" bearings that you can abuse, and then have a set of nice clean ones for when it's dry. Ten minutes in wet conditions can be enough to destroy a good set of skate bearings, so it's worth keeping a nice set back for special occasions.
Step 3A seems pretty hardcore. Do I really need to remove the balls and cage?
You can defnitely skip this step if you're not feeling brave. Whilst it does allow you to clean each individual ball and check the races for wear, it does make the whole process a lot more time consuming and fiddly. Your chances of loosing or damaging something are also increased, so it could result in being more expensive if you end up having to buy new bearings anyway.
I bent or damaged the cage in Step 3A. Can I run my bearings without the cage?
No. Please don't try.
I did Step 3A and lost a ball... does it really matter?
What if I have metal shielded bearings?
Cheaper skate bearings have a metal shield, which is much harder to remove. If you have metal shielded bearings there will be a circlip that holds the shield in place, just pop this out with a pin and the sheild should come off. Proper skate bearings have rubber shields partly becuase they are much easier to remove without damaging them.
What happens if I bend the shield accidently?
It's VITAL that the shields remain flat. A bent shield will result in a rough-rolling bearing, with a bad seal. It's possible to unbend a bent shield, but it needs to be perfectly flat in order to do it's job. We would suggest that if you bend a sheild taking it off, you're probably better off just running your bearings with a single shield on the outside of the bearing, leaving the inner side unshielded.