How to clean skate bearings
Cleaning your cruiser board, 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.
The basic sequence of events we're going to show you goes like this:
- Degrease your bearings
- Clean your bearings
- Regrease your bearings
Now you know the basics, it's time to get everything you need together!
- How to clean your bearings - Step by Step
- Do I really need to remove the balls and cage from my bearings to clean them?
- I damaged the cage taking it out. Can I run my bearings without it?
- I lost a ball bearing... does it matter?
- Can I clean metal shielded skate bearings?
- What happens if I bend the shield accidently?
- Can you use WD40 on skateboard bearings?
- What do you lube skate bearings with?
- Can I use regular oil (like 3 in 1) in my bearings for extra speed?
- Does lubing my skate bearings really make that much of a difference?
- Is white lithium lubricant spray good for bearings?
- Can you over-grease skateboard bearings?
- Can I use olive oil on skateboard bearings?
- I'm lazy and I can't be bothered with all this. Is there a quick way of cleaning skate bearings?
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 or Sabre Bearing Lube - these are skate-specific lubes that don't protect from water ingress as well, but are specially designed for skateboard bearings and rolls much faster. Here's a bit more detail on recommended lubes for skate bearings.
- Degreaser or solvent - we use Citrus degreaser for this. Petrol is a good alternative, as is White Spirit. WD40 works if can't find anything else. Engine degreaser or similar will work too. If you're really desperate, you can degrease your bearngs with washing up liquid and warm water - but make sure you dry your bearings out afterwards!!!!
- 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!!!
Some rubber-shielded bearings ("RS" type) have a tiny gap in between the shield and the inner race - use this gap if you can to get the shield off, as it's much less likely to be damaged. You should be able to slide the very tip of your knife to take the shield off from the inner race - once it's free of the inner, it'll just pop off.
If you have quality bearings like Bones Bearings, Bronson G3's or Sabre Built In Race Bearings, it's likely that your bearings have Labyrinth ("RU") shields. These are a bit harder to get off - again, go from the inner race, use the very tip of the knife and be very, very careful not to pierce or bend the shield. If your Labyrinth bearings have two shields per bearing, consider just taking the inner one off and leaving the outer one alone. Labyrinth bearings are way better sealed anyway, so they need cleaning a lot less.
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!
If you did bend a shield, it might be better to leave it off and put the shieldless side back in on the inside of the wheel. Decent bearings like Bones Bearings only have on shield anyway.
9. Reassemble and skate!
Put it all back together and go for a roll on your smooth new bearings!
Step 3A seems pretty hardcore. Do I really need to remove the balls and cage?
You can definitely skip this step if you're not feeling brave.
Whilst removing each ball 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.
Can I clean metal shielded skate 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 shield should come off.
Proper skate bearings have rubber shields partly becuase they are much easier to remove without damaging them. Metal shielded bearings are a lot more fiddly to deal with.
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 shield 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.
Can you use WD40 on skateboard bearings?
NO. WD40 is a degreaser - not a grease!!
The object of cleaning your bearings is to remove all the grease, clean the bearings, then add grase back in. Spraying WD40 will remove the old grease, but it won't clean your bearings, and it won't regrase them afterwards.
Filling your bearings with WD40 and skating them without regreasing will result in destroyed bearings. Don't say we didn't warn you!
While we're here, WD40, GT85, PTFE spray and similar "teflon" based lubricants are REALLY bad for the environment. They usually contain Perfluorooctanoic Acid ("C8"), a toxic long chain carbon chemical which cannot be broken down natually and persists in the environment for centuries. Look for "PFOA free" on your degreasing/lubrication products!
What do you lube skate bearings with?
When you choose a lube for your skate bearings, you can choose rolling speed, or long life. All skate lube is a compromise between these two things.
- For 98% of skaters reading this, we recommend a thin bearing grease like Sabre Bearing Lube, Bones Speed Cream, Tri Flow, Sewing Machine Oil, Dry Chain Lube (for bikes) or similar. Synthetic Engine Oil works quite well too...!
- For skating in the rain where roll speed is less important than keeping water out, we recommend something like a Marine grease or engine grease - the thick green or blue stuff that you get out of a grease gun or in a tub. Pack your bearings full of grease and they will last a lot longer! This is also a good option if you are lazy and can't be bothered to clean your bearings often.
- For maximum speed, If you really look after your bearings and don't mid lubing them really regularly, the you can use a very light oil - but please read the 3in1 point below! Oil allows the bearing to spin really really fast, but you'll need to keeo them lubed and your bearings will have no protection if you skate in the rain.
Can I use regular oil (like 3 in 1) in my bearings for extra speed?
Yes - see above - BUT be aware that centrifugal force will spin oil out of your bearings and you'll need to regrease them regularly to stop them seizing up.
It's suprising how fast an oiled bearing looses its lubrication, and as soon as there's nothing left to lubricate the bearing, you risk overheating it 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.
Is white lithium lubricant spray good for bearings?
Not really. Aerosol spray on grease is messy to apply, and evapourates to nothing leaving your bearings unlubricated. You are much better off with a thick grease from a tub, or a super-light grease from a pipette (like the skate-specific lubes we offer here).
Can you over-grease skateboard bearings?
If you want maximum roll speed, too much grease will slow your bearings down. However, a grease-filled bearing will be really good at keeping water and dirt out, and will last a lot longer before it needs cleaning. So if you skate in the rain a bit, then fill 'em up!
Can I use olive oil on skateboard bearings?
I'm lazy and I can't be bothered with all this. Is there a quick way of cleaning skate bearings?
The super quick and dirty way to make your bearings run faster is to just chuck some Bearing Lube in there.
This might do quite a good job of pushing any moisture out and preventing any rust - but it will not remove any dirt from your bearings, which is what causes them to wear and run slowly.
Lubing without cleaning can produce suprisingly good results if you do it often, but we really recommend doing a full strip-down clean every now and then to prolong your bearing life and get maximum speed out of your bearings.