This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
Proper chain lubrication is an essential part of making sure your bike is performing well. Can you use vegetable oil on a bike chain?
Maybe you don’t have anything else on hand, or maybe you simply don’t want to invest in a bike lubricant for some reason. After all, vegetable oil can do the work just as well, can’t it?
Vegetable oil is an acceptable replacement if you’re in an emergency, but definitely not the best idea for a default lubricant. Vegetable oil doesn’t have any of the additives you’d find in dedicated bike lubricants, which makes it much less suited for the task.
There are also some downsides to using vegetable oil on your bike chain that you may not have considered before. Sure, having something is better than nothing at all, but you may find that excessive use of vegetable oil as lubricant is not a great idea either.
We spent some time using vegetable oil as bike chain lubricant to see how well it works and what problems arise. All that information has been collected here in one place.
Using Vegetable Oil On Bike Chains
The viscosity of cooking oil is very close to bike lubricants, so many people think that it can act as a good replacement. In reality, vegetable oil can’t actually hold on as long as you’d expect or want it to.
While it does work if you have nothing else, vegetable oil should only be used as a very temporary replacement until you manage to get your hands on proper bike lubricant.
Still, there can be some advantages to using vegetable oil as well.
Pros of Using Vegetable Oil
Whether or not the lubricant you use is toxic isn’t directly related to the performance of your bike, but it does have to do with your own safety. Most options for bike lubricants are toxic, which means that when you’re doing any sort of hands-on work, you could be exposed to toxic vapor.
For example, while lubricating the chain or even simply working on some repairs, you could breathe in the vapor of these lubricants. This vapor can be dangerous.
With vegetable oil, because it is not toxic, you don’t have to worry about whether your hands get soaked or breathing in the vapor.
On top of that, vegetable oil is also better for the environment. Most products that are genetically modified are not biodegradable, unlike vegetable oil. Since it will eventually evaporate into the air when you apply it on your bike, you don’t have to worry about harming the environment.
Cooking oil is economical as compared to bike chain lubricants. This is because lubricants are pressurized, and even small tins can be up to three times the cost of regular vegetable oils.
This means that you can get a lot more vegetable oil for the same price as a little bit of bike lubricant.
It Can Lubricate and Degrease
Vegetable oils have lower viscosity than most other mineral oils, which means that besides lubricating the chain, it will also dilute the older lubricants that you may have applied in the past. This means that the grease, dirt and grit that was on the chain will fall off and the chain will be cleaned.
Degreasing is an important step in the lubrication and cleaning process since without it, the chain will not be properly cleaned and may also become inefficient in its functionality.
Besides just degreasing, because vegetable oil is not as thick as other oils, it also lubes all the parts up properly. The oil gets in between the moving components and also into all the small bits. This helps lubricate the chain to its full extent and makes the bike work better.
Vegetable oils can also loosen the rust on the chain.
Cons of Using Vegetable Oil
It Gets Dirty Easily
One of the main downsides of using vegetable oil as a bike chain lubricant is the fact that it is sticky. This means that it attracts a lot of dirt which gets stuck to the oil and makes the chain look dirty.
On top of that, this grime will eventually form a paste which can wear the drivetrain out. You’ll have to constantly clean and reapply the oil at short intervals. Otherwise, the wearing out of the drivetrain will have an effect that is equal to it not being lubricated at all.
It Breaks Down Easily
As mentioned earlier, vegetable oil is less viscous than other mineral oils or lubricants. In science terms, this means that it does not resist changes in its shape. It also lacks all the additives that other oils and lubricants have that are meant to cater to their purpose.
This means that when vegetable oil is used as bike chain lube, it breaks down very fast. In comparison to other options, it does so at such a rapid pace that it becomes very ineffective. In fact, vegetable oils can last only up to about 50 miles while maintaining their lubricant qualities, after which it starts to break down.
At this point, you’d have to clean and lubricate your bike chain again, or risk riding it and causing damage to the drivetrain.
Because vegetable oils also have lower oxidative stability, they lose their lubricating properties much faster than other oils or lubricants. They are also not very good at protecting against corrosion.
It Washes Away
Another disadvantage vegetable oils pose is that they get washed away very easily. Because of the lower viscosity, these oils don’t manage to hold on when they come in contact with water. They are immiscible, so they don’t dissolve, but the water carries the drops of oil away and leaves the chain naked.
If you lubed your chain with vegetable oil, you’d have to take extra care not to let your bike come in contact with water because the oil will simply wash off.
While it may work in dryer weather conditions, it definitely is not very useful for wet ones.
Besides just being washed away, water also affects vegetable oils in other ways. Exposure to water makes them oxidize and break down, which makes them turn into sludge. This is bad if you’re using the vegetable oil as the base oil, and even worse in wet conditions.
On top of all those disadvantages, one major downside of vegetable oil is that it solidifies in colder temperatures. Engine oils or dedicated lubricants have a much higher tolerance for colder temperatures than cooking oils do. This means that if you head out on your bike on a colder day, you might end up with a greasy mess of a chain that brings in even more dirt and grime than usual vegetable oil.
This will wear out the chain and significantly affect the drivetrain’s efficiency.
So, can you use vegetable oil as bike chain lubricant?
Technically, yes, you can. But this oil will bring with it dirt and grime, and the oil will degrade very fast. If you’re in an emergency with no other option, vegetable oil is an acceptable substitute, but using it in the long run will bring with it more problems than solutions.
Therefore, if you do use vegetable oil, it is best to use it only for a short period of time, until you can get your hands on some proper bike lubricant. After all, bike lubricant is made for the purpose of improving your bike’s functionality.
Vegetable oils don’t just have their downsides, but they also don’t provide many extra benefits towards bike performance in comparison to dedicated bike lubricants.
So while it is possible, using vegetable oil for bike chain is not recommended and should only be done in case of emergencies.