Have you ever wondered if you can simply use 3-in-1 oil to lubricate your bike chain?
After all, 3-in-1 oil is readily available at any hardware store and far more affordable than specialty bicycle lubes.
But is it a good substitute or should you use dedicated bike chain lubricants?
You can use 3 in 1 oil for bike chains, but it’s not the ideal choice.
In this article, I’ll go over the pros and cons of 3-in-1 oil, examining its lubricating properties, longevity, messiness, weather-resistance, and potential to leave residues.
Plus, you’ll also learn how bike-specific wet lubes and dry lubes differ from standard multi-purpose oils.
Is 3 In 1 Oil Good For Bike Chains?
Yes, 3-in-1 oil can be used for lubricating bike chains and it is ok, but there are better options available.
Also Read: Best Grease For Bike Pedals
3-in-1 oil is a multi-purpose household oil that’s primarily used for general lubrication, rust prevention, and light-duty applications.
It can work to some extent for bike chains, and there are people who have been using it for years without any problem.
Unless you are a racer and are dead serious on performance, 3-in-1 is good for your chain.
3 In 1 Oil Vs Bike Chain Lube
|Bike Chain Lube
|Affordable and easy to find
|Typically more expensive
|Easy to apply drops to chain
|Similar application process
|Cleans chain as it lubricates
|Not as effective at cleaning grime compared to bike degreaser
|Not as long-lasting, may require frequent reapplication
|Designed to lubricate bike chains for longer
|Not as efficient at reducing friction
|Formulated to minimize friction from bike pedaling
|Not as resistant to wash out from wet conditions
|Wet lubes designed for rain; wax lubes repel moisture
|Can attract more dirt without frequent reapplication
|Does not attract as much dirt and dust
|Can get sticky and gummy when drying
|Leaves behind graphite/wax so lasts when oil dries
|Can be used on other bike parts
|Made specifically for bike chains
Pros Of Using 3-in-1 Oil For Bike Chains
Let’s take a look at the pros first:
Readily Available and Affordable
3-in-1 oil is readily available and it only costs a fraction of what most dedicated bike lubes do.
You can easily purchase it at hardware stores, auto parts stores, and even grocery stores typically for around $5-10 per medium sized bottle.
This makes it extremely convenient to pick up unlike hunting down bike-specific lubes that may only be found at bike shops or specialty online retailers.
For the casual cyclist, 3-in-1 oil provides an accessible and budget-friendly lubrication option.
Cleans and Lubricates
Another advantage of using 3-in-1 oil is that it cleans dirty bike chains while simultaneously lubricating them.
As you apply the oil to a chain covered in gunk, grime, dirt and contaminants, the oil helps dissolve and displace all the built-up debris.
Also Read: How To Fix Chainring Wobble
At the same time, the oil spreads into all the inner rollers and pins of the chain to reduce metal-on-metal friction.
This two-in-one cleaning and lubricating effect saves you time and effort compared to having to degrease the chain and then separately apply lubricant afterwards.
The light viscosity oil is able to deeply penetrate into crevices that thicker grease lubricants may not reach.
In addition to lubricating chains, 3-in-1 oil can provide general protection from rust on other metal bike parts such as brake and derailleur pivots, cables, and other components.
A couple drops can also stop annoying squeaky noises coming from bike brakes, suspension joints, or other moving parts.
Having one multi-use oil product reduces clutter and simplifies bike maintenance compared to using an array of specialty lubricants for each specific task.
Cons of Using 3-in-1 Oil on Bike Chains
Not As Long-Lasting As Bike-Specific Lubes
While 3-in-1 oil provides decent lubrication, specialized bicycle chain lubes are engineered to last longer under cycling conditions.
The formulas contain special tackifiers, friction modifiers, and viscosity agents designed to adhere and resist wearing off from the pressure, vibration, and flexing forces on a chain.
3-in-1 oil has more basic lubricating properties that typically wear off more quickly, especially in wet or dusty conditions.
Attracts More Dirt and Grime
Another downside of 3-in-1 oil is its tendency to attract dirt, dust, and other contaminants.
This can lead to a grimy, gritty buildup that coats the exterior of the chain and clumps up in between the rollers.
Bike chain lubes contain tackifiers that help the lubricant adhere to the metal better, resisting the attraction and adhesion of debris while riding.
Not as Weather-Resistant as Bike Wet Lubes
3-in-1 oil provides minimal protection when riding in wet weather.
It can easily wash away in rain and with most of the oil rinsed off, this leaves the chain susceptible to insufficient lubrication and accelerated wear.
Bike wet lubes are designed to specifically resist water and rain.
Can Dry Out and Become Gummy
Lastly, as 3-in-1 oil starts drying out, the remaining residue can become sticky and tacky with a gummy-like texture that grabs onto dirt and grime.
This gummy buildup leads to a gritty, suboptimal chain that will require thorough cleaning.
Bike lubes minimize this issue by drying into a thinner, wax-like coating.
3 in 1 Oil vs WD40 For Bike Chains
Here’s a quick comparison of the two:
Also Read: Chain Skipping Under Load
|Multi-purpose lubricating oil
|Multi-use water displacer and solvent
|Mineral oil and additives
|Decent, but not optimized for bikes
|Very poor lubrication
|Some protection against rust and corrosion
|Minimal protection against wear
|Moderate ability to clean grime
|Powerful cleaner and degreaser
|Low, will wash off in wetness
|Displaces moisture but does not resist washout
|Short-lived lubrication, needs frequent reapplication
|Extremely short-lived, evaporates quickly
|Can leave gummy/sticky residue
|Leaves no residue
|Budget-friendly at around $5 per bottle
|Similarly inexpensive around $5-10 per can
|Safe for general household use
|Electronics cleaner, door hinge lubricant