How to clean skateboard bearings
© Jason Halayko/Red Bull Content Pool
A quick and easy guide fit for both the novice and the seasoned skate vet.
Tucked away inside our wheels, hidden by bearing shields and truck bolts, are the unsung heroes of the skateboard: the bearings. These ABEC soldiers are the only protection against all the dust, dirt and grime the streets and skateparks have to offer.
Just like skateboarding in general, what we put in is what we get out. By cleaning your skateboard bearings, you’ll not only save money but enjoy skating faster, smoother and even longer. Not too mention, it's practically free to do so. For less than a cup of coffee you can significantly clean your bearings and improve your skate experience. Not to mention, as the quintessential hardware of every set up, skateboard bearings keep us moving forward, so it’s about time someone showed bearings a little love with a How To – quick and easy guide fit for both the novice and the seasoned skate vet.
Whether you’re dusting off a board that’s been sitting for a while or you just spent the day skating by the beach, cleaning your skateboard bearings means cleaning the dirtiest part of your board. Be prepared to get your fingers dirty and take some precautions in the work space you chose to clean them in. Figuratively, use a coaster, as these shields and bearings are covered in dirt and oil from wherever you’ve been skating. Otherwise, here’s what you’ll need to get started.
What You’ll Need to Get Started:
- A Flat Surface (table, floor, or desk)
- A Skate tool or wrench
- Razor Blade or Knife
- Paper Towels
- Disposable or Ceramic Cup
- Isopropyl Based Alcohol such as nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol
- Your Skateboard
- Lubricant and/or Speed Cream (optional)
- A towel for keeping the area clean (optional)
- Separate container for bearings (optional)
When Should You Clean Your Bearings?
Naturally out of sight and out of mind, it can be difficult to really know when you should clean your bearings. A general rule of thumb however, is to spin your wheels while watching and listening closely. Your wheels will come to a halt rather quickly and generally make more noise the worse the bearings are. You can even sometimes hear the sand or debris inside fighting against the abec balls. Or when you’ll be skating, your bearings will sound like mice with a screechy, high pitched squeaking. Addressing the problem and cleaning them sooner will always limit the damage and extend the life of your bearings. That means saving you money and time for a faster, smoother skate. Here are some general tips for increasing the longevity of your skateboard bearings and reducing their wear and tear.
- Avoid sand and dirt at all costs, especially near an ocean or in downtowns.
- Invest in good bearings, although more expensive, better bearings last longer.
- Use speed cream to lubricate your bearings, especially if you skate skateparks.
- Never substitute water as a lubricant or explicitly ride through water.
- DW40 can cause more damage than good.
- Skate Shops sell bearings by 2 and 4 packs for convenient replacing.
Now that you’ve learned when to replace your bearings and exactly what you need, here is a quick and easy step by step guide of “How to Clean Skateboard Bearings.”
Step 1: Secure your work space
First things first, we need to pick out a space for you to take your wheels and ultimately your bearings off. If you have a nice flat workbench in your garage or backyard, that would be ideal. You can also go the skate rat route and clean your bearings on the floor. Maybe your local skatepark parking lot or wherever you have a flat concrete surface to get the job done.
If you are cleaning your bearings indoors or want to reduce the mess, lay a towel down and have plenty of paper towels at hand. This is also where you’ll check everything off the “What You’ll Need” list above with enough room to avoid knocking anything over or misplacing your valuable hardware in the ensuing clutter. If you are inexperienced or underage, please consult with an adult before handling any sharp objects or tools.
Step 2: Remove wheels and bearings
Welcome to the brunt work of cleaning your skateboard bearings. To clean your bearings, you obviously have to take them out of the wheels. Otherwise you’ll just be cleaning the side of the bearings for little more than cosmetic effect. Remove the bolts from your wheels using your skate tool or wrench, then position the wheel on the mouth of the bearing at a 45 degree angle to produce a crowbar leverage effect. Holding the wheel in your hand, use your body weight and a little elbow grease to leverage the bearing out of the wheel. Repeat until all 8 bearings have been removed, placing them in a secure area or container.
Step 3: Take off shields
Here’s where the engineering part of the cleaning process begins. By now, you should be amazed at the dirt, gunk and grime your bearings have amassed. You probably have a good amount of it on your hands. This is why we have the paper towels. Use a paper towel to clean off the gunk on the outside of your bearing shields, so when we remove them, we get a much deeper cleaning.
After you have cleaned the outside of your bearings, it’s time to put your bearings under the knife. Using a razor blade is the most common practice but any object you are able to use to get under the bearing shield is applicable. By popping the shields off of each bearing, we expose the abec-balls inside. This is where the most damaging debris will be and ultimately where our cleaning will produce the most benefit. It should be noted, spinning the bearing before proceeding to step 4 will help you gauge afterwards how much the cleaning actually helped.
If you attempt to spin the bearing with no success, you may need new bearings all together. Either way, cleaning them is worth a shot. Thus, onto our next step.
Step 4. Soak bearings in isopropyl alcohol
The whole point of cleaning your bearings is to prolong the life of them and reduce your costs of purchasing new ones. So for $1-3 dollars, you can buy some isopropyl based alcohol from your local convenience store. Take a disposable cup or a ceramic cup and fill it about an inch or enough to submerge all 8 of your bearings. With the bearings completely relieved of their shields, place each bearing in the cup and let the alcohol work its magic.
You will want to leave them in there for a minimum of 30 mins with occasional swishing and swirling of the bearings. You should immediately see the alcohol turning black and brown from the dissolving gunk. If you are near a sink and able to avoid touching your face and wash your hands immediately, some skaters, although it’s not recommended, will attempt to spin the bearings while in the cup for maximum cleaning.
It should also be noted, some skaters prefer to leave the bearing shields on instead of taking them off. There exists some debate around this issue but many of the top pros swear on taking off the shields. You have the option to put them back on but the process can be difficult compared to the results of keeping them off.
Step 5. Apply speed cream/lubrication (optional)
Applying speed cream or a form of lubrication is listed as optional here due to the fact speed cream is an extra expense and while it does increase the longevity of your bearings, it technically doesn’t clean them. That also being said, once lubrication or speed cream is applied, having the shields off can actually attract more gunk and dirt. Also, lubrication does not mean water, which will rust your bearings and destroy them. It also does not mean WD40, which as a last resort can extend the life of your bearings but is also known to do more harm than good when applied prematurely.
If you’re prepared to put the shields back on or are comfortable in applying the speed cream or lubrication when the shields are off, doing so can result in faster bearings. A happy medium and long time skate-trick is to only put the speed cream on the sides of the bearings facing inward to the wheel, so as not to be exposed to the debris outside. You can also apply the speed cream and just avoid skating for a few hours to let the lubrication mostly dry.
Step 6. Insertion and final touches
Now that the best and worst parts are over, it’s time to reap the benefits of your labor. After you’ve let your skateboard bearings soak in the cup of isopropyl alcohol for at least 30 mins, take each bearing out individually and use a paper towel to wipe them clean and dry. Put your cleaning to the test by spinning your freshly cleaned bearings and hopefully, if you followed our guide correctly, your bearings breadth new life. If you’re fortunate to have access to compressed air, apply it now to really clean the hard to reach areas inside the bearings. Some skaters have been known to use a hairdryer to dry their bearings and or achieve this effect.
Another secret skate tip here: use a baby wipe or a damp paper towel to clean the axles of your trucks and even the bolts and inside crevices of your vacant wheels. Often, it's the little things that make the biggest difference. Now you’re ready to reverse the process of step #2 by placing your bearing on the axle of your trucks and using your body weight to secure the bearing in place on each side of the wheel. Proceed with the optional speed cream and lubricants before pushing the bearings into place as the final touches before reassembling your skateboard completely. Remember to clean your mess and dispose of any alcohol and sharp objects responsibly. Lastly, hit up some friends to skate and enjoy your clean bearings!