How to Clean Skateboard Bearings

So you want to learn how to clean skateboard bearings. But why should you clean them in the first place? Cleaning appliances adds to their longevity according to one expert in this Washington Post article. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the same goes for things such as skateboard bearings, ice skates, or skateboarding shoes? Won’t taking care of your skateboard bearings make them last a little longer?

Also Read: Best Skateboards for All Abilities

In this post, I describe how you’re to clean your skateboard bearings so you can get the most out of them. Whether you buy them on the cheap or love riding high-end wheels, you’ll learn how to take care of them.

Dirty Skateboard Bearings Don’t Perform Efficiently

Maybe you wondering whether cleaning skateboard bearings actually makes them last longer. Yes, cleaning them helps them serve you efficiently for longer.

Naturally, dirt and other materials will end up in your skateboard bearings as long as you’re riding them. These materials may wedge themselves between spaces and moving parts, and they often do. And it’s not difficult to see how that might hamper the efficiency of your skateboard bearings. Aside from that, filth in wheels increases friction and that heats them up, damaging them.

If left on a surface or piece of equipment long enough, dirt tends to hasten the wear and tear process. In the case of skateboard bearings, too much dirt in the moving parts may cause them to seize up. And for an unlucky skateboarder, the wheels may freeze up in the middle of a fast ride.

Imagine what would happen if your bearings suddenly stopped working when you’re riding out there? You’d fall, and you’d likely get injured. But not much if you always use the best elbow, wrist, and knee pads for skating.

In addition, wheels packed with dirt, grime, and grit force you to buy replacement sets more often. As you can see, learning how to clean your skateboard bearings isn’t a waste of time.

How Often Should Skateboard Bearings be Cleaned?

You want a straightforward answer here. But in truth, the best answer is it depends. Every person’s specific situation is different. Someone who rides on rough, dusty roads will clean their wheels more frequently than someone who mostly rides on well-maintained asphalt. And quite naturally, someone who doesn’t skate much will clean their bearings much less often than someone who rides pretty every day.

So, how often you should clean your skateboard bearings is purely a matter of personal judgment. I know someone who last washed their bearings 3 years ago, and he tells me they’re spinning just fine. Yes, I said 3 years! I also know someone who cleans their bearings once every month.

If you’re getting a smooth spin from your wheels, why clean them? My rule is: if they’re running smoothly, leave them. But if they’re not, clean them. Also, if your wheels start to produce noise during rides, they most likely need some cleaning. I guess that’s straightforward enough, isn’t it?

First Things First: Get Everything You Need

Everything starts with preparation. So, bring together everything you need for the cleaning. Here’s a list of what you need to get your bearings squeaky clean.

  1. A skate tool/pliers/wrench
  2. Screwdriver
  3. Paper towels/rags
  4. Some WD-40
  5. A small pin
  6. A small bowl
  7. Bones Bearings Cleaning Unit (acetone)
  8. Some Bones Speed Cream (or whatever you use)
  9. A can of compressed air
  10. Butyl rubber gloves

Why do I prefer the Bones Bearings Cleaning Unit? Because it provides me with an axle over which I can slide my bearings for an easier cleaning job. Plus, the solution comes in a small bottle with a lid. That makes shaking the bearings inside the bottle safe and more convenient.

Admittedly, the cleaner contains acetone. And acetone is pretty harsh. But it does the job, fast. So, always wear gloves when handling acetone or isopropyl alcohol or anything else like that. Especially if you have sensitive skin like me. These are pretty strong chemicals. That’s why I said to use butyl rubber gloves.

Acetone is known to eat through certain materials, reaching the skin and causing irritation. Some people prefer a milder grease solvent such as mineral spirits. Well, they don’t work as fast as acetone. But they’re less harsh, and that’s a good thing.

And can you clean skateboard bearings with rubbing alcohol? Yes, you can. I do, and many skateboarders do. Note that you don’t need alcohol if you’re cleaning your bearings using a recommended bearing cleaner. The Bones Bearing Cleaner is my fave choice.

Start Cleaning Your Skateboard Bearings

Now, you’re all set. Just follow the step-by-step skateboard-bearing cleaning process described below. Reading through this takes just a few minutes. But it can save you from a bruise or two down the road.

Step #1: Detach the Wheels from the Skateboard

So, how do you take off the wheels from the skateboard? Put your board on its side, so that the wheel’s nut is facing upwards. Then, grab your T-skate tool and unscrew the wheels by turning the nuts counterclockwise. The nuts are typically hexagonal.

skate tool
This is a T-skate tool. The right size fits snugly on the hexagonal nuts that hold the wheels in place. You can also use pliers or even a wrench.

Ensure you’re using the right tool for the job — one that fits snugly on the nut. Don’t apply too much force, otherwise, you’ll damage the seals or metal shields. Once a nut loosens, take it off using your hand and slide the wheel out. Repeat the process for all the other wheels.

What if a nut is too tight and I can’t remove it using my skate tool? That’s where the pair of pliers I included in the list comes into play. Use it for stubborn nuts.

Step # 2: Separate the Bearings from the Wheel

Bearings are circular, and they live inside the center of the wheel. They’re small-ish, but they’re not as simple as they look. Wheels may seem to be a more important component, but without these little things, they wouldn’t spin.

Skateboard bearings consist of 5 major components. These include the shield, inner race, balls, retainer, and outer race.

Each wheel contains 2 bearings. That means a skateboard features 8 bearings. ALL bearings are the same size. They work perfectly with all kinds of skateboard wheels regardless of who made them. Two major types of balls exist, steel and ceramic balls. Steel bearings use steel balls, and ceramic ones have ceramic balls.

ALL bearings are the same size. They work perfectly with all kinds of skateboard wheels and trucks regardless of who made them.

How do I remove the bearings from the wheels? Take your screwdriver and pry them out. Do it gentry, or you’ll cause damage. After you remove the first wheel, remove the spacer (not all wheels come with a spacer, though). Then, take out all the other wheels.

Don’t have a screwdriver? No worries. Just use the truck’s axle as leverage to separate the bearings from the wheels. 

Step #3: Clean the Bearings

At this point, remove any visible dirt and grime from the bearings. That’s where the paper towels or rags come into play. By applying just a little force on the bearings, you should easily wipe off surface dirt and filth.

Sometimes, though, you may need to put a little solvent on the grime to loosen it up a little for removal. WD-40 is the best solution I know for removing stubborn stains and grime.

Here’s how to clean bearings with WD-40. Pour some of it on a towel. Then, use the towel to wipe the overly sticky grime off your bearings. It works like magic — supremely well and super fast.

Step #4: Remove Shields and Metal Shields

Bearing with rubber seal
Here’s what a bearing with a rubber seal looks like.

These closures (seals and metal shields) play a critical role in skateboard bearings. They help retain lube in your bearings. Plus, they keep contaminants off, adding longevity to your bearings.

Three types of closures exist. Some bearings contain only a rubber ring. Rubber rings are pretty easy to remove. Others have a C-ring and a metal shield. In these types of bearings, the C-ring encircles the metal shield. Some bearings, however, come with a non-detachable metal shield. With these ones, it’s best to just replace them if they’re no longer spinning satisfactorily.

C-ring bearing
And this is how bearings with a C-ring and metal shield look like before and after you’ve pried them out.

So, how do you remove the rubber ring, C-ring, or metal shield from your skateboard bearings? It’s pretty easy. Anyone can manage that without help.

Rubber seals are in my opinion the easiest to get out. Take one wheel and place it on a table or other surface. The side with the ring or metal shield should be facing upwards. Now, take a small pin or even a small knife with a thin blade and pry the rubber seal out.

If it’s a C-ring and metal shield combo, follow the same process. In this situation, however, you should start with the C-ring. Examine the bearing and see where the C-ring ends. Stick your pin in there and pry it out. But how do you remove the metal shield from the bearing? Simply tip each bearing over and let the metal shield fall out. It takes less than a minute to do all this.

Examine the bearings and see where the C-ring ends

If you don’t have a pin to remove the seals and/or metal shields, just get a staple and straighten it out. It works just as well.

Remember to keep the washers, shields, and seals in a safe place. Or you’ll spend an eternity looking for them. You’ll want to work on a workbench with all the nuts and other stuff in a shallow bowl.

Step #5: Soak the Bearings in the Cleaning Solution

Now, the bearings are ready to take a bath in the cleaner. Remove the rod from the small Bones bottle that contains the cleaner. The rod comes with spacers. Slide each spacer over the road followed by a wheel and then a spacer until all 8 wheels are lined up neatly on the rod. Take a look. 

Bones Bearings Cleaning Unit
The axle does make cleaning my bearings easier. See how I arrange my bearings on the axle/metal rod that comes with this small bottle’s lid. The metallic protrusion you see on the cap is the end of the rod after I’ve put the whole set of bearings inside the bottle to clean them. It’s easy, fast, and convenient.

Then, put the whole set of wheels inside the bottle where the solution is (acetone). Give the contents a shake (about 10 seconds). Acetone works pretty fast. Look at the solution, and you’ll see it looks dark, swarming with dirt. are the wheels clean? If not, give them another shake. That should be enough.

Note 1: Don’t soak the seals and/or metal shields in acetone. It’ll most likely harm them.

Note 2: Don’t remove the retainers from the bearings. That’s because removing them somewhat interferes with the original factory settings. And you’ll struggle to replace them. And you most likely won’t replace them correctly. I advise you to just leave them.

Remember: Don’t remove the retainers from the bearings. 

Once you remove the clean bearings from the bottle, place them on your workbench. Then, take each of them and gently tap it on a paper towel. Any remaining dirt will drop onto the paper towel, and you’ll see it.

Step #6: Dry Out the Bearings

Now, leave your bearings to dry out naturally. The good thing with acetone is that it’s a Volatile Organic compound. It dries insanely fast. You won’t need to use compressed air.

But if you’d used some other solution, you’d probably have to accelerate the drying process in some way.  And this is where your compressed air would come in. You’d need to take the compressor and direct a few blasts at the bearings from both sides.

And have you ever wondered if you could use compressed air to clean your skateboard bearings without using a solvent?

Yes, you could. Some people do. I have. Blowing the bearings out easily gets particles and dirt out without needing to soak them (bearings). Note: don’t blow them out without lubing them first. If you do that, you’ll likely heat them up and potentially damage them.

I don’t recommend cleaning bearings with compressed air, though. At least, it’s not something you should do regularly. Why? You’ll end up needing to replace your bearings more frequently. And who wants that?

Lube the Skateboard Bearings Up Using an Appropriate Product

You most likely have a half-used can of WD-40 in the garage. And did you know that WD-40 is today more popular than the iPod? It is.

The lube does a really good job when it comes to silencing squeaks. It’s a super good degreaser that works by displacing water. It also helps prevent rusting. WD means Water Displacement, by the way. And the number 40 appears in the name because the guy who invented the lube succeeded at his 40th attempt.

But I digress.

Can you use WD-40 to lube skateboard bearings? No, don’t use it. Giving your skateboard a few WD-40 squirts will get them spinning better than everything else you’ve seen before. Unfortunately, it draws in dirt and dust. And aren’t you washing your bearings to remove those very materials? That’s also why you shouldn’t use WD-40 on your bike’s chain or your door’s hinges.

Instead, use an appropriate product such as Bones Speed Cream. It works best for me, and I’ve seen tons of praise for the product from other users.

Don’t have Bones Speed Cream around? No worries. Use motor oil. Or bike grease. If you use grease, try to get just enough of it between the bearing balls. Spinning the bearing a little helps spread the oil or grease.

Put the Shields and Seals Back

Before we replace the shields or seals, I have a question for you. When should you replace your bearings? In some situations, you may have to replace your bearings. If your bearings come with metal shields that can’t be removed and they’re no longer spinning, replace them.

Now, back to the task at hand. As for bearings with only a rubber seal, take the rubber seal and place it where it originally was, pressing it into the bearing.

For bearings with a C-ring and a metal shield, start by replacing the metal shield. It’s pretty easy. All you need is a pair of steady hands. Then, take the C-ring and place it back around the metal shield. In my experience, this little process can be a bit challenging. I usually have to kind of force the ring back in, but it does eventually click into position.

Reassemble the Wheels and Put them Back On

Pick one of the bearings and slide it over the axle, all the way down to its base.  Then, take a wheel and slide it over the axle, pressing it over the bearing, uniting them. Apply some force using the palm of your hand.

Next, remove the wheel and slide bearing #2 over the axle. Then, take the wheel and repeat the process you followed for wheel #1. Note: the wheel this time around should slide over the axle with the first bearing facing upwards.

At this point, take the wheel off the axle and replace the #1 speed washer. Next, put the wheel back followed by the second speed washer. Finally, screw the nut on.

Now, the wheels are ready for reattachment to the trucks. Make sure to turn the nuts using the skate tool until there’s no more play. Don’t over-tighten the nut, though. Then, repeat the process with all the other wheels, and you’re done!

Cleaning Skateboard Bearings: Conclusion

As you’ve seen, cleaning skateboard bearings is a pretty straightforward process. You don’t need to read any other article. I’ve described everything you should know about the cleaning process so you can do it right.

The activity might not be particularly exciting, but there’s no passing the buck here. Every skateboarder cleans their wheels. Forget about having someone else do it for you. Do it yourself, and you’ll likely love your hobby more.

Did I leave out something you think I should have covered or mentioned? Tell me about it in the comments below.

1 thought on “How to Clean Skateboard Bearings”

  1. I loved learning that WD-40 isn’t good for cleaning skateboard bearings. It sucks in dust and grime, and that pushes down performance over time.

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