How to clean skateboard bearings: 5 steps to speed and longevity!
Cleaning your skateboard bearings doesn’t just make them faster, it also saves you money! Proper care and maintenance of your skate bearings can help them last months or even years longer. Cleaning your bearings is the best thing you can do to ensure long-lasting performance. Depending on where and how often you skate, a cleaning is probably in order every 4-8 months or so. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, this guide will show you how to clean skateboard bearings, plus a few extra tips you might not have known!
What you’ll need for proper clean skateboard bearings:
– Skate tool or 5/16” (8mm) socket/wrench
– Non-water-based solvent (Acetone or carburetor cleaner)
– Skateboard bearing lubricant
– Sewing needle or similar object
– Clean jar or bottle
– Generic dish soap + water
– Paper towel or rag
– Pen (optional)
Step 1: Bearing removal
Before we begin, note that cleaning your bearings is also a great time to rotate all of your wheels. A full wheel rotation means both flipping the wheels to the other side (wheel graphic outside to graphic inside) as well as putting the bottom left wheel on the top right side of the board (and so on). A simple trick to make this much faster is to use a pen and write the initials of where the wheel should be placed at the end of the rotation/cleaning. For example, write “TR” (Top Right) on the bottom left wheel. Then, when re-assembling, you instantly know where the wheel should go. The pen will simply wipe off the wheels after a few minutes of skating.
Begin by unscrewing the axle nuts with a skate tool or 5/16” socket/wrench. Be careful not to push the tool into the actual shield of the bearing as this can damage or misshape the shield. Once unscrewed, remove the wheel from the axle, paying attention to the axle washers that may be between the nut and bearing. It sucks to lose these washers as they simply add space between your bearing and nut to help protect the bearing.
Now, you must pry the bearing out of the wheel. This takes a little muscle, so don’t be afraid to put some strength into it. Place the wheel just onto the tip of the axle, so that the axle’s just inside of one bearing. Use careful force to twist the wheel to one side, pulling the bearing out of the wheel. Repeat this process for all bearings.
Step 2: Bearing shield removal
This step is the most delicate task of the process. When removing the bearing shields, it’s important to be careful not to bend the shields, especially if you have rubber/nylon shield bearings. If you have bearings with shields on both sides, it’s best to remove both sides. There are several types of bearing shields:
Bearings with metal shields will have a C-ring locking mechanism. Sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Simply use a needle to find one of the ends of the C-ring along the outer edge of the bearing. Pry under the ring with the needle to remove the C-ring and the shield itself should then be free to fall (or be pried) out.
Bearings with rubber/nylon shields, start on the inside of the shield and carefully place the needle under the shield. Gently pry up and around the bearing, making sure not to bend it too far out of shape. The shield should remain flat throughout the process, don’t pull up in one spot.
Once the shields are off, they should be placed in a small bowl of hot water and dish soap, not hard solvent. The reason is because the solvent will dry out and destroy the rubber/nylon compound of the shields. With your fingers, simply rub the dirt off with the soapy water, being careful not to bed the shields. Do the same for metal shields, just be sure to immediately dry them afterwards to prevent any rust forming.
Step 3: Cleaning your skateboard bearings
The moment you’ve been waiting for, getting all the dirt and grime out of your bearings! There’s two ways to do this:
The easy way: With all shields removed, you can now see the steel balls aligned in a plastic cage. The bearing is now open and can be effectively cleaned. Use a jar or bottle (just be careful with thin plastic as the solvent can destroy it) and fill it part-way up with solvent. Drop the bearings into the solvent-filled bottle. What you will try to do is simply move the solvent around and through the bearings, so any dirt/debris is flushed out of them. There are specific bearing cleaning bottles to help this process, but you should generally be able to flush the dirt out just by shaking them up in a jar and letting them sit in the solvent a moment. Then, take the bearings out of the solvent and let them dry on a paper towel or rag.
The hard way: This method is really only recommended if your bearings are completely caked full of dirt/grime and if you have prior experience cleaning bearings. You will follow the same steps as above, but you will remove the plastic/nylon shield that holds the steel balls in place. To do this, very carefully push (not pry) the nylon cage away from the steel balls. The balls should remain in place as they are locked into an inner and outer race in the bearing rings. Once you have pushed the cage out, you should now be able to align the balls on one side of the bearing and they should fall out.
Step 4: Re-lubricating and re-installing shields
Now, your bearings are shining like new and all your shields are sparkly clean. Don’t get too excited yet, the next step is critical. You must apply a skateboard bearing lubricant to the bearings. Failing to do so will result in insanely fast bearings for a few minutes and then your bearings completely seizing up and being permanently destroyed. It is strongly advised to use only a skateboard bearing lubricant as generic lubricants don’t have the correct viscosity for skateboard bearings. Apply two to three small drops onto the steel balls inside the bearings. Do not drown the bearings in lubricant as the lube will go all over your wheels and attract dirt and grime to the bearing while skating. After applying lubricant, carefully press the bearing shields back into place on the bearing. Again, be careful not to bend the shields as a bent shield will cause friction inside the bearing while skating.
Step 5: Re-installing bearings into wheels
One last step and you’re ready to skate. Place one bearing onto your truck axle with the shield facing down. Now, take a wheel and place it over the axle and onto the bearing. Apply steady and even pressure on all sides of the wheel directly down onto the bearing. The bearing should slowly pop into place inside the wheel. Press down until the bearing is completely into the center of the wheel and will not go further. Remove the wheel, apply an inner wheel spacer if you have it, and repeat the process on the other side of the wheel. Do this for all four wheels and you’re ready to re-install them on your trucks. Remember to put your axle washers on each side of the bearing before carefully screwing the axle nut back on, making sure not to damage the shields with the tool. That’s it!