Before a game we try to get together as a team and do an evening of skate maintenance, which often leads to bad lube jokes (likely due to the fumes of all the cleaning products). It’s a great way to bond as a team and last time it lead to us all painting our nails the same colours in preparation for the bout.
Last week I went ahead and cleaned 2 full sets of bearings on my own. Without the distraction of lube, fumes and nail polish, I figured I would document how I do it and share with y’all.
Things you’ll need
**DISCLAIMER: My way isn’t necessarily right, but the procedure is what I’ve picked up from reading, talking to other derby gals and asking questions at skate board shops. If your way works for you, keep doing it!!!! If you see me doing something glaringly wrong, please speak up!!!!!
Removing your bearings from your wheels…
The best way is to get a bearing pusher/puller. Most multi-use skate tools have them. Below is a video of how to get them out. It’s sort of a wiggling/round-and-round motion. It’s easiest to pull from the back of the wheel, then push your tool through the middle of your wheel to pop the other one through and out.
Bearing tools are available at most skateboard shops.
How to tell if your bearings are dirty…
If they look like this…
Then they are dirty.
If you hold them between your fingers, give them a spin and they make grinding noises or don’t even spin to the count of 1, then they are dirty.
Wiping surface dirt from your bearings help a little, but if little grains of dirt get caught between the balls inside the bearings, you need to take them apart for a deeper clean.
Before I go on, inspection…
It’s important to also inspect your bearings for loose parts & make sure they aren’t lopsided. Remember we are putting a lot of pressure on our bearings by almost always leaning in one direction. I’ve never had it happen to me yet, but I imagine bearings will eventually start to bend over in the direction you’re leaning in over time, especially if you don’t rotate them. So if they are clean, lubed but still don’t roll well, they should be ditched or made into a keychain decoration.
Taking apart your bearings…
Before you take apart your bearings you should wipe all surface dirt away with a towel. My bearings have removable crowns on the back. You must be careful when removing them to avoid cracking or breaking the shield. I use a small eyeglass screwdriver to gently pry the crown off the back.
There are many different styles of bearings on the market and how you take them apart varies. The bearings shown above have an easy-to-remove crown. However if you also remove the rubber shield on the other side, the little balls will fall out and roll all over your floor. Don’t do that if you have these types of bearings. A commenter below said that with these types of bearings its usually easier to remove the rubber shield and keep the crown in place. So do what works best for you. (Thanks to Rink Rolled for the info)
Bearings that have 2 rubber shields on both sides usually have spacers in between the bearing balls to hold them in place. Use a safety pin to pry out both sides of the rubber shields.
Bearings that are fully encased in metal, aren’t able to be taken apart to be cleaned (to my knowledge). But Rink Rolled says this…
“Bearings with metal shields can be cleaned (except cheap sealed ones). Metal shields are held into place with a metal C-ring along the outside of the bearing. The C-ring can be removed with a pin and the shield will come right off.”
Edited to add (Dec. 23, 2011)
I found this great video that shows the different ways to take apart bearings. Check it out!
What to use to clean your bearings…
Once all my crowns are removed, I put all my bearings in 70% rubbing alcohol. Better yet, if you can find 99% alcohol (you usually have to ask for it behind a pharmacy counter) do it. Paint thinner and kerosene also work but they stink and those are hard on your skin. Bearing-specific cleaner purchased at your local skate shop is also an option. Some use environmentally friendly options as well, but be careful in what you choose because if there is any film or residue left on those little balls, they won’t roll nice. EG: Dish soap isn’t great for bearings.
My rookie mistakes!
The first time I washed my bearings I used soap and water. I let them soak too long and the little balls were literally rusting before my eyes. If you’re going to use water, make sure you have a way to dry them FAST! When I saw them rusting, I panicked and grabbed my hair dryer and frantically started blow drying them on the hottest setting. Don’t do that either because it kinda shrinks the outside rubber shield which helps hold your bearings together. If you have a hair dryer with a cool setting and want to try that out, go for it. More about drying your bearings below.
Cleaning the crowns…
One of my teammates told me to not wash the crowns with chemicals or rubbing alcohol as it can break down the plastic. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but now I give them a warm soapy water bath and get the dirty grunge of lube and dirt off with a toothbrush, while I let my bearings soak in the alcohol. Then I rinse them in water. To finish the crowns, I give them a quick rinse in the rubbing alcohol, to ensure any leftover residue is gone, then towel dry.
Cleaning the bearings
I give them a good scrubbing with a toothbrush, shake them in the alcohol and repeat until they are clean. Then I towel dry them to get rid of the excess moisture.
Don’t have a brush? Here’s an even BETTER option!
After you take them apart, put all your bearing pieces in a water bottle, fill it alcohol and shake it for 20 minutes. This advice comes from Coach Pauly himself! Under most circumstances, the friction of shaking the bearings in the alcohol is enough to get them clean.
Edited to add (Dec. 23, 2011)
Below is a great video that explains in detail how to clean bearings. Some of his techniques are different than what I outline, so you can choose what works best for you!
Drying the bearings…
If you use paint thinner, that stuff evaporates very quickly. Other cleaners may need a little help to dry before the bearings start to rust. If I can’t find 99% rubbing alcohol and use a lower percentage, I use canned air and give them a blow to make sure. But if you’re lucky to know someone who owns a mini air compressor, that’s a cheaper alternative. Give them a good blow to ensure all moisture is out of the bearing.
Inspect your bearings
Make sure the balls are smooth, no pits and the inside track is clear of debris or other issues.
Putting your bearings back together…
Using the little screwdriver that I used to pry off the crowns, I position each individual ball to approximately match up with the sockets of the crown.
Then I press the crown in. If everything’s lined up nice, it should snap in easily. Careful not to push too hard to crack or break your crown.
If you have the bearings with the spacers in them, all you have to do is snap the rubber shields in place.
What if your bearings fall apart during the cleaning process?
Watch this video…
Add the lube…
This can be done before putting on shields/crowns or after. But it also depends on the kinds of bearings you have and how they are put together. I’ve done it both ways, mainly because sometimes I forget before replacing the shields. I do one drop on opposite sides of the exposed bearing, though I’m told one drop is also good enough or maybe do 3 drops for good measure. You don’t need to use skateboard lube for this. You can go to Canadian Tire and purchase 3 in 1 automotive oil and use that as well. Speed cream that hairdressers use for their clippers and other devices is just fine too. Essentially, any kind of lubricant on the market that is meant to reduce heat and friction will work on your bearings… another Coach Pauly tidbit.
Give them a spin…
Put the finished bearing between your fingers and give it a spin! It should have a nice WHHHHHIIIIIIRRRRRRRR sound (but not tin-sounding, otherwise you need more lube), come to a smooth stop and roll for a decent amount of time. If you hear odd noises coming from your bearing or if it stops abruptly during spinning, you probably shouldn’t use it anymore. Or you can try to soak them overnight and give them another shake or brush to try and make them come back.
Keeping your bearings cleaned and maintained is a good way to extend the life of your bearings which in turn, helps you save money. Make sure you give yourself a couple of hours to do this process and it’s way more fun doing it in groups.
**EDITED TO ADD Talk to your local skateboard shop tech guy for more information about cleaning bearings! They skate in way more dirty/nasty areas than we generally travel too and are a wealth of information! They also sell fancy cleaning containers to help clean your bearings more effectively!