Keep on cruising: How to clean skateboard bearings

Keep on cruising: How to clean skateboard bearings

If your cruiser just isn’t cruising as fast as it used to, there’s a good chance it’s because of your bearings. As one of the most high-precision components of your skateboard, bearings can make a drastic impact on the speed and performance of your ride. Unfortunately, dirt and grime will naturally collect inside your skate bearings, causing them to slow down over time. Depending on how often you skate, a bearing cleaning may be in order every 4-8 months.

Luckily, bearings can be removed, disassembled, and re-lubricated relatively easily. Not only will this bring back their original speed, it will help them last much longer. Cleaning your skateboard bearings will also save you money as you won’t need to buy new bearings so often.

This Cruisin City guide will explain the step-by-step process of cleaning skateboard/cruiser bearings, plus a few “expert” tips to make the process easier!

What you’ll need:

– Non-water-based solvent (Acetone or carburetor cleaner)
– Skateboard bearing lubricant
– Skate tool or 5/16” (8mm) socket/wrench
– Sewing needle or similar
– Clean bottle or jar
– Generic dish soap + water
– Paper towel or rag
– Pen (optional)

Step 1: Removing bearings from wheels

Before you begin removing your wheels, now is also a great time to rotate your wheels. This is not required, but certain wheels will naturally experience more/less wear than the others and a rotation helps them last longer. A wheel rotation will mean putting the bottom left wheel on the top right, the bottom right wheel on top left, and so on.

A simple trick to make this easier is to use a pen and write the initials of where the wheel should be placed at the end of the rotation/cleaning, before you start removing them. For example, write “TR” (Top Right) on the bottom left wheel. Then, when you’re re-assembling the wheels, you’ll know exactly where each wheel should go to be rotated. The pen ink will simply wear off the wheels after a few minutes of skating.

Start by unscrewing the axle nuts with a skate tool or 5/16” socket/wrench. Be careful not to push the tool into the outer shield of the bearing as this can damage the shield. Once unscrewed, remove the wheel from the axle, paying attention to the axle washers that may be between the nut and bearing. Place these small washers aside so that they can be put on again when re-assembling.

Now, you must pry the bearings out of each wheel.

This step will take some strength, so don’t be afraid to use some muscle. Place a bearing just over the tip of a truck axle. With just one bearing over the axle, use careful force to twist the wheel to one side (see photo below), pulling the bearing out of the wheel.

Repeat this process for all bearings.

Step 2: Removing bearing shields

While the last step took some strength, the next step takes careful precision. When removing 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 if you can remove both sides.

There are several types of bearing shields:

Bearings with metal shields are an older style and they generally have a C-ring locking mechanism. 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 a needle to remove the C-ring and the shield 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 (see photo below). 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 all shields are off, they should be placed in a bowl of warm water and dish soap.

Do not place the shields in acetone/solvent. Solvent will dry out and destroy the rubber/nylon compound of the shields that helps keep dirt out. With your fingers, simply rub the dirt and grease off with the soapy water. Be careful not to bend the shields.

Do the same for metal shields, just be sure to immediately dry them to prevent any rust.

Step 3: Cleaning your skateboard bearings

The moment you’ve been waiting for, getting all the dirt and grime out of your skate 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 inside. The bearing is now open and can be effectively cleaned. Please note, do not let your bearings (except the shields) come into any contact with water. Use a jar or bottle and fill it half-way up with solvent. Drop the bearings into the solvent-filled bottle. Now, you want to lightly shake or stir the bearings in the solvent so that the solvent moves through the bearings and flushes the dirt and debris out of them. In the photo below, you will see a Bones “Bearing Cleaning Unit” bottle which the bearings can be placed in and then shaken to flush the solvent through them. This bottle is not necessary, but extremely helpful. Without it, simply place the bearings in a jar, let them sit in the solvent, and shake it a bit to remove dirt. Finally, 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 full of dirt/grime, have trouble rolling, and if you have prior experience cleaning bearings. Follow the same steps as above but remove the plastic/nylon shield that holds each of the small 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 then fall out. The bearing is now completely disassembled. Place all the components in the solvent to clean them.

Now, re-install the balls by placing them inside the outer bearing ring, aligned on one side in a “C” shape. Now place the inner ring in the middle and line the balls back up into the races/grooves. Carefully place the plastic cage above the balls and align each ball into place. Push down evenly to press each steel ball back into place inside the cage. This process can be time-consuming and tedious, but the result is that your bearings will again be as clean as when they came from the factory!

Step 4: Lubricating and re-installing bearing shields

After your bearings look new again and the shields have been cleaned/dried off, it’s almost time to put them back together.

The next step is critical. You must apply a skateboard bearing lubricant to the bearings. Without lubricant, the bearings may spin insanely fast for a few minutes, but they will eventually heat up and become permanently destroyed. If you skate downhill without lubricated bearings, they can even seize up and cause a bad accident. It is strongly advised to use only a skateboard bearing-specific 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 cover the bearings in lubricant as it will make a huge mess and attract dirt to the bearing when you skate.

After applying lubricant, carefully press each bearing shield back into place on each bearing. Again, be careful not to bend the shields.

Step 5: Re-installing the bearings into wheels

One last step before you’re ready to skate! There are several ways to press each bearing back into your wheels. One of the simplest ways is to place a bearing (shield side down) onto your truck axle and then place the wheel over the axle and onto the bearing.

Press down evenly on the wheel and the bearing underneath should pop into place inside the wheel. Repeat this process for all bearings. Then, when you screw on the axle nut, you can tighten it down until the bearings have been fully pressed into place.

Remember to install axle washers between the bearing and axle nut before tightening the nut down. Be careful not to damage the bearing shields with your tool.

Finally, it took some work, but your skateboard bearings are now spinning and looking like new again! You’re probably excited to go skate, but don’t be surprised if your board isn’t super-fast when you first push away.

The bearings now have fresh lubricant that still needs to spread around inside the bearing. After about 10-15 minutes, you should feel the bearings start to break in and skate faster. A fun way to break them in is to go skate a bowl or down a hill!

Final note, if you discover that the plastic/nylon cage inside your bearing(s) is broken or your bearings have rusted inside, it’s time to get new bearings. In that case, check out our selection of premium-quality skateboard bearings in the Cruisin City online shop!

Text and photos by Skatetexter

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