Guide to Chain Lubrication Best Practices

Chains and chain drives play a critical role in transferring power between subcomponent parts within machinery and equipment.

In manufacturing environments, chain drives can be found in equipment and machinery that pushes, pulls, rotates, slides, and transports materials, semi-finished, and work-in-process parts across a production floor. Ultimately, chains and chain drives are everywhere, from bikes, cars, buses, trucks, and conveyors, to any equipment or machinery requiring synchronization and transfer of force and motion between parts.

Because chains and chain drives are integral components of machinery and equipment, proper lubrication is key to minimizing the impact of daily wear and tear. Proper chain lubrication also increases productivity, reduces downtime, minimizes maintenance and repair costs, extends machine and equipment service life, and prevents total chain failure.

Why Chains Fail

Chains ultimately fail when they are dry for an extended period of time. Other reasons why chains may suddenly fail include:

  • Debris & Dust: Chain drives operate in different environments where debris and dust can quickly form on the chain, leading to excessive friction and abrasion.
  • Poor Maintenance: Even with the proper lubrication, companies must still adopt a proactive and repetitive maintenance schedule. Without one, an unforeseen failure could lead to a prolonged period where the machine or equipment is unserviceable.
  • Fatigue: Excessive and repetitive loads can also lead to failure. Equipment and machinery have load ratings where operators must respect the listed requirements. Exceeding these requirements with loads higher than the machine is rated for can easily lead to chain failure.
  • Operating Speed: Exceeding the operating speed that’s defined by the machine’s operating parameters can lead to high stress on the chain. Excessive speeds can also put undue pressure on pins, rollers, and link plates to the point where fractures or cracks occur.
  • Manufacturing Defects: Like any product, chains could include manufacturing defects. In most cases, these defects are not detectable with the naked eye. Without a backup, a failure can quickly lead to extensive machine downtime.
  • Excessive Wear: This often occurs when the chain is excessively stretched or elongated during operation. This puts stress on the chain and its parts until failure occurs.
  • Corrosion: It’s also common for chain drives to operate in corrosive environments. Corrosion weakens every subcomponent part of the chain until these parts eventually crack or break.

In most cases of chain failure, however, the most common culprit is no lubrication or poor lubrication. If you want to prevent chain failure, you’ll need to create and enforce a maintenance program that outlines how often your chains will need to be lubricated.

Below, we’ll discuss some of the most common lubrication methods and best practices for each method.


Manual lubrication involves using hand-held tools like grease guns, filler pumps, grease pumps, brushes, small oil cans, or aerosol sprays. This method should be done every eight to ten hours, depending upon the machine or equipment’s operating procedures. When lubricating manually, be sure to properly lubricate the links, rollers, link plates, and the sprocket’s teeth. Because oil has better flowability than grease, oil lubricants are recommended for manual chain lubrication. Ultimately, the goal is to keep the chain constantly lubricated to avoid rust. 

Please note that this method can also be very time-consuming and sometimes even dangerous for your technicians, depending on the type of machinery or equipment they must maintain.


Another way to keep your chains constantly lubricated is by implementing a semi-automatic drip lubrication system. This chain lubrication system manages the number of drops per minute and hour and ensures that the lubricant covers the entire chain width, rollers, and inner and outer link plates. Most drip lubrication systems drop anywhere from five to 20 drops a minute. The drip system manages the frequency and uniformity of the drops, and the number of drops is defined by the number of links in the chain.


Lastly, automatic chain lubrication systems operate continuously. When working correctly, daily inspection of the chain or sprocket during operation is typically not necessary. This helps to cut down on maintenance and service costs while increasing machine utilization. The most common lubrication chain systems include force-feed and oil-ring.


Force-feed lubrication systems provide a timed and continuous spray through a distribution pipe where the oil covers a specific surface area of the chain. This system is typically used when the driven chain must handle high operating speeds and loads.


Oil-ring systems include rotating discs that gather the oil from a reservoir at the bottom of the drive chain system. The oil is then sprayed or jettisoned against a collector plate, which is then dropped on the bottom of the chain. With these systems, the amount of lubricant is managed to ensure the chain is never entirely immersed in the lubricant.

Get More Advice From DropsA Today

Founded in 1946, DropsA has long been recognized as an innovator, manufacturer, and trusted provider of affordable and efficient chain lubrication systems and parts. Visit our online shop to browse our products and solutions, or contact us today to get more advice about chain lubrication or help with selecting a product.