Barbells are a popular piece of equipment in both commercial and home gyms. They’re arguably the staple piece of equipment that should be in every home gym and for the importance of them, they’re worth keeping in top condition!
Without proper maintenance, barbells can become rusty, bent, and even break down.
Cleaning your barbell is essential for keeping it in good condition, ensuring that it lasts for longer so that you can make the most of it. Ensuring your barbell is properly maintained doesn’t have to be a super time-consuming or expensive activity. In fact, it can be done easily and simply with only a few cheap products.
Here we’ve covered everything you need to know about barbell maintenance and how to clean a barbell so let’s get down to it….
Cleaning Equipment Needed
Before I explain how to clean your barbell, it’s important to know what you’ll need. To clean your barbell you’ll actually only need a couple of products, which can be found cheaply and easily in most stores, or online.
These products are:
- 3-in-1 oil or a similar oil product (although check to make sure it’s suitable)
- A short nylon brush
- A towel or cloth (that you won’t mind getting stained)
In the next sections, I’ve explained how to clean different parts of the barbell.
Different parts of the barbell are treated differently. I’d recommend doing these steps every month, or every couple of months, although this will vary depending on how often you use your barbell and how much wear and tear it goes through.
How to Clean a Barbell
Step 1: Brush Away Dirt and Debris
Before cleaning a barbell, you need to prep it by brushing away all excess dirt and debris.
Over time, barbells will gather dust, dirt, debris, and oils from repeated use and general wear and tear. This needs to be removed before cleaning or restoring your barbell. The first thing to do is gently brush away any surface debris.
This can include rust, dirt, or excess chalk. Removing all of the loose debris first will make it much easier to then remove the ingrained dirt and then clean the barbell fully.
For this, simply run over the barbell with a nylon brush and towel.
For a deeper dirt removal, use some WD-40 to spray the surface of the barbell and leave it to sit for 5-10 minutes, and then repeat the steps above to brush away the deeper surface dirt and debris.
There’s a lot of oiling and brushing needed to keep your barbell in good condition so you’ll see some of these steps repeated. This first step is needed for barbells that need a serious clean/restoration.
Step 2: Clean the Barbell Shaft and Knurling
For the shaft of the barbell, you should use the 3-in-1 oil. Apply a thin layer of this to the shaft and give it a couple of minutes to sink in. Then take the nylon brush and run that over the barbell knurling.
Barbell knurling is an etched area of the barbell that’s made to aid grip when lifting the bar. But they can become packed with dead skin and chalk, so to clear this out it’s necessary to go up and down the bar with the brush a few times.
During this step, it’s crucial to use a short nylon brush rather than any other kind of brush product.
This is because certain brushes, like those made out of materials such as metal, can damage the barbell. Although it may only cause superficial scratches, these scratches can let in rush and dirt which can weaken the barbell over time and lead to problems.
We use a larger brush (like this) for a general wipe down and then a smaller brush (like this) for getting into the barbell knurling.
Also, using a brush with short bristles is what I’d recommend as it can really get into the grooves and crevices on the barbell. As I mentioned, these crevices can get pretty dirty from the build-up of sweat, dead skin and chalk, so taking the time to thoroughly clean them out is important.
Finally, use a towel or cloth to wipe away any excess oil. Obviously, oil is slippy and the last thing you want is to make the bar difficult to grip. So make sure all of the oil is cleared away before using the bar again.
For this, you can use any towel or cloth to remove the excess oil.
If you’re just doing a general clean as your barbell is already in good condition, the nylon brush might not be needed and some oil and a cloth might be enough to remove any dirt/chalk without needing to scrub it.
Step 3: Clean the Barbell Sleeves
For the sleeves of the barbell, you don’t necessarily need to remove them in order to clean them (a mistake people often make and then damage the bushings or bearings of the barbells as a result).
If you are doing a yearly deep clean, then removing the sleeves to clean and oil the bushings might be needed so check out the article below for a more detailed guide on this.
See also – How to clean barbell sleeves
Step 4: Oil the Barbell Bushings
Take your 3-in-1 oil and apply it directly to where the sleeve meets the shaft. If you have a spray nozzle then this can help to get the oil into the gap, but if you don’t, then using a towel or cloth is fine.
Once you’ve applied the oil, spin the sleeves/collars around a few times to ensure that the oil has sunken in.
After getting the product into this space then wipe away any excess. Again, ensuring that you get rid of any of this excess oil is key as you don’t want it to build up and make the bar slippery.
Step 5: Barbell Storage
Finally, storing your barbell correctly after use will reduce the time and effort needed to maintain it. Barbells take up a lot of space due to their length and this makes them difficult to store in a home or garage gym.
Our recommendation is to make use of a wall-mounted barbell hook that will keep it off the floor (away from elements) and if that isn’t an option, use a vertical barbell holder that will hold the weight of the bar.
Storing your barbell away from moisture or direct sunlight is also essential for preventing any damage due to nature – something we often forget about but the thing most damaging to our equipment.
Weekly Barbell Cleaning
On a weekly basis you should at least wipe down your barbell with a microfiber cloth and the easiest way to do this is after each session. This will help prevent the build-up of moisture and chalk which will lead to rust and quicker wear and tear.
Ensure you are storing the barbell correctly in between uses is also something you should be doing after every session.
Monthly Barbell Cleaning
For monthly maintenance, follow the cleaning process we’ve outlined in this article. This will prevent rust from setting in and oiling the bar will keep the bushings in fully functioning condition.
Yearly Barbell Cleaning
A yearly barbell clean would involve the steps above to clean the bar but you’ll also want to consider taking the barbell apart in order to fully clean and oil the bushings.
This will depend on your level of competence and the particular barbell you have but for a standard Olympic barbell, this is a straightforward task for most people.
Barbell Maintenance FAQ
How to Clean Chalk off a Barbell
To clean chalk off of a barbell take a short nylon brush and brush the knurling to dislodge excess chalk. The loosened chalk can then be wiped away with a cloth or towel. If you use chalk on your barbell then this cleaning should be done after each use.
Weightlifters often use chalk on their barbells to absorb excess oil or sweat on their hands which can make it difficult to grip the barbell. The key benefit is that it makes it easier and more secure to grip the bar during use.
Related – Why don’t gyms allow chalk
The amount of chalk people use varies. Some people apply it only to their hands before gripping the barbell, whereas others coat it onto the barbell before use.
Cleaning off the chalk can be done really easily, using the same products I mentioned earlier on, specifically the short nylon brush and a towel or cloth.
To remove the build-up of chalk, take the short nylon brush and brush backward and forwards along the knurling. Doing this should dislodge the chalk from the knurling and you should be able to see it coming out. This excess chalk can then be wiped away using a cloth or a towel.
If you use chalk on your barbell then I’d recommend cleaning it off after each use. As chalk builds up in the knurling it can make it harder to grip. So cleaning this off will ensure that you can safely use your barbell.
Is It Bad to Leave Chalk on a Barbell?
It is bad to leave chalk on a barbell as the build-up of chalk in the knurling can make the barbell harder to grip. It’s also bad to leave chalk on a barbell as chalk can cause rust and damage, which can lead to a breakdown.
To expand on this some more, leaving chalk on a barbell is bad for different reasons.
The issue with chalk is that it can build up in the knurling.
Depending on the product these knurlings can be found in different places along the shaft and they often come in different patterns and depths ranging from fine to aggressive. Knurling is there to aid grip and make it easier for you to hold onto the barbell.
The problem with chalk is that it can build up in this knurling and when this happens the knurling becomes less effective. Basically what happens is this build-up of chalk fills in the crevices which makes the whole bar harder to grip.
As a result, chalk can actually make it harder to grip the barbell when used excessively and without regular cleaning. So to make sure you can still grip your barbell, it’s important to clean off the build-up of chalk using the technique I’ve explained above.
It’s also bad to leave chalk on a barbell because it can cause rust, which I’ve explained in the next section.
Does Chalk Rust Barbells?
Chalk can cause barbells to rust. This is because chalk attracts and absorbs moisture. As a result, not cleaning chalk off of a barbell can promote rusting if left for a period of time. Therefore, it’s important to clean chalk off your barbell.
To expand on this some more, chalk is designed to absorb moisture which is why people use it to absorb sweat and oil from their hands before using a barbell.
However, when left on the barbell this process continues. So the chalk continues to attract and pull moisture from the air or anything else around it. This absorbed moisture is then left sitting on the steel of the barbell which ultimately leads to rusting especially if it’s left that way over a period of time.
Rusting is going to lead to corrosion and ultimately shorten the lifespan of your barbell, meaning you’ll have to pay out to replace it. A rusted barbell also looks awful. To avoid this and prevent rusting then it’s important to clean chalk off of your barbell and not leave any excess on the barbell.
Should You Oil Your Barbell?
It’s good to oil your barbell for two main reasons. Firstly, it helps to remove potentially damaging materials like chalk and skin cells that get left on the bar as you use it. Secondly, it gives the barbell a protective coating which helps to protect it from future damage including rust.
As well as helping to remove potentially damaging materials and protecting your barbell from future damage, oiling it can also help to prevent injury. This is because using oil on your barbell helps it to rotate smoothly.
When oiling your barbell there are different options and there are a lot of products available. I’d recommend using a 3-in-1 oil. This is a good product to use because it’s effective in removing material left on the barbell, like chalk and skin cells, which can cause rust and erosion over time. It’s also effective in coating the barbell, protecting it from damage.
3-in-1 oil is also a good product to use because it’s pretty cheap and can be purchased in a variety of stores, as well as online, so it should be easy to get ahold of.
The bottom line then is that oiling your barbell can keep it in better shape and ensures that it stays in good condition for a long time!
Barbell maintenance is not something that most people are concerned with and it’s easy to assume that a steel bar doesn’t really need maintenance. While you can still easily use a rusted and dirty barbell, it’s not ideal for optimal performance.
Wiping your barbell weekly, cleaning it monthly, and doing a deep clean annually will ensure your barbell is always kept in the best possible condition and will only take around 12 hours per year at the most – provided you keep on top of it throughout the year.
Also, check out this video which covers key points on cleaning and maintaining your barbell: