Roller chain is a mechanical power transmission component that has two bearing points that must be lubricated. The first bearing point is located between the pin and bushing, which allows the chain to articulate as it runs around a sprocket. The second location is between the bushing and roller, which allows the chain links to glide smoothly over sprocket teeth. Without proper lubrication the chain will experience both metal-to-metal wear and corrosion that lead to chain failure. In fact, the most common reason chain suppliers & manufacturers see failures is due to poor lubrication. Downtime can be extremely costly, so it's important that you understand the importance of roller chain lubrication.

Integrating a routine maintenance plan will help your company avoid those disasters moments of being down. Don't have time to plan out another maintenance plan? There are companies such as Transfer Technology Services that offer maintenance program services to help you integrate a plan.

Roller Chain Bearing Points Needing Lubrication

The below diagram shows the two areas of a roller chain must stay lubricated.

roller chain with points of lubrication

Types Of Roller Chain Lubricant

There are several types of lubricant, so which is the best for roller chain? The best option is a high quality SAE non-detergent petroleum based oil. The table below is a general reference for the viscosity of oil that should be used based on chain size and ambient temperature.

Ambient Temperature Ranges*
14°F To 32°F 32°F To 104°F 104°F To 122°F 122°F To 140°F 14°F To 32°F 32°F To 104°F 104°F To 122°F 122°F To 140°F
Chain Size
(Metric)
Type A & B Lubrication Method** Type C Lubrication Method**
25-50
(06B-10B)
SAE10 SAE20 SAE30 SAE40 SAE10 SAE20 SAE30 SAE40
60-80
(12B-16B)
SAE20 SAE30 SAE40 SAE50 SAE10 SAE20 SAE30 SAE40
100
(20B)
SAE20 SAE30 SAE40 SAE50 SAE20 SAE30 SAE40 SAE50
120-240
(24B-48B)
SAE30 SAE40 SAE50 SAE50 SAE20 SAE30 SAE40 SAE50

*Temperatures lower than 14°F & higher than 140°F should use a special formulated oil. View our roller chain temperature ratings.

**Methods of lubrication shown below.

Methods Of Lubricating Roller Chain

There are 5 different methods of applying lubricant to roller chain that are broken down into types. The 'Types' are usually found in a chain companies catalog or ANSI documentation. The 'Type' will be based on 3 main factors, which is speed, horsepower and ambient temperature.

Lubrication Method & Types
Methods Type
Manual A
Drip A
Oil Bath B
Oil Disc Slinger B
Pump C

Details Of Each Roller Chain Lubrication Methods

  • Manual

    Apply oil using a brush or an oiling can. Oil should be added about every 8 hours or sooner if chain joints are becoming dry

  • Drip

    Apply oil by using a leakproof oil dispenser at a rate of of 15-30 drops per minute.

  • Oil Bath

    Apply oil by an oil bath by using a leakproof case. Oil should run at the pitch line of the roller chain and should be monitored to ensure the oil stays at the pitch line. Too much oil may cause the oil to overheat.

  • Oil Disc Slinger

    Apply oil using a disc slinger from a leakproof case. The oil slinger should reach rim speeds of 600 to 8,000 ft/min. Two oil slingers (One on each side) must be used if the chain is wider than 4.92". (One slinger may on wide chains may not "sling" oil across the entire chain)

  • Pump

    Apply oil using a pump from a leakproof case. The oil stream from the pump should cover the entire width of the chain.

Roller Chain Inspection

Yes, roller chain needs to be inspected to ensure the chain is being properly lubricated. Every application is different and one may require more frequent lubrication vs another similar drive due different factors. Inspections and history will help determine an proper amount of lubrication. First, you'll need to clean the roller chain with a petroleum based cleaner. After the chain has be cleaned you'll want to inspect the chain for ant signs of wear or a reddish/brownish discoloring of the parts. If wear marks or discoloring is present, then this means the chain in not receiving an adequate amount of lubrication.