Just like any other tool, gear, or equipment you own, roller skates need to be maintained over time in order for them to stay fully functional. And we know what you’re thinking.
It’s definitely a pain in the butt, but trust us when we say that it is completely worth it!
In this article, we will show you how to clean roller skate bearings properly and some tips to keep in mind in the process.
Table of Contents Hide
- What are the parts of a roller skate?
- How do I know if my roller skate bearings are bad?
- What is the easiest way to clean bearings?
- Can I clean my bearings with nail polish remover?
- Can you use rubbing alcohol to clean bearings?
What are the parts of a roller skate?
Before you clean your bearings, it would first be helpful to learn the different parts of the roller skate so that you are aware of how they all work and fit together.
Roller skates compose of:
By far, one of the most essential parts of the skate is the boot. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to securely strap your feet to the wheels, let alone skate properly.
They are usually made of leather on the outside and lined with material on the inside that maximizes comfort and security. The laces further secure your feet and keep them in place inside the boot. For almost everyone, the best part about skates is the customizability of the boot.
Nowadays, you can find boots in all types of colors and materials that fit you and your individual style.
Attached directly to the boot are the plates. They are secured in by mounting bolts that are mounted into the outsole. The plates provide the foundation by which other parts of the skate anchor onto, such as the kingpins and toe stops.
They are available in many different types of metals, depending on the price, durability, weight, and rigidity.
If you’re looking for high performance, you’ll most likely want alloy plates.
These attach the trucks to the plates and also play a part in the turning mechanism of the trucks.
In a fully assembled roller skate, the kingpins contain the trucks, which are sandwiched in between the cushions/bushings and the cushion retainers.
The angle at which the kingpin sits can affect the performance of your ride.
You can find stability and less responsiveness at lower angles, while higher angles are less stable but more responsive.
These are cushions that are placed on the kingpins to keep the trucks in place. As you are turning in your skates, the trucks push into the bushings and provide a form of stability for your ride.
The softer the cushion, the less resistance and rebound there are.
Harder cushions are the opposite and offer more rebound and stability.
On the kingpin, cushions sit inside metal rings called retainers. They help distribute force and provide another source of stability for each cushion.
Retainers also increase the longevity and durability of cushions.
These are like the cherry on top when it comes to all of the components attached onto the kingpin. The kingpin nut secures the cushions, retainers, and truck components to the kingpin.
It should be tight enough so that everything is secure, but not so tight that it squeezes the cushions.
The trucks (also known as hangers and axles) help you to twist and turn in your skates. They rest in the pivot cup and are secured onto the kingpin.
Aggressive skaters usually get wide trucks to grind on ledges, copings, and rails in the skatepark.
The axles are another part of the truck where the bearings are mounted onto that secure the wheels to the skates.
These are the rounded ends of a truck that sit in the pivot cups.
These are located on the plates themselves and are where the pivot balls are inserted to allow the trucks to have a turning mechanism. Pivot cups are usually made of plastic, nylon, or rubber that help with smooth turns.
Any breaks or tears in the cups should be fixed immediately as it can cause the trucks to become loose.
These are the part of the wheel that is in contact with the ground. They are available in a variety of sizes and hardness, which is measured in durometer.
This is a scale that manufacturers use to measure the hardness of the wheel. You’ll notice that the wheels will have a number with the letter “A” next to it.
Outdoors skating will need softer wheels like a 78a to accommodate for the rougher surfaces. Smoother terrain in rinks or parks will be better with wheels that are around 98a-103a.
Within the tires are the bearings, which give you the ability to roll.
There are two bearings in each wheel. Like many other parts of the skate, you can customize the bearings to your liking.
They can be metal, ceramic, oil-based, or grease-based. Investing in high-quality bearings when you first get skates will ensure smooth rides for many years to come.
At the front of the plate, you’ll find the toe stops. There are standard ones that come with skates, but you also have the option to switch them out depending on what you need.
Jam and dance skaters usually take them out and use jam plugs instead.
How do I know if my roller skate bearings are bad?
Now that you know where each part of the skate is, take a look at your bearings.
If you see any evidence of grime or dirt, then it’s time to clean them.
Dirty bearings are usually a good sign that debris has gotten in other parts of the wheel. Another way you can tell is if you feel resistance in your rolls like you’re skating through syrup. When spinning them between your fingers, they won’t even be able to spin for 1 second.
Sometimes you may also hear some grinding noises.
On the flip side, if the bearings look clean and pass the other tests described previously, check to see if they are lopsided. It’s possible that they could be bent without you even realizing it, which can affect how you skate.
As with any part of your skate, bent or broken pieces should be thrown out and replaced.
What is the easiest way to clean bearings?
Cleaning your bearings is an essential step in your roller skate maintenance routine. Skipping this step could potentially ruin your skates and compromise your safety. Follow these steps on how to properly clean your bearings:
1. Remove the bearings from the wheels
First, you have to take apart your skates and remove the bearings.
For this step, you’ll need a skate tool and bearing puller.
Using the skate tool, remove the axle nut and wheels from the truck by turning the tool counter-clockwise. Then, use the bearing puller to pull out the bearings from the wheel tire.
Remember, there are two bearings in each wheel!
2. Remove the seal or shield from the bearings
On each bearing, there may be a colored cap, crown, or rubber shield that should be removed before cleaning to prevent fluid from being trapped inside.
Fluids can cause the balls in the bearings and other metals to rust or corrode, which can ruin it altogether.
You’re going to need a tool with a sharp edge like a safety pin or needle.
While you are removing the cap, keep in mind to press on the inside of the retainer (the smaller circle within the bearing), and it should come right out. At this point, you should see the balls within the bearings.
Repeat the previous steps if the bearing has another cap. If you don’t see a colored cap, you likely have a metal shield, which isn’t removable.
However, these metal bearings have a C-ring along the outside that can be removed with a pin to be cleaned. Since there are many types of bearings out there, it’s recommended that you refer to how the manufacturer suggests you take apart and clean them.
3. Clean and dry the bearings
Now you might be wondering: what do you polish bearings with?
After any caps or shields are removed, you want to clean bearing casings and submerge them in a cleaning solution in a small bucket, container, or jar.
When choosing a cleaning solution, you’ll find that a lot of skaters like washing ball bearings acetone and with other dangerous chemicals like lacquer thinner, gasoline, MEK, etc. However, we suggest you avoid them as they are irritating to the skin, are flammable, and overall a danger to your health.
Instead, you should try citrus-based cleaners, which contain an organic compound called D-limonene. This type of cleaner is a solvent and is great for dissolving liquids and solids. You only need enough solution to cover the bearings in your container of choice.
If possible, close the container and shake it around until the solution appears dirty.
Then, take them out of the cleaning solution and wash them with hot water to remove the cleaner. This is usually a bad idea, which is why you want to quickly follow up with a hairdryer to dry it out completely to avoid rust.
What some skaters also like to do is use a bearing cleaning kit, which is a container that allows you to thoroughly clean your bearings without the mess. It contains a pole that spaces out the bearings within the solution.
It’s also helpful because it can tell you the exact amount of fluid to use. Then, all you have to do is shake the bottle.
4. Add lubricant
This is a vital step to the cleaning process as it can help prevent rust and keep your rides smooth. Look for oils for sewing machines, electronics, and skates.
Avoid thick lubricants like motor oils, white lithium grease, and household oils.
These types of oils are made for big, heavy moving parts and could actually slow down bearings because they are so thick. Using thicker oils can also backfire on you because they can more easily collect and hold onto debris that can ruin your bearings.
Add two to three drops of lubricant onto the balls inside of the bearings, and you should be good to go!
5. Reassemble bearings and wheels
For our final touches, we want to start putting everything back together.
Gently put the caps back onto the bearings, insert the bearings into the wheels, and tighten the wheels with the skate tools. Make sure to tighten the wheels all the way and then turn a full 90 degrees back so that it can freely spin.
Your wheel should be able to wiggle from side to side but should not be sliding around or clacking on the axle.
Can I clean my bearings with nail polish remover?
Although it is possible to clean your bearings with nail polish remover, it is not highly recommended.
Nail polish remover contains acetone, which is traditionally used to clean bearings. However, it does not usually just contain acetone. The other additives in the nail polish remover could leave a film or build up residue within the bearing over time.
Some skaters have found success using variations of this method, such as diluting the solution or using an alcohol-based nail polish remover, but this should not be a long-term solution.
Can you use rubbing alcohol to clean bearings?
Rubbing alcohol, also known as isopropyl alcohol, is another chemical that is commonly used to clean bearings.
At your local store, you’ll most likely find 70% isopropyl alcohol, but you want to get your hands on 99% or greater. You might have to ask a pharmacy for the more potent variant.
You shouldn’t use 70% isopropyl alcohol because there is a high chance your bearing will rust. This is because the other 30% of the solution contains water, and if not dried out completely, could lead to rust and slowing down of the bearing.
Your roller skates are dynamic and contain many different parts, just like you.
One of the things that many people tend to overlook when they first get into skating is the maintenance.
Although most skates are built to last, they can’t last forever. What you can do in the meantime to increase your skate’s longevity is to clean some of the many different components, especially the bearings. Bearings allow your skates to roll smoothly and give you that euphoric feeling of flying.
If you find that your wheels are not spinning as well anymore, then it’s time to clean the bearings.
Cleaning them involves taking apart your wheels, using the correct (and safest) cleaning solutions, and adding lubricant.
The most important part is that you have to dry them out completely after they are submerged under any fluid. Doing so will prevent rust that would mess up the bearings’ performance.
Once cleaned, they are like brand new, and you will be out skating in no time! Now that you know how to clean your bearings, you can check out our picks on the best bearings for you.