How to clean barbell knurling: You NEED 4 things!

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I find it incredibly frustrating when my grip on the bar feels WEAKER – and more often than not this is due to the barbell knurling getting gummed up with chalk and various other bits of gym-detritus.

Knowing when and HOW to clean barbell knurling is key to keeping your equipment in tip top condition. After all you spent a lot of hard earned dough buying it – so now we need to look after it! Here’s what you need to know.

How to clean barbell knurling: You NEED 4 things!

At a glance…

  • Cleaning your bar knurl can be done with a stiff nylon brush with 3-in-1 oil acting as a lubricant and protectant
  • Chalk build up can be problematic for grip and rust – sweep it out after each workout (or at least after each heavy chalk workout) to keep your bar in the best condition
  • Cleaning your barbell typically takes 5 – 15 minutes depending on how thorough a clean you are giving it
  • A nylon (or plastic) brush is preferable to a metal brush as it is far gentler on the barbell finish

How to clean your barbell knurling

To clean barbell knurling use a nylon or similar stiff plastic-bristled brush and brush in line with the knurling cuts. Lubricate with 3-in-1 oil or a very mild detergent if heavily soiled. 

After drying the barbell wipe it down with a further drop of 3-in-1 oil (some use WD40) to help prevent rust. Take care to work in to the knurling cuts to ensure complete coverage and wipe any excess off with a cloth when done.

How to you clean chalk out of barbell knurling?

To remove chalk from the barbell take a stiff nylon brush and some 3-in-1 oil as lubricant and aggressively work across the bar scrubbing in the direction of the knurling cuts (typically two lines at 45 degrees to each other.)

Chalk can clog up your knurling blunting its effectiveness which makes the bar more likely to slip out of your grip. To add insult to injury chalk is used to remove moisture from your hands – and if left on the barbell it HOLDS this moisture against the metal creating the perfect environment for rust!

Removing this chalk build up from your barbell knurling is therefore important to keep it in tip top condition – and might even help you add a few kilos to your deadlift PR (or maybe not 🙂 )

You should brush your knurling weekly (or even daily for some!)

Barbell knurling should ideally be brushed down after EVERY use. This is important in commercial settings where multiple users are handling the equipment every day and chalk build up can be significant.

Personally, in a home gym with one heavy user, I find a weekly brush down works for me as I am a relatively light chalk user so the build up is modest (in a week I typically use the barbell for 4-5 workouts). I have had limited issues with excessive rust on my bars. If you use a ton of chalk you absolutely WILL need to brush them down far more often.

I don’t want to be too aggressive in my cleaning routine and end up making it WORSE by damaging the zinc or black oxide coating on my bars!

Overall there is no hard and fast rule – if you see a build up or feel the grip begin to slip then a clean out is overdue!

rushing out the knurl: Hard done (right hand side) and half NOT (left hand side)
Brushing out the knurl: Hard done (right hand side) and half NOT (left hand side)

What can I use to clean my knurl? Just these 4 things?!

Cleaning your barbell is quite easy and the equipment needed is both cheap and readily available:

  • Stiff nylon brush – this is used to brush the knurl itself. The stiffer the bristles the better so aim for short, stiff bristles!
  • 3-in-1 oil – designed to clean and protect metal. Use as a lubricant to clean the intricate knurling patterns and as a final layer of protection for the metal post-cleaning
  • Rags or microfibre cloths – used to wipe the bar down periodically. Paper towels will break up on the knurl so best to use a cloth or rag
  • 5 – 15 minutes of time – a quick brush down at the end of a workout takes a few minutes, while a more thorough wipe and protect will take around 15 minutes

There is no need to buy a specialist barbell cleaning kit. They are nicely marketed to us, but ultimately each of the components can be bought easily and cheaply elsewhere. Of course if you want to buy one that is cool – we all like to indulge from time to time 🙂

Nylon vs wire brushes

Nylon brushes are far softer than metal wire ones. This is important as if you have a corrosion resistant coating on your bar (such as cerakote, zinc or even black oxide) metal bristles can damage this revealing the underlying steel. This is not good as the metal is then exposed to the elements and may RUST.

For that reason I ALWAYS use a stiff nylon (or other plastic) brush when sweeping out my knurling!

What about brass brushes?

Brass is a soft metal so is more gentle on your barbell than other metal brushes, however personally I stick to nylon to be on the safe side. Further, as a softer metal, brass bristles are more likely to flake and leave splinters either on the bar or in the environment. As I clean my bars in my gym space I want to avoid contaminating it as much as possible.

With that said brass brushes offer a more aggressive cleaning motion so if you don’t have a delicate barbell coating (so for those of you with a bare steel or stainless steel bar or some hard chromes are in luck) they can offer a more aggressive (and therefore quicker) option to clean out the knurl. 

Conclusion

Cleaning your bar knurl is not a glamorous job – but it is a necessary one if you want to keep your barbell in the best condition. It is worth taking the 5 minutes a week to brush it down if only for the improved feeling of grip when deadlifting!

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