I started learning to maintain my motorcycle on my own, and cleaned the chain and lubricated it yesterday. Ended up with grease+oil smeared all over my hands and under the nails which haven't gone off entirely even until now (a bit of a nightmare, coz I'm actually a software programmer :-) ).

A Google search for how to clean it gave me these results just now:
1. Use a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of liquid dish washing soap. They also say it's better to use gloves because the grime might cause cancer. What? Really?
2. Someone uses an oil lifting spray.
3. Laundry liquid.
4. Canola oil.
5. Dig nails into a bar of soap and use a scrub brush.

Apparently the sugar/salt + dish washing soap idea is called "Mechanics soap" and the sugar/salt is meant to provide some amount of a gritty nature to the "soap".

My question is about avoiding this hassle in the first place. Apart from the "give your bike to a mechanic for servicing" option, are these good options?

  1. Is it worthwhile to invest in gloves? Won't latex gloves tear quickly and won't you perspire a lot inside the gloves? After the grime gets onto the gloves, won't it get onto any other clean part of the bike you touch? At least if one isn't wearing gloves, one would instinctively wipe off the grime on a cloth or newspaper. If you tried wiping it off the gloves, the glove would slowly slip off and then you'd have to pull it back on, which can get annoying.
  2. Is there some kind of viscous liquid I could rub on my palms and under the nails so that the grease/oil doesn't stick onto my skin as un-washably as earlier? Of course, the liquid shouldn't cause any problems to the motorbike's machinery either, and it should be easy to wipe it off with a cloth if it gets onto any of the clean areas of the bike. If there are any commercial products (would be too expensive), a mention is welcome, but ideally, something that can be purchased from a local store or can be prepared at home would be great.
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    Nitrile gloves. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:32
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    To add to Paulsters comment - Nitrile gloves from Harbor Freight. They have different thickness for different prices (3mil, 5mil, 7mil, 9mil) to suit your needs, and there are almost always 20% off coupons floating around the back of auto magazines and mailers. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 18:32
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    It goes away in a day or two... during which people will think you are more of a man than you actually are.
    – cory
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 18:58
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    If you work someplace where programmers are expected to groom ourselves like normal people, I suggest finding a job someplace with more sensible priorities. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 19:29
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    If you claw up a bar of mild soap before you start working, that will solve the problem of under-the-nail crap that's super hard to clean.
    – Nick T
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 21:22

5 Answers 5



Do not use latex gloves, they break easily. Use nitrile gloves instead, they are mechanically much more resistant. Even better: Use nitrile gloves under ordinary work gloves. The ordinary gloves will protect the nitrile gloves from mechanically influences, the nitrile keeps away the oil.


Use industrial hand wash paste. Perfect to remove oil and dirt from your skin. Comes mostly with some added abrasives (sand or sawdust). The abrasives help to remove the dirt


Should things not get as planned and dirt gets under your nails: Sorry, there is only the brush left.


Use some beewax based hand cream to care your hands.

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    Important point: nitrile gloves are seriously cheap. Get a box of a zillion for not much money and use them all the time.
    – Bob Cross
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:41
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    I personally swear by gloves but would add that I know of a mechanic who would rub something called Barrier Cream on his hands each morning then work as normal. As soon as he washed his hands, they'd come up clean. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:56
  • I've heard from such cremes. Since I have no experience with them I did not mentioned them
    – Martin
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:57

If you don't like gloves, I recommend GOJO:

GOJO Natual Orange Pumice Hand Cleaner

GOJO contains pumice, which is ground up volcanic rock. It also contains a natural degreaser. When you combine the two, you have a cleaner that can remove grease and dirt from every part of your hand, including nails and cuticles. I recommend combining it with a nail brush:

Nail Brush

  • Great suggestion, David. That stuff really eats grease.
    – anonymous2
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 17:59
  • I wouldn't call petroleum distillates a "natural degreaser" (alcohol can only do so much ;) This is soap, mineral spirits, alcohol, moisturizer, and an abrasive. I don't like moisturizers or abrasives in my soap.
    – Mazura
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 20:33
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    The Material Safety Data Sheet lists 1-Methyl-4-(1-methylethenyl)-cyclohexene (AKA Limonene) as one of the "Hazardous Ingredients". Limonene occurs naturally in the rind of citrus fruits and is a degreaser. You linked to the MSDS for the "Original Formula". I am recommending the "Natural Orange" version.
    – user22551
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 20:49
  • The HDX stuff is really good, too (dunno if they have a limonene-based formula). In general if you walk into any hardware store and ask for "heavy duty orange hand cleaner" you'll get directed to the equivalent product. You'll have to do some hunting if you want more natural formulas. The Gojo natural stuff is also available on Amazon for a reasonable price if you can't find it locally.
    – Jason C
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 23:54
  • in australia we have one called Protecta-pink that works really well
    – RozzA
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 20:55

My grandad run a automotive and truck repair shop for 50years, he told me when I was a kid to use Vaseline on my hands before work starts (this was before all the modern cleaners of today).
Thin layer covering the whole hand and at the end of day all the oil/grease washes away so much easier.
My brother has also used it in his shop.
I my self like mechanics gloves but wear them out like crazy and in the 100+ heat end up with dye from them on my hands.

  • 1
    I can't use nitrile gloves in the sun... they absorb an insane amount of heat. The Vaseline suggestion is a nice one, although I wonder if it impedes one's ability to grip stuff
    – Zaid
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 12:04
  • I like the Vaseline suggestion too. Simple and easily available. But yes, as Zaid mentioned, gripping....
    – Nav
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:45
  • grip is not actually a problem, you'd be surprised. vas. works great.
    – RozzA
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 20:56

I use a product called Invisible Glove, which protects your skin from getting grease-stained in the first place.

You put it on your hands before you start the messy job. It goes on like hand cream; you spread it over your skin, massage it into the crevices and folds in your knuckles, and work it into your cuticles and under your nails. Apply it all the way up to your elbows or however far you think will get dirty. Then let it dry. It dries slightly tacky, which helps you hold the wrench. Note: If it gets wet, your hands might get a little slippery. Just let them dry again.

When you're done with the job, the stuff just rinses off like soap.

I have done messy jobs like changing my oil, including getting used dirty oil all over my hands and forearms, and was able to clean up easily with no scrub brush required, even on my cuticles.

Not affiliated with the company at all, just a happy user of their product.

  • Yup, I had put a link to "invisible glove" in the "too expensive" phrase of my question.
    – Nav
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:47
  • Ah, I searched the page for "invisible" and didn't see it, sorry. I guess I don't find it that expensive because it lasts forever. I've been using the same 5oz. tube for years, but I'm an amateur/civilian, not a pro mechanic.
    – shoover
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 14:48
  • Ok, if a thin film is enough and the liquid in the bottle didn't harden on exposure to the atmosphere and actually lasted a few years, then I wouldn't consider it expensive. Thanks for sharing this.
    – Nav
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 4:45

No need to repeat @Myself's recommendations.

I will add that the toughest grime to get rid of will be the crud that finds its way under your fingernails. One way to get rid of most of the crud there is to trim your fingernails after the job. Just try to avoid wrenching thereafter :)

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