Whether you’re a powerlifter, bodybuilder, CrossFit athlete, or gym rat, your gym equipment is the foundation of your training, so it’s important to take care of it. If you own a barbell, it might be one of the most important training tools you use, so what are you doing to keep it in tip-top condition?
Learning how to perform maintenance on a barbell is paramount to making it last a long time. A properly maintained barbell can last forever.
So, how often should you clean a barbell? In this brief guide about barbell maintenance, we unpack everything you need to know about keeping your barbell in prime condition.
Things to Know
Knowing how to clean a dirty barbell is important for any home gym owner. Before we look at the process of keeping it clean, let’s break down the individual components of a barbell and their purposes.
The barbell knurling is the rough, cross-hatched section on the bar where you place your hands. Its purpose is to provide grip, as it would be hard to maintain your grip when gripping a smooth surface. Some barbells feature additional knurling in the center, known as center knurling, which is meant to help prevent the bar from sliding down your back during a back squat.
The knurling collects grit and grime from your hands, so learning how to clean knurling properly is an essential part of barbell maintenance.
The sleeves are the ends of the barbell where weight plates are loaded. Olympic bars have a 2-inch sleeve diameter. The sleeve diameter determines the type of plates that can be used.
If not regularly cleaned, the sleeves of a barbell can rust.
Bushings and Bearings
The sleeve assembly, which will include bushings or bearings, allows the sleeves to spin. Bar spin is necessary when performing certain lifts, such as the clean and jerk, which can be seen being performed by YouTuber Clarence0 above (minus the backflip at the end).
Bushings don’t provide as much bar spin as bearings, and they’re usually found in powerlifting and multipurpose bars. They’re typically bronze or brass, with bronze being the preferred option.
Bearings provide a smoother spin than bushings and are usually found in Olympic weightlifting bars. Bearing bars are also more expensive than bushing bars, which is why Olympic weightlifting bars cost more than powerlifting or CrossFit bars. There are three types of bearings; ball, thrust, and needle bearings.
Barbells come in several finishes, which are meant to prevent rust formation. The most effective finishes for preventing rust are stainless steel and Cerakote. They require far less maintenance than other finish options but are also more expensive.
Some bars come without a coating and are just raw steel. These bars must be cleaned more frequently than those with a finish.
Some lifters prefer bare steel because the lack of a coating makes the knurling sharper and more aggressive, which makes it easier to maintain a grip on the bar. Some lifters also prefer bare steel because it’s cheaper than bars with coatings.
Why Do Barbells Need to be Cleaned?
Many gym owners probably think, “My barbell is steel and I keep it indoors, so why do I need to worry about performing maintenance on it?”, but the reality is that barbells are prone to rusting, which can affect the usability of the bar.
Barbell oxidation is a fancy way of referring to rust accumulation on a barbell. To prevent barbell oxidation, you must store the barbell away from moisture and regularly clean it. In between regular cleanings, you should remove any rust buildup you notice.
If you don’t clean your barbell regularly, it can negatively affect the bearings or bushings, causing the sleeves to not spin as they should or even seize up.
A clever idea is to work barbell maintenance into your training cycle. Plan a maintenance session during your deload or rest week when you don’t have to worry about heavy training. Cleaning the barbell takes less than 30 minutes and it’s a worthwhile thing to do if you want your barbell to last.
How Do You Clean a Barbell?
So, how do you clean a barbell? The first step is to gather the correct tools. We recommend using the following products to ensure that your barbell stays in good condition year-round:
- Nylon bristle brush
- 3-in-1 oil
- Cleaning cloth
To make things easier, we recommend buying a barbell cleaning kit, which will include everything you need.
Many make the mistake of using WD-40 in their cleaning kit instead of 3-in-1 oil. When performing barbell maintenance, don’t use WD-40. It isn’t a good lubricant for a barbell’s bushings or bearings. It’ll turn into sludge, potentially making the bushings/bearings seize up over time.
Once you’ve got all the necessary tools, you can follow this step-by-step guide to clean your barbell.
Step 1: Scrub the Knurling
Start with cleaning the knurling. Scrub the knurling with the nylon bristled brush, loosening and/or removing any dirt or chalk that’s stuck to it.
Step 2: Wipe Down the Knurling
Lightly dampen the cloth, then use it to wipe off any remaining debris from the knurling. After wiping it, you can dry it with a second, dry cloth if you like. Never use oil to wipe down the shaft or knurling. It’ll make the bar slippy during lifting.
Step 3: Lubricate the Bearings/Bushings & Wipe Down the Sleeves
Most barbells have “drop holes” in the sleeves that allow you to squeeze oil into the holes and onto the bushings or bearings. Squeeze a few drops of oil in both sleeves’ drop holes, then spin the sleeves to get the oil into the bushings/bearings.
To help the oil penetrate the sleeve components, you can store the barbell vertically on one side for an hour, then switch to the other side for another hour.
Step 4: Wipe Down the Sleeves
After oiling the bushings/bearings, place the bar on a power rack’s J-hooks or a table and wipe any remaining oil off of the sleeves.
How Often Should You Clean a Barbell?
How often you should clean a barbell depends on the type of finish it has because each finish has a different effect on a barbell’s oxidation resistance:
Raw steel rusts easily and needs to be cleaned more frequently than other finishes. This is because the steel isn’t protected from moisture. You’ll need to clean this barbell at least every other week, making maintenance a hassle for some. Bare steel barbells should be cleaned every 1-3 weeks.
Black oxide is a step up from bare steel, however, the finish wears over time, presenting an oxidation risk. Black oxide is a common finish for commercial gym equipment because it’s not as expensive as other finishes. Black oxide bars should be cleaned every 2-4 weeks.
Black zinc is a step up from black oxide. It lasts longer than black oxide and it’s tougher and more wear-resistant. However, similar to black oxide, the black zinc will eventually wear as well. This finish is probably the most popular option for home and commercial gyms. Black zinc barbells should be cleaned every 2-4 weeks.
Chrome is easy to clean, but also easy to chip. If the chrome chips, the steel will be exposed to oxidation. Chrome barbells are more expensive than bare steel, black oxide, or black zinc barbells. Chrome bars should be cleaned every 1-3 months.
Cerakote is extremely easy to clean. It’s harder to chip than chrome, but you can still damage it with hard impacts. Cerakote bars are more expensive than the other finishes but more affordable than stainless steel. Cerakote bars should be cleaned every 1-3 months.
Stainless steel is the best at preventing oxidation. Although not impossible, it’s unlikely that stainless steel bars will rust. Not many barbells come in high-grade stainless steel. The ones that do are usually low-grade and rust easily. It should also be noted that stainless steel is the most expensive finish option. Stainless steel bars should be cleaned every 1-3 months.
More Barbell Maintenance Tips That Will Increase Your Bar’s Lifespan
Cleaning a barbell isn’t the only thing that affects its longevity. Other factors that can affect the lifespan of a barbell are its quality, how it’s being used, and how it’s being stored:
Buy a Good Bar
The first step to making your bar last a long time is buying a good barbell. While it might seem like all barbells are the same, there are low-quality and high-quality bars. A good barbell will not only perform excellently, but it’ll also have longevity. Well-made barbells will have a high-quality sleeve assembly, which will help prevent dirt and grime from getting into the sleeves and rust formation.
Use the Bar Properly
Dropping a barbell on the floor without bumper plates on it and dropping the bar on a power rack’s safety rails can cause it to bend.
Instead of the rack pull, you could do block pull, but if you absolutely must do rack pulls, we recommend buying a second less expensive bar to use specifically for that exercise.
Store the Bar Properly
Store your barbell indoors and away from water. Water equals rust. Also, never leave your bar on the floor because moisture tends to accumulate there. Especially in a basement or garage.
After you finish using the barbell, remove the weight plates from it. Leaving a loaded barbell on J-hooks for an extended amount of time might cause the bar to permanently bend. Either leave the barbell on the rack without any plates on it or store it in an upright position with a bar holder.
The Bottom Line
Here are the keys to performing barbell maintenance:
- Understand the types of finishes and how they hold up against rusting
- Buy a high-quality barbell
- Use the correct tools to clean the bar (don’t use WD-40)
- Regularly clean the barbell, choosing the correct cleaning frequency depending on the bar’s finish
- Don’t slam the bar against hard surfaces
- Store the barbell properly
With proper maintenance and care, a barbell can last a long time. If you follow the tips mentioned in this article, your barbell will likely last for your entire training career.
Jay is not just a writer; he’s a seasoned strength enthusiast with two decades of dedicated training under his belt. Whether he’s crafting engaging articles, reviewing cutting-edge equipment, or sharing his personal fitness anecdotes, Jay’s writing resonates with a diverse audience, from seasoned gym enthusiasts to beginners eager to embark on their own transformative fitness paths.