Why Lubricating Your Treadmill Belt (Properly!) Is Vital To Your Treadmill’s Health

Before writing this article, I had a difficult time deciding what the more important topic would be, treadmill lubrication or keeping your treadmill (or any other machine) clean and free of dust and debris. While both are at the top of this list I decided to focus on treadmill lubrication first. My reason for doing so is due to my belief that treadmill lubrication is widely misunderstood while machine cleanliness is a much more intuitive concept. We’ll focus on machine cleaning next month.

Do I need to lubricate my treadmill? The simple answer is yes. Moving parts generate friction, the higher the amount of friction the harder the machine, and each individual component, has to work.

I haven’t ever lubricated my treadmill, is it too late? At this point, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Although irreversible damage may or may not have already occurred with some components, the rule, “better late than never,” applies to treadmill lubrication. To know, without a doubt, if any components have been damaged, refer to our amp draw article to make that determination.

Can components of my machine be damaged by a lack of lubrication? Yes, I’ll outline everything below:

  • $250 each, Belt and deck – premature wear resulting in increased friction load.
  • $150 each, Front and rear rollers – increased friction load will result in these components having to work harder to keep the machine moving, wearing them out prematurely.
  • $300 Drive motor – increased friction load will result in the motor having to work harder to keep the machine moving, wearing them out prematurely.
  • $250 Motor control board – the increased load on the moving components will require a larger amount of power to flow through this board. The higher the power flow, the higher the heat buildup inside the board, the faster the board will trigger an internal thermal overload switch or blow a component out completely. This is the number one indication of lack of lubrication we see in the field. Often, we receive service inquiries stating the treadmill drive motor will not engage on startup. The majority of the time we find this is due to a blown motor controller, due to a worn walking belt and deck, due to a lack of lubrication.
  • $50 Various electric components – The high amount of power flow can overload the machine’s power switch, circuit breaker, and wiring. Check out this video showing electrical components being overloaded. Fun to watch, not fun to experience!
  • $$$ Electricity – The harder the machine has to work, the higher the electric consumption, the more you pay the power company.

If you are tallying this up as we go, you’ve come to $1400. This does not include the government’s portion, shipping or labor. At that point, it would likely be a better idea to replace the machine entirely. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know my budget does not include disposable treadmills!

How will lubrication (or a lack of lubrication) affect my treadmill? The entire purpose of lubrication in any scenario is to reduce friction as well as dispersing heat. By reducing the amount of friction between the belt and deck surfaces, the entire drive system will run more efficiently and will need to perform less work for the same result. This will also reduce the wear on all drive system parts extending their usable life. To summarize, lubrication benefits your wallet more than anything else.

Due to a lack of lubrication resulting in increased friction, this treadmill deck laminate cracked from overheating

What type of lubricant should I use? That all depends on your machine. Paraffin used to be the most common lubricant used, but that has been replaced by silicone in recent years. Either way, consult your manual or contact your manufacturer to determine the correct type of lube to be used. Our 100% silicone lubricant is approved for use on ALL machines that require a silicone based lube.

Can’t I use WD-40, 3 in 1 oil, or anything else? Absolutely not. Belt and deck surfaces are engineered to work with the specific lubricants mentioned above, nothing else. Using an unapproved lubricant can deteriorate the two surfaces resulting in what we have taken to calling, “cotton candy belt.” Most belts are two-ply, the rubber layer you walk on and the cotton underside that glides along the deck surface. Unapproved lubricants have been known to break down those cotton fibers, causing them to begin scraping off as they run along the deck surface. These fibers will begin bunching up, resulting in clumps very similar in texture to cotton candy and can be found under your belt, in your motor compartment, and around your machine. Once a belt begins disintegrating, the friction levels will skyrocket very quickly. Lubrication with an unapproved lubricant will do more harm than good.

“Cotton candy” resulting from the incorrect lubricant deteriorating the underside of the walking belt

 

One of the most extreme examples we have seen, incorrect lube and a very excessive amount of friction have caused both the belt and deck to deteriorate

How much lubricant should I apply? That will vary by machine and use. Paraffin systems should have a coat of wax applied to the deck. It sounds silly, but this is literally like coloring, apply pressure to the wax brick, it will transfer to the deck surface as you move it and leave a white, waxy layer. Silicone systems should have a bottle with a nozzle of some sort. Squirt out about a half ounce on each side of the deck. Look at the wear marks from your shoes on the walking belt, you want to apply this lube on the deck, under those wear marks. No matter which type of lubricant your machine requires, do NOT allow any lube to land on any exposed surfaces, especially one you may walk on. In the event it does happen, clean it up immediately to avoid the risk of injury. Simple Green is our cleaner of choice as it will not chemically harm any of the machine’s components. After the lube has been applied, “walk” it into the machine. This is done over the course of five to 10 minutes at a slow, roughly two mile an hour, speed.

Can I overlubricate my treadmill? Yes, you most certainly can! Start small, you can always add more. Overlubrication can cause a number of issues. First, the excess lube will be flung out from under your belt at high speeds, your carpet, walls, and anything surrounding your machine could become soaked with silicone. Trust us, it’s not fun to scrub out of carpet or clothing. Second, excess lube will also be flung into your motor compartment. This will coat the interior of your motor compartment with a fine (or heavy, depending on the amount used!) film of lube which will bind to dust floating around in that enclosed space that has been drawn in by the motor fan. This results in a layer of grime that builds up in the motor compartment as it has no way to escape without opening it up and wiping it out. The lube flung into the motor compartment can find its way into the drive motor or onto the motor control board. Within the drive motor the lube will heat up and smell (best case scenario) or short the motor requiring replacement (worst case scenario). In the event it splatters onto the motor controller it may also short that out, resulting in a required motor control board replacement. Lastly, lube can come into contact with the drive belt between the front roller and drive motor causing it to slip. Odds are the drive motor and front roller pulleys will be able to be cleaned off, but the rubber drive belt will become impregnated with this lube and will require replacement. No matter what, over lubrication isn’t cheap!

How often should I lubricate my treadmill? This will vary greatly by the amount of usage your treadmill experiences. Some machines will have internal timers or odometers that will prompt you to lube your machine after a set number of hours or miles, however, these are just set intervals that have no relation to actual machine performance and need and are approximations only.

How do I know when my treadmill needs to be lubricated? The basic rule to follow is that you should be able to touch your deck surface, under the walking belt and feel a slightly waxy or oily coat of lube on the deck. Check under the area where your feet contact the walking belt. In the event you cannot feel a residue left from your last application of lube, it needs more. For a more in-depth explanation of how we make this determination using amp draws, please see our amp draw article.

This belt is in the process of being replaced, but you can see the wear marks created by users feet. On a machine with a belt still in usable condition, the lube should be applied to that area especially. Also, note the large ball of “cotton candy” that collected on the left side of the machine

My machine is under warranty, why does it need to be lubed? For the same reason oil changes and basic maintenance are required on brand new cars that are still under warranty. Yes, warranties are a valuable addition to any machine, however, they do not last forever and failures are much more likely after the warranty expires if a machine has not been properly maintained. Warranties specifically state they apply to manufacturer’s defects only, not neglect or abuse.

After lubricating my treadmill, what else will I need to do?

  • If your treadmill features a folding deck, don’t fold it up immediately after applying silicone lube. There is a chance any unabsorbed lube may run down your deck and drip on to your floor. Put about 5 miles on the machine prior to folding it again.
  • Your walking belt will absorb silicone lube, check it one and three days after applying to ensure it doesn’t need another application. Sometimes multiple applications are necessary to fully saturate the cotton under-layer.
  • If a belt and/or deck has already been damaged, lube will help, but not solve the whole problem. Some machines we see are not worth replacing parts on, but are still running. in those instances, we advise our customers to keep the machine well lubricated to squeeze the last little bit of life out of their machine if they are not interested in purchasing a replacement.

When in doubt, Contact Us, or your manufacturer. Treadmill lubrication is vitally important to your machine’s health and will go a long way toward ensuring your machine will last for years of use. Call us out for a preventive maintenance service that includes lubrication or purchase lubricant if you would rather do it yourself. Either way, we are happy to help!

 

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