How To Properly Maintain The Pulleys Of A Gym Machine

Many gym machines have pulleys and cables. To get the best workout, you want them to be in the best shape possible. What can you do to maintain the pulleys on a gym machine? Here’s what you should know.

Pulleys on a gym machine should be cleaned once a week to keep dust and dirt out. If hair and/or debris is stuck between the pulley wheel and housing, remove the pulley to clean everything. If a pulley wheel or bearing is broken, replace the piece. Lubrication is not necessary.

To know more about all the different maintenance parts of a pulley, keep reading.

Gym Machine Pulley Maintenance

Pulleys are found in many gym machines with weight stacks. The pulleys are used to direct the resistance where you want it and translates your movements into the weight stack going up and down. They’re basically a wheel with a ridge in the middle. That ridge is used to guide a cable through and keep that cable in place. By using a system of pulleys you can translate the up and down movement of the weight stack into almost any exercise.

Suggested: Can you replace cables on a gym machine?

As said any gym machine with a weight stack will have pulleys and even some without a stack have them. So any well-equipped home or commercial gym is going to have at least a few pulleys in them. But how do you take care of them the best way? Here’s what you can do.

Pulleys on a cable crossover.
Gym pulleys (circled red)

Which pulleys?

First off, think about which pulleys there are in your machine. If a machine has one, there’s probably at least one more. All of them are important for a smooth working cable machine so they all need the same treatment.

It can be difficult to locate them if your machine has big shrouds on it that cover everything from sight. The shrouds are usually quite easy to remove so take them off and follow the path of all the cables to see where they are.

Clean place

Cleaning the pulleys is the first step of active maintenance on a gym pulley but actually it starts a little before that. Keeping the machines in a clean place that doesn’t have a ton of dust, dirt and other things flying around will keep the machine itself cleaner as well.

Having a gym that’s well ventilated and clean isn’t only more comfortable but also helps extend the lifespan of your equipment. Pretty much anything that has moving parts doesn’t like to get dirt or dust inside those parts and gym equipment is no exception.

Besides good ventilation and regular cleaning, using high quality gym flooring is a great option as well. Good rubber gym flooring is easy to clean and keep hygienic and dust free. Especially in a garage or basement gym

Some places in the world are just dusty. Opening a window and ventilating isn’t going to help all that much. In that case regular cleaning is even more important but you can reduce the amount of particles inside by using an air conditioner and air purifier. Read more about home gym air quality here.


The best thing you can do to keep gym machine pulleys working well is to keep them clean. It’s simple but very important. Dust and dirt buildup can get inside the pulley and start restricting movement. In the worst case, it can even destroy the bearing.

Just wiping down the machine with a damp cloth with some mild detergent and paying some extra attention to carefully cleaning the pulleys does the job. Give the whole machine a clean once a week. Parts that get sweat on them should be wiped down after the workout.

Some pulleys are hidden behind shrouds. It’s hard to clean those but they are usually also less exposed. It’s not necessary to take the shrouds off every week. Just doing so once every 6 months is plenty.


Sometimes hair and other debris gets into the pulley housing. Here it gets stuck between the pulley wheel and the housing. This can be very difficult to clean up and if you let it go, it can block the rotation of the wheel. So while it’s hard to clean up, you really should.

The best way to clean things that are stuck inside is to remove the pulley wheel from the machine. Make sure there is no tension on the cable, untighten the bolts and pull out the axle. This should release the pulleys from it’s home although sometimes you have to remove some plastic parts first.

Once you have the pulley exposed, it’s easy to clean everything up. A sharp knife can help quickly get rid of hair and fabrics but be careful not to damage anything. Also, make sure you clean the inside of the pulley housing.

While it’s out, also


If you’ve cleaned the pulley but it still doesn’t rotate smoothly, check the bearing. The bearings on modern machines are sealed so they shouldn’t need cleaning and lubricating. However, if they’re old, the seals or grease inside can deteriorate.

See if the bearing spins freely. If the pulleys is out of the machine, just put a finger in the hole and rotate the wheel. If the piece of metal around your finger stays in place but the wheel rotates, that’s good. There can be a little resistance but not much. The rotation should also feel equal the whole way around without rough spots or noises.

Inside the machine, take the cable off the pulley (make sure there is no tension on the cable) and rotate the wheel. Again, it should rotate smoothly and without rough spots or noise.

When there is something wrong with the bearing, the usual solution is to replace the whole pulley wheel including the bearing. Getting a bearing out of a plastic wheel without damaging it is pretty tough.

If you’re mechanically inclined you can try to open up the bearing and put fresh grease in it. If it’s not too far gone, this can certainly help but usually it’ll be too late by the time you catch it. And for most people replacement is just easier.


As you can read above, sometimes you have to just replace the pulleys. If the bearing is worn out or the wheel is cracked it’s the best solution.

In most cases it’s possible to get an exact replacement from the manufacturer on the machine. This is by far the best and easiest way to do it.

Also, don’t forget to replace your cables. The pulleys and cables are part of the same system. A damaged pulley can ruin the cable and vice versa. If you’re replacing a pulley or cable. Take the opportunity to inspect the other parts as well. Replacement pulleys usually aren’t too expensive and should last at least a couple of years with residential use.

image of a pulley in a gym machine

Don’t Lubricate?

Lubrication of gym machines pulleys (or cables) is not part of the maintenance. At least the outside of the pulleys isn’t.

Suggested: How to lubricate weight stack gym machines

The outside of the pulleys should rotate pretty easily. If it doesn’t, and all debris has been removed, the bearing is probably the issue. Lubricating the outside is not going to fix that. Of course if it’s a pivoting pulley, the pivot point should be lubricated but not the outside of the pulley wheel.

Suggested: Should you lubricate gym machine pulleys?

Lubrication is to reduce friction and protect the surfaces that rub together. However, the cable shouldn’t rub on the pulley wheel. When the cable moves, and the pulley is free, the wheel just rotates with the cable. There is very little friction in that case and lubricating it is not going to do much good. As long as you use a lubricant that’s safe for both the (usually plastic) surface and the nylon coating of the cable it doesn’t hurt but it’s not necessary either. In the long run more dust will actually stick to the cable just making things messy.

There is one exception: If the pulley is completely stuck and any of the other tips here don’t work and you don’t want to replace the pulley, lubricate it very well so the cable doesn’t get torn to pieces. I wouldn’t recommend this though. You’ll probably prematurely wear out the cable and it costs even more to fix.


In the end the pulleys of gym machines don’t need all that much maintenance. Keep them clean and make sure that debris, hair, etc don’t get in there to lock things up. Other than that, you don’t need to do much.

The two things that can break are the wheel itself and the bearing. when the bearing starts becoming less smooth, trying to open it up and lubricate it with good grease can’t really hurt. Because the other solution is to replace the whole thing anyways.

  • Clean: Clean the pulleys and whole machine at least once a week. Contact surfaces should be cleaned after every workout.
  • Remove shrouds: Remove plastic shrouds to remove dust buildup and clean pulleys behind them once every 6 months.
  • Remove pulleys: If hair and/or debris is stuck between the pulley wheel and housing. Otherwise once a year with regular use.
  • Check bearings: Once a year or whenever a pulley is removed
  • Replace pulleys: Only when bearing or pulley wheel is worn out/broken


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to After working out in many different gyms for almost 20 years and helping people build their own home gyms, i've learned a few things i'd like to share with you.

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