Should You Lubricate Home Gym Pulleys? Machine Maintenance

Is your home gym machine not as smooth or quiet as it should be? You think one of the pulleys is the problems but don’t really know if and/or how you should fix it? Here is what you need to know.

If gym machine pulleys don’t rotate smoothly, lubrication isn’t the solution. There likely is dirt, debris, etc. stuck between the pulley housing and the wheel. Removing the pulley and cleaning it properly will solve most problems. If the bearing is worn, replacing the pulley is the best option.

To see what you can do exactly to keep your gym machine moving as smooth as possible, keep reading. You can find replacement pulleys here on Amazon. However, make sure they’re the right size for your machine.

Should You Lubricate Home Gym Pulleys?

First off, what are pulleys? In a home gym (or commercial gym), we’re talking about the pulleys on gym machines. Some gym machines have weights stacks that are connected to a cable.

Now before that cable gets to wherever it needs to go, it will pass through at least one pulley. These are the little wheels the cable runs over. Usually so the cable can make a corner but also sometimes to alter the weight ratios.

Suggested post: Why you need a cable station in your home gym.

Sometimes when you try to move the machine, it doesn’t go as smooth or quietly as it should. What can it be and what can you do about it?

You might think that if the cable isn’t moving smoothly, lubrication is the solution. However, most pulleys have a bearing in them. Most of the time this bearing is closed and so lubricating it doesn’t do anything because the lubricant doesn’t get into the bearing.

Over time, the grease in the bearing can degrade or leak out. When this happens, the balls in the bearing can get damaged. So repacking the bearing with new grease could certainly help. However, usually it’s not worth the effort if you can get a complete new pulley.

So what can you do?

Home Gym Pulley Maintenance

If you feel there is something wrong when the weight is moving, there is a large chance there is something going on with either the cable or one of the pulleys.

For more in depth information about pulley maintenance, read this post.

To fix your machine, there are a few things you should check before reaching for the grease;

  1. Check if the cable runs the correct route. Sometimes the cable can move off the pulleys when the weights are dropped very quickly, the cable becomes loose for a moment and pop off the pulley. If this is the case, fix it as quickly as possible since being in the wrong place can damage the casing of the cable very quickly.
  2. Check the cable casing for damage. If the casing is frayed or missing, it won’t move smoothly over the pulleys. If the cable casing is damages, check this post for more information.
  3. Check the guide rods. These are the two rods that go through all the weight plates and keep everything going straight. The weights should move freely on the rods. If it doesn’t, try lubricating the rods.

Often, when a gym machine isn’t moving as it should, one of the things above are the problem.

Are you looking for home gym equipment that offers good value for money? Click here to find it.

Image of a gym machine pulley

How To Fix Home Gym Pulleys

Now if you’ve taken all of the previous steps and haven’t found the cause of our problems, it’s time to check out your pulleys.

  • See if you can create some slack in the cable. Often this is possible by pulling the cable towards the weight stack.
  • See if you can rotate the pulley freely. It should rotate with little force.
  • If it doesn’t rotate easily, you’ve found your problem.

Now what can you do when you found the culprit?

DON’T put grease on the outside of the pulley. The cable is supposed to rotate the pulley when moving. The cable is not supposed to slide. If it’s slides, you risk damaging the cable. The only way to do it right, is to take the pulley off the machine.

The wheel on the pulley rotates around a little axle (usually a bolt) with a bearing around it. All of that is encased in some kind of cover. There are two things that can go wrong.

  • Something is stuck between the casing and the pulley. Dirt can build up over time and prevent the pulley from moving as it should.
  • The bearing is dry/dirty. If the bearing doesn’t rotate smoothly, neither will the wheel.
  • The bearing is damaged/worn.

All of those reasons require you to take the pulley apart or at least the cover off. Usually everything just comes off with two bolts so it doesn’t take too long. Some machines do have protective caps over the bolts. Those are probably more difficult to get off than the bolts themselves.

Once you’ve got the pulley apart, first check for any dirt, debris, hairs, etc. Get as much out as you can. A sharp knife and some tweezers can help you out here. This might already be enough to fix your problems.

Check if your pulley moves smoothly after a thorough cleaning. Does the bearing move as it should? If it does, put everything back together.

If it doesn’t, it’s worth a try to lubricate the bearing. Different manufacturers use different bearings. The cheaper the machine, the cheaper the bearings are likely to be. Cheaper bearings don’t last as long, have more friction and can be more difficult to maintain. Automotive wheel bearing grease is easily available and works. This Valvoline will work great (amazon link).

If your pulley has a ball or roller bearing, try to get the protective cover off and see if there is any damage. If the bearing is already damaged, lubricating it isn’t going to help much. If it’s still good, lubricating the bearing can fix your problem. Don’t use an oil to lubricate ball or roller bearings. This won’t last long and can create a mess if overdone. It’s better to use grease since it stays in place and lasts longer.

If you’ve tried lubricating the bearing and it still doesn’t work right, your best bet is to just replace the whole pulley. Maybe you could try to find a replacement bearing but good luck finding one that fits exactly.

Bigger manufacturers can provide you with replacement pulleys. For machines where that’s the case, this is the best solution. You’ll know they fit exactly and there will be clear instructions on how to replace the part.

If your machine doesn’t have official replacements available, try Amazon. There are generic replacement pulleys available in different sizes for a pretty reasonable price. Make sure you get a wheel with the same outside diameter but also inner hole diameter. The inner hole diameter is actually even more important because that decides if it fits on your machine.

In most cases having a wheel that’s a few millimeters bigger or smaller isn’t going to be a huge problem as long as it doesn’t rub on anything. The width should be very close since a wheel that’s too wide can start rubbing on the bracket or casing.

Check out these universal replacement pulleys on Amazon.

Image of a pulley on a gym machine

Related questions

Can gym machine pulleys wear out? Yes, gym machine pulleys can wear out. Usually, if it’s not rotating well, it can be solved with some grease but sometimes it’s better to replace the whole thing. The wheel itself can last a very long time but the bearing and housings can get damaged.

Can you fix a gym cable with tape? No, fixing a gym cable with tape is not a good idea. The tape will be uneven so the machine still won’t feel smooth. The tape wears out quickly and if the casing is damaged, there is a possibility the steel cable underneath is exposed to moisture, starts corroding and become weakened.

Are you looking for home gym equipment that offers good value for money? Click here to find it.


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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