How to keep your Rowing Machine in good health

Whether you are a novice who is just learning how to use a rowing machine or a professional who has multiple rowing machines to work on, you should know that the large majority of accidents and injuries associated with rowing machines stem from the gradual wear and tear or accumulation of dust that occurs in the rowing machine over time. Many rowing machine manufacturers offer add-on maintenance plans, but typically they are very costly and require you to make 2-3 year commitments at a time. The alternative is to learn how to maintain a rowing machine as a DIY project, and as we shall see below, it is far from difficult task.

Note : Some parts require daily maintenance, either before or after the workout, while others require monthly/annual maintenance.
Keep your Rowing Machine in good health

Shaft and Seat Carriage

Daily Maintenance:

  1. Bring the seat carriage to one end of the shaft and ensure that it does not move.
  2. Take a dry paper towel and run it over the entire length of the top surface of the shaft.
  3. Take another towel and repeat the process along the sides of the shaft. If in either step you find traces of oil on the paper, it may be indicative of there being leakage from the ball bearings below the seat. You may want to take the seat to the service centre for a checkup.
  4. Bring the seat carriage back to the middle of the shaft and run it gently from end to end to see if there is any holdup.
  5. Wipe the top of the seat with a new paper towel to remove dust.

Monthly Maintenance:

  1. Place the seat at any one extremity and expose the length of the shaft.
  2. Repeat the steps with dry paper towels mentioned above.
  3. One of the important maintenance and tips for rowing machines that you should remember is that whenever you oil any parts, always use either the oil provided by your manufacturer or by another exercise machine maker. Dampen a paper towel with a few drops of this oil.
  4. Run the dampened paper towel along the length of the shaft such that a thin coating of oil is produced. Repeat the steps along the side of the shaft.
  5. Bring the carriage to the middle and use a flashlight to check the bolts and bearings (if exposed or visible) on the underside. If the bearings are concealed, do not dismantle the carriage, but simply check the external bolts for tightness and proper positioning.
  6. If any bolts or screws are loose, tighten them. While sealed ball bearings in modern machines make it a non-necessary part of how to maintain a rowing machine, in the rare cases where the bearings are exposed, pour a few drops of oil onto each of the bearings and rub the sides to ensure there is no leakage onto the shaft.
  7. Clean the top of the seat with a paper towel soaked in water.

Handle and Chain/Bungee Cord

Daily Maintenance:

  1. Learning how to maintain a rowing machine handle and chain assembly on a daily basis consists only of pulling the handle and cord to the extremity and then taking it all the way back to the opening to ensure that it is working smoothly.

Monthly Maintenance:

  1. Extend the bungee cord and/or chain all the way to the extremity and have someone hold the cord in this position.
  2. Keep a paper towel soaked in oil ready and start running the paper quickly over the entire length of the cord. Remove the paper towel from the water and release the cord.
  3. Draw the cord once again to its fullest length and release to check for any lag.

Resistance Unit (Air, Water and Piston Resistance Units Only)

Note 1 – Resistance units do not require daily maintenance.

Note 2 – Magnetic resistance rowing machines come with a hermetically sealed magnetic resistance unit that cannot be opened without expert skills. Hence, home maintenance of a magnetic resistance unit is impossible, unless there are specific maintenance programs installed in the control panel which can be run without physically dismantling the product.
Guide to maintain a rowing machine

Air Resistance Unit Maintenance:

  1. Use a flashlight to check whether there is any dust clogging the insides of the air resistance unit.
  2. If there is any dust, use a vacuum cleaner to suck it out. Preferably use a vacuum cleaner with a low intensity setting so that the apparatus inside the unit is not damaged.
  3. Take some canned air and blow it into the vents as an added measure against any dust that may still be around.
  4. Wipe the sides of the unit with a dry paper towel.

Water Resistance Unit Maintenance:

  1. Perhaps the easiest of processes when it comes to learning how to maintain a rowing machine, water tank maintenance involves adding Puritab tablets through the inlet for adding water (which are provided free for the product’s lifetime if you are a Water Rower customer). These contain chlorine and prevent growth of algae and bacteriaand when changed at regular intervals of 3-6 months, ensure a smooth rowing experience.
  2. Once a year, the water can be drained using a siphon pump (provided along with Water Rower products) and fresh water with fresh Puritab tablets added to it, poured into the water tank.

Piston Resistance Unit Maintenance:

  1. As we warn in our rowing machine buying guide, piston resistance units tend to develop excess resistance over time due to the decline in lubricating oil in the pistons. On some piston rowing machines that use grease-based pistons, you can unscrew the piston units and take out the piston seal ie the knob-shaped head of the piston barrel, and the piston’s threaded barrel.
  2. Regrettably most manufacturers do not make piston grease. However, general silicon grease or oil should do nicely. Take generous amounts of grease/oil and smear it using the smearing tool included with the grease/oil, over the piston seal and barrel.
  3. Let the piston remain in a position that ensures that the seal and barrel are not in contact with any objects.
  4. Remove excess oil and/or grease from the piston through careful wiping using a dry paper towel.
  5. Replace the piston into the piston holder and try out the rowing motion to see if the rowing motion is just about correct.

Note – If there is no unscrewing mechanism, the piston is a sealed oil-chamber type piston. Taking it apart by any means will cause oil spillage and may render your rowing machine unusable in future. Always consult the product manual to know the type of pistons you are using.


While some manufacturers may label their products as zero maintenance, they should not be taken for their word because all products wear out over time. While some like displays and buttons cannot be “maintained” other than by using them really gently, others like shafts and resistance units will suffer abuse, but can be brought back to tip top shape through simple procedures. Though the procedures outlined in this how to maintain a rowing machine guide seem more complex at the monthly maintenance level, one should remember that these have to be typically carried out at 1-6 month intervals depending on the frequency of usage. As such, these, as well as the simple daily maintenance procedures, are a small price of time and patience to be paid for enjoying the rowing machines in the long run.