How to Clean a Rusty Bike Chain

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Modern bicycle frames are typically constructed from aluminum or carbon fiber, both of which are highly resistant to rust.

However, many bicycle components such as chains, cogs, brake calipers, and wheel spokes are typically made of steel and are thus more susceptible to rusting.

If left unchecked, rust can severely weaken and ultimately destroy these components, leading to reduced performance or even unsafe conditions.

how to clean a rusty bike chain
how to clean a rusty bike chain

Rust usually occurs when moisture and oxygen come into contact with steel or other metal components on the bike.

This can happen when the bike is left in a damp environment or exposed to water, salt, or other corrosive substances. To prevent rust from forming, it is essential to keep your bike clean and dry and to store it in a dry and sheltered place.

If your bike has already developed rust, it is important to take action to remove it before it spreads and causes further damage.

Rust can be stubborn and difficult to remove, especially if it has penetrated deep into the metal. There are several products and methods that can help to remove rust, including rust removers, sandpaper, wire brushes, and metal polishes.

However, it is important to note that if rust has already penetrated deeply into the metal or has corroded the frame’s internal components, it may not be possible to restore the bike to its original condition.

In such cases, it may be necessary to replace the affected components or even the entire bike. Regular maintenance and cleaning can help prevent rust from forming in the first place, thereby extending the life of your bike and ensuring that it performs at its best for years to come.

How to Clean a Rusty Bike Chain

clean a rusty bike chain
clean a rusty bike chain

1. Remove Rusty Bicycle Chain

If you’ve never removed a chain before, don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. First, find a suitable place to work, such as a garage or a spacious outdoor area.

Once you’ve found your workspace, place your bike on the kickstand or turn it upside down. Make sure it’s stable and won’t tip over during the renovation process.

The next step is to loosen the rusty chain by changing the position of the front and rear derailleurs. This will make it easier to remove the chain from the bike.

remove rusty bicycle chain
remove rusty bicycle chain

Once the chain is loose, hold it in place with a small metal hook. This will prevent it from falling off while you’re removing it.

Now it’s time to use a chain tool. This handy tool is essential for removing and installing bike chains. It’s important to screw it onto a link and ensure that the tip is positioned on the axle.

Then, gently squeeze to drive out the axle. As the chain opens up, you can remove it from the bike without any problems.

Read Also: How to Open Chain Links

2. Degrease the Chain

Before diving into the rust removal process, it’s important to start with a clean chain. Luckily, there’s a product specifically designed to help you with this task – WD-40 SPECIALIST® Bicycle Degreaser.

To begin, find a well-ventilated area to work in and hang your chain on a hook. Give the can a good shake and then spray the degreaser generously onto the chain from a distance of 15 to 30 cm.

The powerful formula of this degreaser quickly breaks down grease and dirt, making it easy to clean your chain.

degrease the chain
degrease the chain

Next, take a nylon brush and gently scrub the chain to remove any stubborn residue. You’ll notice the dirt and grime coming off the chain with ease, leaving you with a clean surface.

If you notice any particularly dirty spots, don’t hesitate to spray them again and give them an extra scrub.

Once you’re satisfied with the cleanliness of your chain, wipe it down with a clean cloth. Make sure to remove any excess degreaser and let the chain dry completely before moving on to the next step.

3. Remove Rust From Bicycle Chain

remove rust from bicycle chain
remove rust from bicycle chain

After cleaning the chain with WD-40 SPECIALIST® Bicycle Degreaser, it’s time to tackle the rust. There are different solutions available, but one of the most effective and budget-friendly options is to use household vinegar.

Simply immerse your rusty chain in a glass container filled with vinegar and let it sit for 24 hours. Then, using a nylon brush, gently scrub the chain to remove any remaining rust. Rinse the chain thoroughly with clear water and dry it with a cloth. If the rust is extensive, you might need to repeat this process.

Another inexpensive option is to use a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and citric acid in water. Immerse the chain in this solution for 24 hours, then use a nylon brush to scrub away any remaining rust.

Rinse the chain with water and dry it with a cloth. This method is also effective in removing rust, and it’s an eco-friendly option too.

4. Install the Bike Chain

install the bike chain
install the bike chain

As you admire your shiny and rust-free bike chain, it’s time to put it back on your bike. First, make sure the front and rear derailleurs are in a relaxed position to make it easier to re-install the chain.

Begin by sliding the chain into the front derailleur, ensuring that the markings are facing towards you. Next, wrap the chain around the small sprocket and then on the right side of the guide roller.

Now pull the chain to wind it onto the lower part of the tension roller. At this point, it’s important to install the small retaining hook, so that the two ends of the chain can touch each other without being in contact with the derailleur. Double-check that the chain is positioned correctly before proceeding.

Finally, it’s time to join the two ends of the chain by replacing the axle using the chain tool. Carefully screw the chain tool onto the link, making sure the tip is positioned on the axle.

Gently squeeze to drive out the axle and separate the chain. Then, align the two ends of the chain and use the chain tool to push the axle back into place, effectively joining the two ends of the chain together. yaa! Your bike chain is now reinstalled.

5. Lubricate the Chain

lubricate the chain
lubricate the chain

As a responsible bike owner, your job is never truly done. Even after removing the rust and putting the chain back on your bike, there’s still one last crucial step: lubrication.

Neglecting this step could result in premature wear and tear on your chain and other bike components, leading to a less-than-ideal riding experience.

Thankfully, there’s an easy solution to ensure your chain stays lubricated and protected from corrosion: WD-40 SPECIALIST All-Conditions Bike Chain Lube aerosol.

Start by placing a rag under the chain to catch any drips. Then, give the can a good shake before spraying the lubricant onto a precise point on the chain while spinning the rear wheel.

This will help to ensure that every link gets properly lubricated, protecting your chain from the elements and extending its lifespan.

Once you’ve applied the lubricant, give it some time to dry before taking your bike out for a spin.

People who want to read this article: How Often to Lube Bike Chain

How to Prevent Your Bike From Rusting

Taking preventive measures is always better and more cost-effective than dealing with rust later on. Regular cleaning and proper lubrication of the bicycle’s components can prevent rust from forming in the first place.

It’s also essential to store your bike in a cool and dry place, such as a garage or a room. If you live in a humid area, it’s recommended to cover your bike entirely with a moisture-repellent cover to prevent any parts from being exposed.

Water and mud are the perfect breeding grounds for rust, so it’s crucial to clean and dry your bike thoroughly after riding in wet conditions. Additionally, greasing the chain, pedals, and other moving parts like the steering can also help prevent rust from forming.

Leaving your bike dirty in the garage for an extended period can accelerate the rusting process on components such as the chain and sprockets. It’s always better to clean and lubricate your bike immediately after use to prevent any rust from forming.

Problems and Failures Due to Rust

Rust is a common enemy for bicycle riders, and it can cause significant problems for the functioning of the bike.

While aluminum frames are less prone to rust, steel frames are highly susceptible and require rigorous maintenance.

Neglecting rust on the frame or components can lead to severe consequences, such as wear and tear acceleration and even the risk of breakage.

When rust is present on the surface of the metal, it may appear minor, but it can quickly attack the internal layers of the metal if left untreated. This is why it’s crucial to treat rust as soon as it is detected. Otherwise, it can compromise the integrity of the frame, leading to dangerous situations.

Rusted components, such as the transmission, can cause severe problems for the bicycle’s movement.

They won’t function properly and will wear out quickly, making pedaling difficult and noisy. If bolts and screws are rusted, they won’t tighten properly, leading to improper assembly and premature wear of the entire part.

Therefore, regular maintenance and rust prevention measures are crucial for the proper functioning of a bike.

To prevent rust from occurring, it’s essential to keep the bike clean and dry. After a ride in the rain or mud, thoroughly clean and dry the bike and lubricate its components to prevent rust from taking hold.

Storing the bike in a cool, dry environment, such as a garage or a room, will also prevent rust from developing.

In summary, rust can cause severe damage to a bicycle and its components. Therefore, it’s important to take preventive measures, such as regular cleaning and maintenance, to avoid costly repairs and ensure the safety and longevity of the bike.