How to Remove Rust from Bike Chain?

As a biker, has the chain of your bike ever developed problems or broken down while you’re in the middle of nowhere enjoying your ride? That can be a hair-raising experience, no doubt.

Riding a bike takes physical effort; that is why it is considered a workout activity.

However, the fun can quickly be snuffed out if your chains are not in their optimum condition. A rusty chain is the one thing that bike owners dread the most as it can sorely affect your bike’s wheel efficiency.

Before you rush to the store to replace the chain, there are ways you can get rid of the rust on your own using simple tools like common dish soap, citric acid, and baking soda. Still, many people find that too much and would rather go for a new chain.

What to Consider When Dealing with Rust

Before making that decision on whether to go for a new bicycle chain or to remove the rust through a DIY method, there are two things you need to make sure are covered in the first place:

How Bad the Rust Is

Some types of rust cannot be reversed. Sometimes, the damage may be too advanced for anything to be done.

In this situation, trying to restore the chain will be a waste of time. It would be a lot better if you just removed the chain and replaced it with a new one.

Leaving your bike in storage for too long without regular oiling is one sure way of making chain rust worse. Check how far it has spread, then decide if it’s worth the effort to give it a go.

The Cost of a New Chain

Not all bikes are created the same; some come with expensive accessories that will not only put a hole in your wallet but are hard to find. You have to weigh the cost of getting a new one to your ability to get rid of the rust yourself. 

If the cost of replacing it will put you in a financial pickle, then the best decision for you here will be to take care of the rust yourself.

So how do you handle bike chain rust?

5 Steps to Get Rust Off a Bike Chain

You can do everything right, but you still can’t remove rust from a bike completely. As long as the chain is exposed to air and moisture, sooner or later, rust will settle in. The aim is to slow it down by getting rid of it at the earliest time possible.

To remove it from the chains, there are methods involved in handling bike chain rust; they include the following.

Step 1: Inspection

Like a doctor examining a patient, you need to determine how advanced the rust is.

A closer inspection determines the tools you will need and the method to use. It’s the only way you will know whether replacing a rusty bike chain makes more sense.

If the rust just set in, then there will be no need to remove the chain to clean it. However, if the rust is advanced all around the chain, you will have to unhook the whole chain to clean and oil every chain link crevice properly.

Rust spreads, so ensure that the inspection is conducted thoroughly. Leaving even a single patch of rust will trigger another spread as soon as you start using the bike again.

Step 2: Degreasing

In the course of using your bikes, you have probably greased and oiled it a few times to keep rust at bay.

That is good and bad at the same time. Good because it is effective to some extent and bad because after a while, the grease gunks up the chain.

To reach the surface where rust is active, you will first need to use a degreaser to clean the chain well in the second step.

Look for a degreaser that can get rid of grease and dust without affecting your hands or the environment, like those from WD-40.

Some types are very good at getting rid of grease but inflict damage on the surface of the chain, making them weak. To get more ideas, you can check out our reviews of the best bike chain cleaners on the market.

Put the degreaser in a small container, soak a rug inside, then run it slowly through the rusted chain to get all the parts. Another effective way is detaching the whole chain and placing it inside the degreaser, soaking it for at least 24 hours.

Step 3: Stripping

After using a degreaser to get to remove surface rust, you will need to conduct a cleaning process called stripping. This is achieved using steel wool and lime, which contains citric acid, to scrub and strip away the rust.

Citric acid is used because it dissolves the rust and turns it into metal salts that can be washed off easily by water.

Start by soaking the steel wool in a lime juice solution, then scrub the rusted, visible parts of the chain. You’ll notice the steel wool changing color to brown as you continue; that is due to clogging as the acid dissolves the rust.

Keep changing the steel wool after every few minutes.

To see if the stripping process is working, wipe the chain clean with a soft rag or a paper towel to see how much of the rust remains. Repeat the process until you see the color of the chain changing from rusty brown to shiny.

When stripping the chain, make sure you set the bike upside down. You should also wear latex gloves to protect your hands from the effects of handling lime juice as it can be corrosive.

Step 4: Rinsing

Once you’re satisfied with how the chain looks after the stripping, rinse it to get rid of the lime juice and any specks of steel wool, as it is highly susceptible to rust. Leaving parts of it logged in the chain will trigger rusting much sooner.

You can use water mixed with a little dish soap to rinse the chain. Use a bristle brush to dislodge steel wool residue stuck between chain crevices.

Use enough water to rinse off the lime juice since it is an acidic element that’s not good for metallic surfaces. Then, get a clean cloth and dry the chain.

Conduct another thorough inspection afterward to ensure no rusted spot remains.

Step 5: Lubrication

The final part of removing rust is to lubricate the chain using chain lube, motor oil, or any lubricant that won’t damage your bicycle.

If you had detached the chain for cleaning, re-attach it first before lubing it up. Apply a generous amount of the right lube in a proper way to avoid rust setting it again faster.

Tips to Keep Your Bike Chains Rust-Free

You know what they say, prevention is better than cure. The need to remove rust should not consume your time and energy; the best way to prevent this is to find ways to keep the rust from acting on the chains faster.

To avoid spending too much time cleaning the chains every time or buying new ones, here are some handy tips to keep your chains fresh and clean as long as you can.

1. Wipe after a ride

It’s common to take bike rides in rough terrain full of mud and dust, which is part of the thrills of riding a bicycle. 

In the end, clean the bike well with a brush and a clean cloth before putting it into storage. There are also bike cleaning kits that have everything you need to do this.

Storing the bike while dirty will lead to the build-up of gunk, creating the perfect conditions for accelerated rusting.

Use water and soap dish and mix in some lime juice and baking soda occasionally for rust removal. The common homemade lemon juice can also serve the same role.

Also, don’t forget that it’s not only the chains that are susceptible to rusting. Your bike handlebars, bike frame, and wheel rims can also get rusty if not cleaned.

2. Lubricate the chains regularly

Lubricate the chains after cleaning them to create that buffer between the surface of the chain and the moisture in the air. Exercise caution when selecting a chain oil; go for one that will not gunk up the spaces, and attract dust. 

You can use motor oil as a substitute.

3. Store properly

Store the bike in a dry storage space away from the elements. Leaving the bike outside increases the chances of the chains coming into contact with moisture from the rain or other sources, leading to rust. 

4. Get the bike checked by a pro

Once in a while, take the bike to the repair shop and have it checked properly by someone who understands how chains work.

The ability to handle your own repairs is one thing, but there are issues only an expert can be able to diagnose. A bike checkup twice a year sounds just about right.

5. Get chains less prone to rust

Another pro tip you can use to save yourself the time and the headache of cleaning your rusty chain every two months may want to invest in chains that are less prone to rusting.

So far, the best options on the market are nickel-plated chains. They’re available in any bike shop at affordable prices. 

6. Use your bike often

Rust from a bike chain can be a pain, and an effective way to keep that in check is by using your bicycle as often as you can. The constant movement of the chain over the bike spokes helps remove rust, gunk, and dust, cleaning the inner parts of the chain in the process.

Leaving the bike idle only exposes it to the elements which create the perfect conditions for rust to settle in. Don’t let your bike rot away.

The Bottom Line

Bikes are fun to have around, especially for the weekends when you have friends you can go for long rides with. That is why making sure the chain is in good condition at all times is vital.

The most effective method to remove rust from a bike chain is to clean and lubricate it using the appropriate chain lube after every use. It may sound like a messy activity but it’s worth your time and dime.

So, next time your bike chain gets rusty, don’t fret too much. You can remove it all quickly without any help by simply following the guidelines outlined in this article.