How-To: Remove Rust from Bike Chain (Step-by-Step)

Biking comes with a lot of challenges and hurdles that bikers have to face every day. One of those struggles is watching your pretty and shiny bike turn rusty and corroded before your very eyes. But, fret not; you can easily clean the rusty bike chain in a few steps.

To clean the rusty bike chain, get a WD-40 spray, and apply it all over the affected area. Now let that sit on the bike chain for a good 10 minutes. Then take a brush and scrape off the rust and clean it with a clean wet rag.  

Looking after your bike daily is essential and may even help you in delaying the rusting process but since it is inevitable and would end up happening sooner or later, one should always be prepared to face it. 

There’s more to the cleaning process, and we’ll look into that in detail. But before that, the main question is, why is the bike chain rusting in the first place?

Why Is My Bike Chain Rusting? 

Rust forms on metal bike chains due to the chemical reaction between iron, oxygen, and water. Once a surface is infected, the rust slowly eats away the surface of the metal and causes permanent damage to the bike if not caught and removed immediately.

Several factors contribute to the rusting of your bike chain, but largely it depends on the location of where you choose to store it and how well you take care of it.

Leaving your bike to stay in an area where it is exposed to the elements such as water or dust can inevitably cause the oxidation of iron that forms iron oxide, also known as rust on your bike. 

That raises a question about bikes made of other kinds of metals and their ability to rust. Whilst other metals such as aluminum, stainless steel, bronze, etc are proven to be rust resistant, they still are victims of corrosion and rust if left unattended for a long period.

Riding your bike through rainy and muddy paths and not cleaning afterward can cause residue to pile up and, as a result, speed up the rusting process. 

Can a Rusty Bike Chain Be Saved?

Fortunately, bike chains with rust can be saved. Most rust on bikes is simply surface rust. That means with the correct method of removing rust, your bike can thrive again as if it was brand new.

After getting rid of the existing rust from your bike chain, you can simply adhere to certain precautions to prevent or slow down the rusting process to maintain a rust-free ride.   

» You can also read my post: The Disadvantages Of Cycling

To aid you with this, here is a step-by-step guide to removing rust from your bike chain. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Remove Rust from Bike Chain

Here’s a step-by-step guide for you all to easily understand the mechanics of removing rust from the bike chain. 

What You Need

Here’s a list of the items that you need to remove rust from your bike chain.

  • Degreaser
  • Link pliers or master link tool
  • Clean Rag
  • Steel wool
  • Rubber Gloves
  • WD-40
  • Any lubricant of your choice
  • Lime juice

Once you have arranged all of these materials, you may now begin the process of removing the rust from your bike’s chain.

#1 Inspect the Bike Chain

The first step of this process is to search for rusted areas on your bike chain. It is not necessary that your whole bike chain is covered in rust, but rather only a certain amount is. To know what piece needs treatment, you must find where it is located.

To properly get a look at everything, I suggest that you put it up on a bike stand. While you do your examination, you can also lay its handle on the ground or lean it against a wall or anything that helps to keep the bike standing and still. 

Once your bike is stable, you may go ahead and check its chain for dirty and rusting parts. Do a thorough check to know what areas need extra scrubbing and rust removal.

#2 Remove Chain to Clean Rust

After you have located where the rust is taking root, you need to remove it from the bike for optimal cleaning of the bike chain.

For most bikes, chains are attached using master links. So, the first step is to locate where the master link on your bike is. Usually, master links stand out from the rest of the chain links, so it won’t be an issue to single them out.

Once you have spotted them, you can then use link pliers to unplug the pins and then detach the chain from the bike.

If your bike does not have the master link system, I suggest you have it installed on your bike the next time you visit the local bike shop. 

#3 Wipe Off the Rust With a Rag Soaked in Degreaser

Bikers commonly use lubricants on their chains to increase efficiency and prevent rust, and while that does work, after a while, that lubricant turns into grime and causes dirt to get stuck. 

To fix this, take a clean rag soaked in a good quality degreaser, rub off all the grease and dirt stuck on the chain, and cleanse it with as much force as possible to get those corners.

Important Precaution: Wear gloves so that no harmful chemicals make direct contact with your skin.

If you are unable to wipe it with strength, you may also take the help of a toothbrush or brush to scrub the grease off. Once the surface of the bike chain begins to clear from all the grease, you will now be left facing the rust under it.  

#4 Soak Rust-Heavy Chains in Degreaser

After the vigorous scrub, you may find out that there is still some grease jammed on certain spots that you couldn’t get to. But no need to fret! I come bearing solutions.

Simply fill up a bowl or a small tub of water mixed with a degreaser and put the rust-heavy chain in it to soak for about 20 minutes. 

Once it is done, take it out and rinse it with hot water. Your bike chain should now be free of all the remaining stubborn grease.  

» I have also written this post about: How to Remove a Link from a Bike Chain?

#5 Clean Light-rust Chain With Steel Wool Soaked in Lime Juice

Now that the grease is out of the way, we can shift our focus to the rust. One way of removing light rust on bike chains is by using lime juice and steel wool because combined, they fight off the light rust of metal parts.

For this method, all you need to do is take a lime juice-soaked steel wool and scrub the chain down with intense force. Repeat this process 2 to 3 times for optimal results. 

Once the rust starts to lighten and you are certain that you have removed all the light rust on the chain, you need to rinse the chain in hot water and dish soap.

After that, make sure to wipe the residue off with a clean, dry cloth so any remaining dirt accumulated is gone. 

Ensure you wear rubber gloves during this step for safety purposes.

#6 Remove Tough Rust With WD-40

You will now be noticing that slowly but surely your rusted bike chain is returning to its original look. 

What you need now is something to help get rid of the seemingly unwavering rust formation on your bike chain. The perfect product to aid us with this is the WD-40 spray.

WD-40 is a multipurpose cleaner that has been known to raise stubborn rust off metal parts without causing any damage to them. 

Upon application, it swiftly dissolves the rust and recovers the surface to its original form without scraping. 

How to Use WD-40 to Clean Your Rusty Bike Chain: Spray an ample amount on the heavily rusted areas and let it sit for 10 minutes. Afterward, use a wire brush to exfoliate the chain further before wiping the chain clean with a cloth to remove unwanted residue. 

WD-40, despite being a strong chemical-based product, doesn’t affect the paint or cause harm to the surrounding parts of the metal bike chain. 

Therefore, you can redo this process a few times until you’re satisfied with how clean your bike chain is, without worrying about it causing damage.       

#7 Reattach the Chain to the Drivetrain

Now that your bike chain is rust-free, you will need to reattach the chain to your bike. But before doing that, verify that the drive train has no dirt or moisture on it to prevent re-rusting.

Begin your reinstallation by pulling the bike derailleur down to its smallest gear rather than simply draping your chain on the top of the front chain ring.

After that, loop the other end of the bike chain over the cassette and then on the derailleur around the upper jockey wheel. 

Next, you’ll need to carefully thread it through the cage and around the lower wheel.

#8 Reattach the Master Link

Once your bike chain is back on the drive train, it’s time to secure it by reconnecting the master link. To be able to attach the master link back easily, you will require a master link tool. 

Start by placing half of the master links inside each end of the chain and pulling them both together. Next, arrange the master links accordingly, then secure the link using the master link tool.

However, if you are unable to get your hands on a master link tool, then you may continue using a different method. 

Step one is to align the link and pull both sides of the chain away from each other to seal the master link as tight as you can.

Then rotate your pedals, so the master link is on top of the drivetrain. Lastly, click the master link into place by stepping on one of the pedals, causing tension in the chain with your brakes engaged.

» You can also read my post: Is Mountain Biking A Good Hobby?

#9 Check the Movement of the Chain

Finally, after everything is in its place, do a thorough inspection of the bike and check whether everything is running smoothly.

Do a test ride to determine whether the gears are working okay and if they are, that means you’ve successfully installed your bike chain back.

#10 Lubricate the Chain

In the end, you should lubricate your chain as lubricants not only protect the chain from rust and corrosion but also keep your bike running smoothly. 

Use a good lubricant because it is effective in preventing rust, as it acts as a protective barrier between the metal and other elements. I would suggest using one that has a quick drying ability and doesn’t grime.

When applying, be certain to get each link of the chain covered in the lube, making sure you’re not drenching it and just using enough to cover.  

Tips to Prevent Rust on Bike Chains

Following are some of the tips you can employ to keep your bike chains rust-free. 

  • Save your bike from humidity and moisture.
  • Protect it from harsh weather.
  • Park your bike inside a garage or anywhere it is dry. 
  • Invest in a bike cover to prevent the bike from being exposed to elements that cause rust. 
  • Oil your bike’s chain often.
  • Dry your bike with a cloth after riding it in rainy weather.
  • Maintain the cleanliness of your bike. Ideally, you should clean after every 25 rides. 
  • After getting rid of the rust, you can paint over the now rust-free area to prevent rust from coming back. You can use nail polish if it is a small area.

» Read my blog post: The Definitive Bike Pedal Guide

FAQs

Does Vinegar Remove Rust From the Bike Chain?

Yes, Vinegar is helpful for removing rust from the bike chain. Vinegar’s acetic properties are known to remove rust from bike chains. 

You can spray vinegar on rusted surfaces using a spray bottle and scrub it using a toothbrush covered in tin foil, or you may also choose to soak the bike chain in vinegar water for 10 minutes to loosen the rust and scrub afterward.

You can even mix vinegar with baking soda to battle heavily rusted spots on the chain.

Can I Use Coke to Remove Rust From Bike Chain?

Yes, coke can be used to remove rust from a bike chain. It has carbonated properties, which aid in dissolving the iron oxide on a metallic surface. 

Apply coke on the bike chain via spray bottle or toothbrush on the rusted area, or leave the chain to soak inside the coke for a while to loosen the stubborn rust.

After you are done scrubbing and soaking, rinse the bike chain and then wipe it with a clean rag.  

Conclusion

Rust can be your bike’s biggest enemy, but with proper maintenance methods and tools, you will be able to avoid and defeat it. Lubricating your bike chain daily and taking good care of it can increase its durability and make it run smoothly.

All these tips and methods have proven to be effective in removing rust and increasing the efficiency of the bike chain. After following this guide, I hope your bike and you can hit the roads more securely than ever before. 

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