How to remove rust from bike chain? And prevent rusting of bicycle chain

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Removing Rust from Bike Chain
Rusty Bike Chain

Introduction

This is a guide on how to remove rust from a bike chain and inspect a rusty bike and prevent bike chain from rusting again.

So, the question comes up, can you restore a rusty bike chain? The simple answer- YES! You can restore it. Well there are three easy to do at home way via degreaser, lime juice or electrolysis. Or one can go to market and buy the dedicated rust remover like wd-40 or others as listed below.

We have listed in detail various ways to do so.

There is nothing worse than getting a rusty bike chain! Whether it is about your up and running bike or an old one you are restoring- dealing with a rusty bike chain is tough. It is frustrating and if you don’t take the right prevention, it is inevitable.

As a biking enthusiast, I have been there. I have had my own share of rusty bike chain problems. Over the years, I have tried and tested a lot of methods, tricks and solutions to a rusty bike chain. It is tricky but if you are here on time, you can restore the rusty bike chain.

The internet is filled with methods to treat a rusty bike chain. This includes actual scientists recommending their best solutions to old wives’ tales.  In this article, we explore the different methods and tricks you can use to get rid of rust from a bike chain. But before we dive into the actual methods, we have a bigger question to ask!

INDEX

  1. Clean the Chain or Replace it?
  2. Removing Rust with Degreaser
  3. Removing Rust with Lime Juice or Citric Acid
  4. Electrolysis for removing Rust (Most Effective and Efficient)
  5. Other Effective ways
  6. How to avoid getting rust again on bike chain
  7. Conclusion
Is it superficial rust or deep rust?

Should you remove a rusty bike chain or go for a new one?

I have been working on bikes for years, restored old ones and assembled new ones. While restoring something, I always keep in mind the pros and cons of restoration. The same thing applies here. Not every rusty bike chain can be restored. And, even if they can be restored, purchasing a new bike chain will cost less than repairing the old one. So, what should you do?

Rust Removal VS. Buying a new chain

We often forget to service our bikes. The bike’s chain is an important component. It needs special care and when we forget to do that, rust embraces the chain. The thing about rust is that it weakens the iron. 

This means that the longer rust remains, the weaker your bike chain will get. The rust on your bike chain is the result of its exposure to humid climate or salts on the road that corrodes the steel. This only does basic damage, some rusty spots on the chain or a thin layer of rust. Cleaning such a rusty bike chain is easier to clean, and restoring it is a smart choice.

But, when the rust sets in for a long time and covers the better part of your bike chain, restoration isn’t the best option. You may succeed in removing rust from the bike chain. But there is a good possibility that the chain is already very weak to survive. It may lead to breakage and frequent rust attacks.

A new bike chain costs approximately $15 to $30 and has its own advantages over restoring the old one. Sometimes, getting a new chain will be cheaper than fixing your rusty bike chain. So, if rust has damaged the better part of your chain, it would be wise to get a new one. I recommend, before trying to get rid of the rust from your bike chain, do a basic inspection of the damage. 

And, this is how we begin to fix the problem!

Basic Inspection

Before you begin, a basic inspection is necessary. For this, turn your bike upside down and clean off the dirt and grease. A dry cloth along with a steel brush works best for this. Once you have cleaned the chain, check how much the rust has damaged the chain. 

If the rust has set in for a long time with many layers and patches, you should get a new one. This severe rust might not go away even if you try the methods below. If it is not rusted and there is only surface rust on it, we can definitely help you restore it back as new!

We have listed some of the best ways to get rid of a rusty bike chain. I have tested these methods over the years. They are effective in removing rust without hurting the metal and strength of the chain. Let’s dig in into each one and you can see for yourself which works the best!

A. Remove Rust From A Bike Chain Using A Degreaser

Prerequisites:

  • A dedicated degreaser
  • Paper towers
  • A bucket (optional)

STEPS:

  1. Make sure the chain is free of any dirt or grease. 
  2. Pour some degreaser on a wet cloth and clean the chain. Or, if you think the chain has too much rust, you take it off the bike and soak it in the degreaser for about 20-30 minutes. 
  3. Once you feel the chain is clean enough, you can rinse it in warm water, dry and lubricate it.
  4. Now, you can put it back on the bike.

B. Get Rid Of Rusty Bike Chain Using Lime Juice (Home Method)

Prerequisites:   

  • Citric Acid or lime juice 
  • Paper Towels  
  • Steel wool 
  • Steel Brush   

STEPS

  1. Remove the chain from the bike. Make sure the grease and dirt are cleaned beforehand
  2. Dampen the steel wool in citric acid or lime juice and rub it on the chain links. 
  3. Once done, use the steel brush to clean the tight parts. Make sure you have cleaned off all the rust. 
  4. Now, use wet paper towels or any wet cloth to clean the citric acid off the chains. This is a very essential step as leaving the citric acid on the chain links can weaken it. You can even rinse the chain in clean tap water. 
  5. After the rinse, dry the chain. You can use a dry paper towel for this or even a hairdryer.
  6. Before you put the chain back, make sure you have lubricated it. You can use a spray lubricant to get to all parts of the chains or even use a gel.
  7. And, you are good to go! You can put back your bike chain- as good as new!


C. Electrolysis To Remove Rust From Bike Chain

Although electrolysis will need some preparation, it is one of the most effective ways of removing rust.  

Prerequisites:

  • A plastic container
  • A battery charger
  • Two iron rods/ steel strips
  • A wire
  • A wooden stick

STEPS:

  1.  Fill the plastic/glass container with water and hang your rusty bike chain using a wire on a wooden stick. 
  2. For faster results, add some table salt or washing soda in the water. This will help increase the conductivity of water.
  3. Insert one steel rod in the container and connect it with the battery. Connect the second rod to wire that is attached to the bike chain. Remember to connect the positive rod to the rod in the container and the negative one to the chain. 
  4. Turn on the battery and leave it for about 8-10 hours. 
  5. After taking it out from the container, rinse the chain and dry it out. 
  6. Lubricate it and put it back on the bike.   
Using Brush with some of the below tools can also work if the damage from rust isn’t too deep

D. Other Rust Removal Tricks that work great! 

If degreaser, citric acid or even electrolysis does not work for you, I have some more amazing methods to get rid of a rusty bike chain. These methods are backed by science and tested by me for guaranteed efficiency!      

  • A dedicated rust remover
    Although not the cheapest option, a dedicated rust removal will get the job done. You can use WD-40 Rust Soak, Evapo-Rust or CLR- all of them work fine. All you have to do is take off the rusty bike chain and soak them in any of these rust removal liquids. They are easy to use, do not damage any metal and work really well at removing rust.        
  • Oxalic Acid
    Oxalic Acid is efficient at removing rust. Considering it is not too acidic, oxalic acid keeps the steel fairly safe and helps to remove rust. You can even use molasses (because it contains oxalic acid) to remove rust from the bike chain. Put your rusty bike chain in a container of oxalic acid. Leave it for 4-5 hours (depending on how much rust is there on the bike chain). After taking it out from the container, put in a mixture of baking soda.      This will neutralise the acid and help in preventing early re-rusting. Once done, rinse it with water, dry it thoroughly and lubricate before putting it back.HCL  or Heavy Duty Acid Cleaner       
    HCL is a strong acid and that is why it works so well at removing rust. One downside of using HCL is that it is highly acidic. Normally, any kind of acid can work on removing the rust- the more acidic, the better. But, more acidic will also mean that there will be some harm to the metal. But, we can reduce this demerit by putting the bike chain in a baking soda solution. This will neutralise the acid after you have removed the chain from the HCL container.       
  • Phosphoric Acid       
    The basic science behind using Phosphoric is simple. Instead of dissolving rust or removing it, a rust converter converts the rust into a ferric phosphate. The phosphate is inert and no longer harmful. You can use a brush to coat the phosphoric acid on the rusty bike chain and then leave it for about 30 minutes. Neutralise it with baking soda, clean dry,      lubricate and there you go!

PRO TIP AFTER CLEANING! 
Do not forget to rinse, dry and lubricate your chain after you have cleaning and before putting it back. If you forget to do this, your chain will get rusty again and this time it would be weaker. 

How to prevent your bike chain from getting rusty?

Hope you were successful in removing rust from the bike chain and it is running as smoothly as ever! But, as they say, “precaution is better than cure”. So, the best way to remove rust from your bike chain is to prevent it in the first place. It is never too late, so start now.

Regular clean up
You should clean and lubricate your bike’s chain at least twice a week. This will prevent any rust from accumulating further. Also, it will help you keep the chain in a healthy condition. The regular lubrication will help rust from the coating and corroding the steel.  
  

Keep indoor

The main agents that lead to rusting are salts, moisture and mud. These agents are ready to attack your bike anytime outside. So, you should keep your bike in a garage or shed. So we recommend you to keep your bike indoors to prevent it from attracting any rust agents. 
  

What do we know, what have we learnt!

With this, we come to an end. I hope this article helped you solve your rusty bike chain problem. It can get frustrating sometimes especially if you live in a humid area or anywhere along the coast. Anything that is acidic will help you remove rust. But, remember, using a strong acid can also hurt the good steel of your bike chain. Opting for a dedicated rust removal solution is also a wise choice. Make sure you neutralise the chain after use. This will prevent early rust attacks. As we say, prevention is the most important. So, remember to check your chain every once in a while and avoid leaving it outside for too long. If you have questions, feedback or suggestions, feel free to write to us.  Keep reading, keep cycling! 

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