So you’re wondering how to remove rust from a bike! And you’ve come to the right place.
Whether you’ve just bought a rusty two-wheeler that needs a bit of TLC, or if you’ve been naughty and neglected your noble steed for slightly too long, this guide will teach you the exact steps you need to restore its roadworthiness!
I’ll teach you the easiest and cheapest rust removal methods for various bicycle components, including chains, frames, forks, wheels, nuts & bolts.
When producing this rust removal guide, I paid attention to the environmental impact of any chemicals I was using (and recommending) because, as you can imagine, plenty of highly effective yet excruciatingly toxic chemicals are available to “get the job done”.
If you don’t want to become a complete rust removal guru, you can skip some of the good stuff by using the table of contents above to select the bicycle component you’re trying to remove rust from.
Without further ado, let’s learn how to fix a rusty bike!
Overview - How to Remove Rust From a Bike
For those wondering how to clean a rusty bike, who don’t want to learn how to prevent rust in the long run, or any of the in-depth rust removal tricks featured in this guide, here’s a brief summary of the best way to remove rust from your bike.
Scrumpled aluminum foil and WD-40 are your best friends for bicycle rust removal. Using these two household items in combination will remove and eat away at the rust on your bike.
Scrunch up your tin foil, spray it with WD-40 and begin scrubbing away at the rust on your bike.
This method is exceptionally effective on chrome components, don’t believe me? Give it a try!
Keep reading, and I’ll provide many alternative steps that’ll blow the rust off your bike in no time.
What Causes Rust?
So, before we delve deep into the most efficient rust removal methods, we’ll explore what causes a bike to become rusty.
By learning about and understanding the way rust forms, you’ll be able to prevent damaging rust from forming in the first place!
Rust, a form of corrosion, is caused by a redox reaction. Redox means reduction and oxidation, which are two different reactions happening simultaneously.
Reduction is a process where atoms or molecules gain electrons, whilst oxidation occurs when atoms or molecules lose electrons.
Rust forms when iron reacts with oxygen and water. This reaction produces hydrated ferric oxide (rust).
Iron, in its pure form, is unstable and gives its electrons up easily (anode), whilst oxygen readily accepts electrons (cathode).
An electrolyte solution is required to facilitate the transfer of electrons from the iron atoms to oxygen.
As you may have guessed, water is the final part of the rust-forming equation.
Water contains a small amount of electrolytes, which enable ions to be transported from the anode (iron) to the cathode (oxygen).
Rusting begins on the surface of iron or its alloys. But if left for an extended period, the corrosion will eat into the object, weakening its structural integrity until it eventually disintegrates.
The process of rusting should now make slightly more sense to you. Keep reading, and you’ll learn how to prevent rust from forming on your bike later in the guide!
What Causes Rust on a Bike?
We now know why rust generally forms, but what causes rust to form on your bike?
For your bike to start rusting, components containing iron require exposure to oxygen and water.
Believe it or not, it’s the paint on a steel frame bike that prevents the frame from going rusty.
Chromium plating (a shiny silver outer layer) is another popular coating for steel components such as handlebars and wheel rims that prevents them from coming into contact with oxygen and water, preventing them from rusting.
While these coatings do a great job of preventing rust if they’re scratched or chipped away, the surface underneath is vulnerable to rust.
So, if you ride a steel-framed bike and some of the paint chips off the frame, it’ll slowly start to rust, unless you follow the preventative steps explained later in the guide.
In addition, I’ll also teach you exactly how to remove rust from a bike.
Is It Safe to Ride a Rusty Bike?
Unfortunately, without having studied the condition of your bike, it’s difficult for me to give you an answer to this question.
However, I’m able to provide you with a table of essentials to check before riding a rusty bike:
|Essentials to Check Before Riding a Rusty Bike|
|Inspect the bike's frame looking for any rust. Don't ride the bike if the rusty paint is flaking off and the surface underneath is completely rusted. The metal will have become much more brittle, and the frame could snap whilst you're riding.|
|If the bike hasn't been ridden in a long time, the tires may have deteriorated and could need replacing. Make sure to inflate them and see if they hold air. If the rubber is cracking, you'll want some new tires.|
|Lift the bike and drop it onto its tires. If any welds are rusted through, they might break at this step. Don't ride the bike if the welds are really rusty or if they crack/break. Instead, take the bike to a bike shop and have a professional inspect it.|
|Before taking the bike onto a road, ensure the brakes are working correctly. Sit on a flat surface and test the brakes to ensure the cables haven't corroded inside their casing. If they don't work, or feel sticky, don't ride.|
Things to Be Aware of Before Removing Rust From a Bike
We’ve learnt a lot about rust so far and, more specifically, what causes rust, so I get it, you’re itching to learn how to remove rust!
But just before I teach you the best ways to remove rust from a bike, it’s essential to understand that there are a few risks involved with rust removal.
- Some of the steps below could damage your bike if care isn’t taken. So I’ll advise you on what to take care of for each rust removal step.
- If possible, remove the rusty component. This will minimise scratching and allow you to remove any visible rust altogether.
- Despite what other online guides say, I don’t recommend pouring cola all over your bike. Even after a thorough wash, there’s a good chance your bike will remain sticky in some places, which will attract dirt like a magnet.
- Abrasive materials such as steel wool or bicarbonate of soda can easily damage your bike’s paintwork. Before using these materials, consider any alternative methods.
How To Remove Rust From a Bike
If you’ve taken the time to read the information above, good job. By learning what causes rust, you’ll understand the preventative action needed to keep your bike clean and rust-free!
But most of you have come here to learn how to remove rust from a bike, so let’s get into the good stuff!
Navigate to the component you want to remove rust from using the buttons below, and begin your rust removal conquest!
Make note that rust removal can be a dirty process. Therefore, I highly advise that you carry out the steps below outside and in clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
Over time, the dirt and grime that builds up in a bike chain can easily stain surfaces. So if you’re cleaning your bike inside, I suggest laying down plenty of newspaper or other floor protection to prevent marking.
Finally, I advise using PPE, such as gloves and eye protection, when carrying out these steps.
If you choose not to wear gloves, wash your hands after using any chemicals.
How to Clean a Rusty Bike Chain
Bike chains are a difficult one. With so many moving parts, rust can quickly set in, which causes the chain to stiffen and become unusable.
However, by following the method below, it is possible to clean a rusty bike chain and restore it to a usable condition.
We don’t want to throw something away that’s still usable, so if your chain only shows surface-level rust (like the image below), don’t worry!
Follow the steps below that teach you how to remove rust from a bike chain.
If your chain is covered in thick orange rust, it’s worth replacing unless it is significantly valuable or irreplaceable.
Unfortunately, it’s usually a real struggle and non-economical to restore a heavily rusted bike chain to a reliable, working condition.
Make sure you recycle or reuse your chain where possible. For example, used bike chains are often repurposed by artists and designers, so consider any possible uses before throwing your rusty chain in the trash.
How to Remove Rust From Bike Chain Without Chemicals - Light Surface Rust
(click images to enlarge)
Dry Brush/Cloth Method Explanation
The dry brush and cloth method is only suitable for a chain with minimal surface level rust.
This is the cheapest and easiest way to clean a rusty bike chain as you won’t require any chemicals, and if you regularly lubricate your chain, you won’t remove all of the lubrication.
Additionally, you can carry out this step without having to remove the chain from your bike.
To clean a rusty bike chain with the dry cloth/brush method, you’ll need:
- A cloth or rag that you don’t mind getting dirty/ruined.
- A strong-bristled such as a toothbrush or nail brush.
Step 1 - Make Your Bike Stable
Position your bike so that it’s stable. If you have a bike stand, stick your bike in there.
But for most of you who don’t, flipping your bike over, so it’s resting on the handlebars and bike seat, is your best bet.
Step 2 - Position Your Cloth/Brush
Grab your brush or cloth and position it so that it’s resting gently on the chain.
Step 3 - Rotate Your Cranks
Start rotating the bike’s cranks with your spare hand while ensuring the chain runs smoothly across the cloth/brush.
Step 4 - Adjust Your Grip/Position on the Chain
As the chain starts to clean, adjust your angle and pressure with your brush/cloth so that different areas are targeted.
Step 5 - Target Stubborn Areas of Rust
If you need to target a specific area of more stubborn rust, feel free to focus on that spot and scrub it thoroughly until you remove the majority or as much rust as possible.
Once you’re happy that you’ve removed the rust, click the button below and follow the lubrication step to prevent more rust from forming.
If this step hasn’t removed all of the rust, try one of the other methods below, which will help.
How to Clean a Rusted Bicycle Chain With Soap & Water - Light Surface Rust
(click images to enlarge)
Soap & Warm Water Method Explanation
Cleaning a rusty bike chain with soap and warm water is an excellent way to remove light surface rust from your bike chain.
Using this method, you’ll also clean away any build-up of dirt and grime.
Keeping your chain clean is essential, so this is a brilliant option if your chain is both dirty and rusty!
A mild detergent, such as the soap you use for washing your dishes, will be perfect for the job.
For this method, you’ll need the following:
- A bucket or cleaning bowl that you don’t mind getting dirty
- A rag, cloth or a brush
- Mild detergent
- Warm water (cold water works too but not as well)
Step 1 - Stabilise Your Bike
When cleaning a rusty bike chain, you’ll want to make sure your bike is stable and won’t fall over.
If you have a bike stand, use it, or if not, flip your bike upside down and rest it on the handlebars and seat.
As this step can get quite messy, I took my bike outside and cut open a bin liner to capture any soap and grime.
(See step 1 image above)
Step 2 - Scrub Rusty Areas
Grab your cloth or brush and begin scrubbing the rusted areas with soap and water.
Surface rust should start to clear away, and dirt and debris will come off the chain simultaneously.
(See step 2 image above)
Step 3 - Rotate Cranks
Hold the cloth/brush on the chain and rotate your cranks so that the chain runs over the cloth/brush.
As the brush becomes dirty, wash it in the warm soapy water and apply more soap to the rusty chain.
(See step 3 image below)
Step 4 - Clean Soap off Chain
Once you’re happy that you’ve removed most of the rust on your bike’s chain, use some clean non-soapy water and a new cloth/brush to wash away any remaining soap or grime.
Step 5 - Remove Excess Water
Using a dry cloth, remove any excess water from your bike’s chain. Then, click the button below, and I’ll show you how to relubricate your chain correctly.
(Results shown above)
How to Fix a Rusty Bike Chain With Vinegar - More Stubborn Rust
(click images to enlarge)
Vinegar Submersion Method Explanation
Submerging it in vinegar is a great way to remove more stubborn rust at home, especially if your bike chain is quite rusty.
I’d recommend using 5% white vinegar, but just about any vinegar will work and will help to clean your rusty bike chain.
If you don’t have any vinegar, try the method below which uses lemon or lime juice.
To submerge your bike’s chain, you’ll want to remove it, so you’ll need a chain removal tool for a regular link chain, a pair of quick link pliers for a quick link chain or some needle-nosed pliers for a split link chain.
I also recommend wearing protective gloves and eye protection for this step as vinegar can be an irritant to the eyes and skin.
- Some white vinegar (other kinds of vinegar also work)
- A chain removal tool (find out which one you require below)
- A bucket or bowl
- A few old cloths
- A firm bristled brush (optional)
Step 1 - Figure Out Which Chain Tool You Need
First, you’ll need to identify which chain removal tool you need.
(The video attached below will help you figure this step out very quickly).
If all of the chain links are identical, you’ll want to use a chain-breaking tool to remove the chain.
If you spot a unique link, check both sides of the chain.
If both sides appear identical and have a small hole next to the chain’s pin, you’ll want a pair of quick link pliers.
If one side of the chain is different, you’ll need some needle-nosed pliers to remove it.
Once you’ve figured out which tool you need, proceed to steps two or three below.
(Note – before removing the chain, it can be a good idea to take a video or picture of how it’s threaded through the rear derailleur so that you’ll understand how to put it back on!).
Step 2 - Quick Link Chain Removal
Position the quick link to sit in the lower section of the drivetrain. This will prevent your chain from falling to the ground when you open its link.
Take your quick link pliers and insert them inside the quick link. Now press the chain’s rollers together until the link pops open.
Alternatively, if you don’t have quick link pliers, you can thread an old shoelace of a piece of durable string through both sides of the link and then pull either end back across itself underneath the link to pop it open.
The chain should easily come apart.
Step 2 - Chain Braker Removal
Take your chain-breaking tool and push the pin from any link in the lower section of the chain partially out until you can pull the chain apart.
Step 2 - Needle-Nosed Plier Removal
With the U-shaped locking faceplate facing you, take your needle nose pliers and place the right side of the pliers on the right side of the pin that the faceplate is attached to.
Then with the other side of the pliers, begin pushing the u-shaped locking faceplate in the opposite direction from the pin.
The locking plate may be stiff initially, but it should pop off the pin with a bit of pressure. You may need to repeat this step to disconnect the locking faceplate fully.
If you find these instructions confusing, the video below should help clear things up!
Step 3 - Submerge In Vinegar
Before handling vinegar, I advise wearing rubber gloves for protection and plastic goggles, as vinegar can irritate your skin and eyes.
Pour some vinegar, preferably 5% white vinegar (whatever you have around the house will work), into a bowl/plastic tub.
Take your rusty bike chain and submerge it in the vinegar. Then, use a brush such as a toothbrush to lightly scrub the rusty areas to encourage the rust to dissolve.
Leave the chain submerged for between 1 and 24 hours (depending on how rusty the chain is, the rustier, the longer).
Check the chain throughout its submerging to inspect how it’s getting on and scrub it to encourage rust to dissolve.
Step 4 - Scrub, Rinse, Lubricate & Return
Once you’ve left your rusty bike chain to soak and you’re happy with how it’s looking, it’s time to remove it.
Once removed, using a toothbrush or wire brush, brush away at the rusty areas on the chain.
Keep brushing until all visible rust is removed. If the chain is still very rusty, it’s worth buying a replacement chain.
Once you’re happy that the rust is removed, it’s essential to clean off any vinegar.
Rinse the chain thoroughly in warm water, scrubbing it to encourage removal. Vinegar is water-soluble, so a throughout rinsing will get rid of it.
Next, click the blue button below to learn how to properly relubricate your chain to prevent new rust from forming.
How to Clean a Rusty Bike Chain with Lemon or Lime Juice - More Stubborn Rust
Lime Juice Rust Removal Explained
Citric acid eats away at rust and can be a great way to remove rust from a bike chain.
Most people have lemons or lime at home, so using these as a source of citric acid is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to remove rust from a bike chain.
Citric acid can irritate the skin and eyes. Therefore I recommend using rubber gloves and eye protection to carry out the steps below.
For this rust removal method, you will need the following:
- A lemon or lime
- A knife
- A small plastic or glass cup/pot
- A wire or firm bristled brush
- An old cloth or rag
- A bucket of water
Step 1 - Stabilise The Bike
Take your bike and stand it upside down on its handlebars and seat, so it’s stable when unsupported.
Otherwise, if you have a bike repair stand, use this to secure your bike.
Step 2 - Juice Your Lemon or Lime
Carefully cut your lemon or lime in half, and squeeze its juice into your small plastic or glass container.
Step 3 - Scrub Juice Onto Chain
Taking your wire or firm bristled brush, dip it into the juice you’ve squeezed and begin rubbing it onto the rusty patches of your bike chain.
Citric acid dissolves rust, so scrubbing the chain will encourage the rust to dissolve.
Keep applying the citric acid to your brush until you’ve scrubbed all rusted parts of the chain.
Leave the acid to sit on the chain for 5-10 minutes.
Step 4 - Wash Chain in Water and Inspect Rust
Dip your old rag into your bucket of water and thoroughly scrub the chain down to remove rust and remaining citric acid.
If some rust remains, repeat step 3 until you’re happy with the condition of your chain.
Leaving the citric acid on your chain for longer can help it remove more rust, but leaving it on the chain for too long can damage it.
Once you’re happy that the rust has been removed from the chain, click the blue button below for the final, essential lubrication step.
How to Clean a Rusty Cassette or Freewheel
So your bike’s cassette (or freewheel) is rusty, and you want to restore it to its original sparkling condition? You’ve come to the right place.
Just below, I’ll teach you the most effective and straightforward methods you can use to remove rust from a bike cassette.
Before I teach you how to remove rust from a bike cassette, it’s important to consider whether or not it’s worth your time in the first place.
The easiest way to tell whether or not your cassette is worth replacing is to inspect its teeth.
My simple freewheel/cassette wear graph can help indicate how much life is left in your freewheel and whether it’s worth repairing.
Any shark fin-shaped teeth indicate that the cassette is worn, and if any of the teeth resemble sharp triangular spikes, it will not be worth attempting to remove the rust.
(click images to enlarge)
I don’t recommend using these bike rust removal methods on a freewheel unless you can remove its internal bearings.
If you submerge a freewheel in vinegar or rust remover without removing its bearings, you’ll likely remove lots of internal lubrication, which will cause the bearings to seize up quickly.
Additionally, removing any vinegar or rust remover from inside the freewheel mechanism is difficult, so if you’re unsure how to disassemble a freewheel, avoid submersion.
Finally, it’s important to understand that a bike’s cassette, similar to its chain, is typically considered ‘consumable’.
If your cassette or freewheel is thoroughly rusted, the metal’s structural integrity will likely be weakened.
If it was an expensive cassette, I could understand your desire to save it. Otherwise, you’ll probably be better off getting yourself a new replacement.
How To Clean A Rusty Bike Cassette With Vinegar
Bike Cassette/Sprockets Vinegar Rust Removal Explained
As addressed at the beginning of this article, I wanted to ensure I recommended environmentally friendly steps where possible.
Vinegar is organic, and household vinegar, such as white vinegar with an acetic acid concentration of 5%, can be disposed of by pouring it down the drain.
Because vinegar is acidic, it does a great job of eating away at and removing rust, dirt and grime. I recommend using white vinegar to remove rust from your bike gears/cassettes/sprockets.
You can attempt this step without removing the cassette stack from your rear wheel, but it’ll be difficult to remove any rust between each sprocket.
For this rust removal step, you will require the following:
- A wire brush (or other firm bristled brush)
- Distilled white vinegar (any vinegar from your kitchen will also work)
- A small plastic tub or bowl (you don’t mind getting dirty)
- Water (for removing vinegar)
- An old rag or cloth for scrubbing and drying
- Lubricant (for once rust has been removed)
- Adjustable wrench (required if removing cassette)
- Chain whip tool (for cassette removal)
- Rubber gloves and safety goggles
Step 1 - Cassette Removal (For better results, but non-essential)
To remove a cassette from a bike wheel, you’ll require some specialist tooling, which I’ve listed above.
Depending on your type of cassette, you’ll require slightly different tools.
Instead of boring you to death with a long-winded explanation, Park-Tool produced an informative and to-the-point video that will show you the steps and explain the tools required to remove your rusty gears/cassette.
Step 2 - Apply Vinegar to Rusty Areas of the Cassette
Before applying any vinegar to the cassette stack, I recommend wearing rubber gloves and safety goggles.
Vinegar can irritate the eyes and skin, so use the appropriate protective equipment.
Next, add a good amount of vinegar to your tub/bowl. If you’ve removed your cassette stack, this is where you’ll benefit, as you’ll be able to submerge each sprocket into the vinegar whilst scrubbing with your brush.
If you haven’t removed your cassette, dip your brush into the vinegar and begin scrubbing each sprocket on the wheel.
Try not to let vinegar seep down onto the freehub. If needed, keep the wheel at an angle so the cassette faces the ground and the vinegar drips off.
Step 3 - Leave Submerged or To Soak
If you removed the cassette from your wheel, leave the sprockets submerged in the vinegar for 15-20 minutes, scrubbing rusty patches throughout.
Otherwise, if you didn’t remove your cassette, continue applying the vinegar to all rusty areas, paying attention to both sides of each sprocket.
Make sure to scrub thoroughly during this stage to maximise rust removal.
(click images to enlarge)
Step 4 - Remove Vinegar & Rust Remnants With A Cloth
Using your cloth or rag, thoroughly wipe down each sprocket and remove any visible vinegar.
If there’s still a lot of rust on the sprockets at this stage, you can repeat steps 2 and 3 until you’re happy with their condition.
Feel free to leave the sprockets submerged for a more extended period. However, I wouldn’t advise submerging them for more than 24 hours without inspecting their progress.
I left my freewheel submerged in vinegar for 48 hours to see what would happen. Most of the rust was removed, but as you can see below, the vinegar began to corrode some of the weaker metal surfaces on the freewheel.
If you’re struggling to remove rust with vinegar, the step below follows the same process but with a rust removal chemical called Evapo-Rust.
Remember that there are several cheaper cassettes on the market that you can buy for a similar price to a tub of Evapo-Rust. Therefore, it could be more economical to buy a replacement cassette.
As I’m not aware of the condition of your cassette, I’ll leave this decision to you.
Step 5 - Rinse Thoroughly With Water
Before relubricating and returning the cassette stack to its freehub, we need to make one final attempt to remove any remaining vinegar.
Any residual vinegar could cause further damage to the surface of your sprockets, potentially worsening any returning rust in the long run.
Pour plenty of water over the sprockets, ensuring every area is targeted and rigorously rinsed.
After removing the vinegar, use another dry rag to remove as much water as possible.
If you left your cassette attached to your wheel, bouncing the wheel on the ground a few times is a great way to encourage residual moisture to drip off.
Step 6 - Reassemble & Attach Cassette (If Removed)
If you removed your cassette, reassemble it so we can relubricate it properly.
Once ready, hit the blue button below, which will take you to the final lubrication step.
(click images to enlarge)
How To Clean a Rusty Bike Cassette With Evapo-Rust
Evapo-Rust is another good option when it comes to rust removal. Evapo-Rust is a water-based rust remover that eats away at rust without requiring scrubbing.
Evapo-Rust can be reused multiple times and is non-toxic and pH neutral, meaning it doesn’t rely on strong acids like many other rust removers. Once Evapo-Rust is no longer effective, it can be safely discarded by pouring it down the drain.
Remember that a tub of Evapo-Rust can cost nearly the same price as a new cassette, so make sure your rusty cassette is worth saving before beginning rust removal.
Before using Evapo-Rust, whilst it’s non-acidic and non-toxic, I recommend wearing rubber gloves and safety goggles. This will prevent any irritation and prevent you from cutting yourself on your rusty bike part.
I’d also recommend removing bearings from any components you’re submerging, as Evapo-Rust can remove internal lubrication.
Rusted bike parts such as chains and cassettes can be submerged Evapo-Rust for between 30 minutes and 24 hours. The length of time spent immersed will depend on the severity of the rust.
Whilst soaking, it’s beneficial for the rust removal process if you scrub the bike part in its most rusted areas. This will encourage the removal of more stubborn rust.
(click images to enlarge)
If rust remains, reimmerse the rusted part until you’re satisfied with its condition.
Before you relubricate the bike part, it’s essential to remove the Evapo-Rust. A dousing of water and a good scrub with a rag or a brush will clean away any remaining solution.
To finish, click the blue button below, and I’ll teach you the essential lubrication step.
How to Clean & Fix a Rusty Bike Frame
Rusting on your bike frame isn’t a good look, so if your frame shows signs of rust, follow the steps below, which will teach you how to clean rust off a bike frame.
These two steps are suitable for removing moderate and light surface rust.
If the rust on your bike’s frame is deep-set and doesn’t come off using these methods, it may not be safe to ride.
Instead, take your bike to a local bike shop, who’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action.
Be aware that these methods can cause scratching to your bike’s paintwork if you’re too rough.
However, if your bike has bad rust, it’s normal for flakey paint to come off during this procedure, as you can see from the images below.
Unless you’re removing a tiny area of rust, it’s much easier to remove your bike’s components before proceeding, this takes longer, but you’ll have an easier time eliminating and preventing further rust from forming.
Light Surface Rust - How to Clean a Rusty Bicycle Frame With Aluminum Foil
Using aluminium foil and WD-40 to remove rust is one of the easiest and cheapest bicycle rust removal hacks.
Almost every household has aluminium foil in the kitchen cupboard, and this method works for virtually any rusty bike part.
That being said, this method is only really designed for removing surface rust on the frame of a bike. If the rust is deep-set, you’ll want to follow the third rust removal method in this section.
The use of gloves and eye protection is advised whilst carrying out the steps below, otherwise, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap & water when finished.
|A bowl of water|
|Carnauba wax (for gloss paintwork)|
|Matte finish detailer (for matte paintwork)|
Step 1 – Take a decent piece of foil and lightly crumple it into a loose ball.
Apply WD-40 to the rusty areas of your bike’s frame, so avoid getting any on your brake pads, disc brakes, or braking surfaces.
Once the WD-40 is applied, gently scrub the frame with your ball of aluminium foil.
Step 2 – As you scrub, increase your pressure on more rusted areas, paying close attention to minimising damage to your paintwork.
Continue to apply more WD-40 and gently scrub the rusted areas with the aluminum until you’re happy that the rust is gone.
Step 3 – Next, take your old rag and remove the WD-40 from your frame until its clean and dirty/rusty marks are gone.
Now take your dish detergent and apply it to the areas of the frame where you used WD-40. Next, scrub the frame down to remove any residual WD-40.
Finish up by washing away the soap with water and drying the bike down with a clean, dry cloth.
Step 4 – After removing all of the WD-40, we want to want to form a protective barrier to prevent rust from forming in the future.
Before applying wax to the frame, we need to consider whether your bike has a matte or glossy finish to its paintwork.
If it’s glossy, you’ll want carnauba wax. If it’s matte, you’ll want a liquid matte detailer.
The bike I’m using has a gloss finish, so I’m using a carnauba wax.
Step 5 – Now begin applying the wax or detailer evenly across the frame and ensure that any previously rusty areas receive a good coating.
Once you’ve covered the frame, take a soft microfibre cloth or other cloth and brush the wax and detailer off the bike in smooth, clean strokes.
Applying these protective layers forms a barrier outside your bike’s paintwork, preventing exposure to oxygen and moisture to keep your frame rust-free!
This protective layer will slowly grow thinner over time, so ensure you re-apply every few months or after a thorough cleaning.
Remove Light to Moderate Rust From Bike Frame - Baking Soda & Lemon Juice
Another good way to remove rust from a bike frame is by combining baking soda and lime juice and using them to eat away at the rust.
This method is another cheap way to remove rust from your bike, and you’ll most likely have all of this in your kitchen cupboard.
To be honest, however, this method wasn’t as effective or efficient for me as using aluminum foil and WD-40, so if you don’t want to wait for the lemon and baking soda to do their thing, I advise you follow the method above.
Remember to wear rubber gloves and eye protection for these steps, as this mixture can irritate your skin and eyes.
|Bowl of water|
|Carnauba wax (for gloss paintwork)|
|Matte finish detailer (for matte paintwork)|
|2 cloths/rags (microfibre is best)|
Step 1 – Take your small bowl and, using a tablespoon, mix one spoon of baking soda and lemon juice.
Step 2 – Take your cloth (or toothbrush for detailed areas), dip it into the mixture and apply a generous coating to the rusty areas of your frame.
Depending on the severity of the rust, you can leave this to sit for 1 to 24 hours.
For surface rust, allow the mixture to sit for a shorter period.
Once you’ve applied the mixture, clean and dry your brush or cloth.
Step 3 – After letting the mixture sit, take your cloth and wipe away the mixture you applied to rust.
Rust should wipe away at the same time. If you don’t see rust coming off in the mixture, don’t be afraid to use the paste to scrub the rust.
With a bit of encouragement, the rust should begin to flake away.
After leaving my mixture to sit on the rust for three hours, it didn’t work as well as I had expected. So I used a piece of time foil and rubbed the lemon&soda mixture into the metal.
This helped a lot and encourage a lot of the loose rust to flake off.
Step 4 – Next take a clean wet cloth and wipe away all of the lemon solution, and remove any water with a dry cloth.
If you have gloss paintwork, take your carnauba wax. If your bike has a matte finish, take your matte detailer and apply an even coat across the frame, specifically targeting the previously rusted areas.
Once applied, take your microfibre cloth and brush the wax or detailer off the bike in long smooth strokes until no longer visible.
This finishing process forms a protective layer that prevents rust from reforming.
Every few months, it’s essential to top up this finishing layer.
How to Remove Rust From Bike Handlebars
Handlebars of old or cheap bikes are magnets for rust. So how do you clean rusty bike handlebars, you ask?
Follow the quick steps below, and we’ll have you riding rust-free in no time!
The majority of old bike handlebars are chrome plated. However, as we found out earlier, when chrome plating is worn away, this exposes the steel underneath, which sets off the reaction that forms rust (oxidation).
Most new bike handlebars are made with aluminum or carbon fibre, neither of which are vulnerable to rust.
|Bowl of water|
|Carnauba wax (or another sealing layer)|
|2 x Cloth/rag (microfibre is best)|
Step 1 – If your handlebars are very corroded, it may be easier to remove them from your bike, or at least remove components such as brake levers and gear shifters that’ll make rust removal more difficult.
Otherwise, make sure your bike is stable so you can give it a good scrubbing without it toppling over!
Step 2 – Take a decent amount of aluminum foil and scrunch it into a loose ball.
Dip the aluminum into your bowl of water and gently begin to rub the rusty areas on your handlebars.
You should see the rusty patches fading to reveal the non-corroded metal beneath as you rub.
If you’re seeing limited progress with this technique, add a pinch of salt to your water and allow it to dissolve. Otherwise, vinegar will also be beneficial for rust removal.
Remember to wash any vinegar or salty water away with plenty of water before moving on to the next step.
Step 3 – Once you’re happy that you’ve removed all of the rust, we need to form a protective barrier to prevent rust from forming anytime soon.
Take your carnauba wax and form a thin, even layer on your handlebars, targeting any previously rusted areas.
Use a microfibre cloth to buff the wax off in long straight lines to finish.
If you removed any components, remember to replace them properly, and you’ll now be good to go!
How to Clean Rusty Bike Rims, Spokes & Wheels
Removing rust from a bike wheel is easier than you’d think. Rusty bike spokes and rims don’t look good, and if left to rust for too long, they could become dangerous to ride.
The bike wheel rust removal steps below only require household items.
|An old toothbrush|
|Bowl of water|
|White vinegar (helpful for more stubborn rust, but not necessary)|
|Dry old cloth/rag|
|Adjustable wrench (for non-quick release wheels)|
|Carnauba wax (for preventing future rust)|
Step 1 – Remove the rusty wheels from your bike.
Then take your toothbrush and a piece of aluminum foil. Wrap the aluminum foil loosely around the bristled end of the toothbrush.
Step 2 – Dip the aluminum end of the toothbrush into your water bowl and gently scrub the rusted areas of your bike wheel (spokes, rims & hubs).
You should see the rust cleaning off as you scrub, exposing the clean unoxidised metal underneath.
If the water isn’t working well enough at removing the rust, you can add a pinch of salt to it. Or, if you have some, white vinegar will also aid in the removal of rust on your bike wheel.
Step 3 – Once you’re happy that most of the rust has been removed from the wheel, wash the wheel down with water to remove any dirt, salt or vinegar.
Wipe the water away with your dry rag or cloth, and repeat these steps with your other wheel if it’s rusty.
Step 4 – Finally, whilst it’s beneficial to add a protective layer to prevent rust, we won’t do this with wheels.
If any wax or sealant made its way onto your baking surfaces, it could easily cause problems with braking, which could be dangerous.
Instead, dry the area and keep your bike in a well-ventilated area to prevent further rust.
How to Clean Rusty Chrome
Chrome-coated steel was a popular choice of metal for many components of retro bikes.
Whilst chromium plating forms an excellent protective barrier, preventing the steel underneath from oxidising, it will chip and scratch over time, revealing the steel beneath and allowing rust to develop slowly.
Fortunately, removing rust from chrome is super easy, and the short steps below explain how to clean rusty chrome using household supplies.
|A bowl of water|
|White vinegar (for stubborn rust)|
|Old rag or cloth|
|Carnauba wax (for finishing)|
Step 1 – Take a 20cm piece of aluminum foil and roll it into a lightly packed ball.
Dip the aluminum into your water and begin rubbing the rusted chrome.
As you rub, adjust your pressure depending on the severity of the rust. Also, continue to apply water to the foil throughout.
Step 2 – If the rust on the chrome surfaces isn’t fading, you can swap the water out for some white vinegar, which will improve the rate at which just is removed.
Continue rubbing the chrome surface down until you’re happy with its condition.
Step 3 – Give the chrome a good rinse off with water, making sure you remove any dirt and grime you created in the rust removal process.
Before we coat the chrome in a protective layer, you’ll want to dry it off with an old rag or cloth.
Step 4 – Now that your chrome components are lovely and clean, grab some carnauba wax and apply an even layer across the component.
Once the wax has been applied, use your microfibre cloth to buff the wax off.
This waxing procedure will leave a protective top coating that allows water to run straight off your bike, preventing the exposed steel from oxidising.
How to Remove Rust From Nuts and Bolts
If I’m honest, small rusty bike parts such as nuts and bolts aren’t worth the rust removal process. They’re super cheap to purchase and will require constant fiddling to prevent them from going rusty again.
However, I can completely understand and get on board with the attitude of attempting to reuse and renew what we have rather than throwing it in the trash.
The issue with reusing rusty nuts and bolts is that once rust has formed, they’re more prone to rusting down the line. If you attach them to your bike, you could have difficulty getting them off if corrosion returns.
My favourite method for removing rust from fiddly little bike parts such as nuts and bolts is using white vinegar as it’s non-toxic (at 5% acidity) and can be found in most kitchen cupboards.
|White vinegar (other kinds of vinegar below 5% acidity will also work)|
|Firm bristled brush (optional but good for threads on screws)|
|Lubricant (MO-94 or lithium grease work well)|
Vinegar can irritate the skin and eyes, so wearing rubber gloves and eye protection during these steps is advised.
Step 1 – Take your rusty bike parts and scrub them with some crumpled aluminium foil (or a bristled brush). This scrubbing will help loosen the surface rust and speed up the rust removal process.
Step 2 – Next, put the rusty parts into an old plastic bottle or watertight container and fill the bottle with vinegar until the parts are submerged.
Then put the lid on the bottle, and give it a good shake to speed up the rust-removal process.
Depending on the severity of the rust, you can leave the parts for 30 minutes to 24 hours.
However, be aware that vinegar can eat away at metal if it’s left submerged for too long, so it’s good to keep an eye on how the parts are getting on.
If you decide to leave the rusty nuts and bolts for 24 hours, check them along the way to ensure they aren’t dissolving completely!
Step 3 – Give the bottle an occasional shake and inspect the nuts and bolts until the rust is no longer present.
Next, drain the vinegar from the bottle. This can be poured down the drain or kept in a separate container if you wish to reuse it.
Step 4 – To finish the nuts and bolts parts off, fill the bottle with water to submerge the now clean parts and give it a shake to remove any remaining vinegar. Then drain and dry the nuts and bolts thoroughly.
Finally, applying lubrication will prevent rust from forming anytime soon.
I use MO-94 spray lubricant from Muc-Off, but white lithium or another PTFE lube will also help to prevent rust from forming. If possible, spray some on the thread or inside of the area you’ll be using the nut/bolt.
The Final Step of Rust Removal - Lubrication
Once you’re happy that you’ve removed enough rust from your bike parts, you’ll want to apply some lubricant.
If the steps above already instructed you to apply a lubricant/sealant coat such as carnauba wax or MO-94, then you can ignore this step. However, if you haven’t lubricated your drivetrain in a long time, pay attention, as this step will help prevent unnecessary wear on your drivetrain.
If the parts are still dirty, you should wash them with some warm water and soap, then rinse, dry and follow the steps below for lubrication.
Despite popular belief that it “does the trick”, don’t use WD40 as a lubricant. It’s a water displacer that prevents rust. Using WD-40 on your bike chain is worse than not using any lubrication at all!
If left on your components, WD-40 attracts lots of unwanted dirt and grime that can clog up and wear out your drivetrain. Use a chain-specific lube.
So before you spray WD-40 all over your bike, read the steps below for the best ways to relubricate your once-rusty bike parts.
How to Lubricate a Bike Chain, Cassette & Cranks (Drivetrain)
Lubricating your bike chain is easy, but you’d be surprised how many people get it wrong!
Below I’ll teach you exactly how to lubricate your bike’s drivetrain so that you don’t need to deal with rusty components moving forwards!
First up, an over-lubricated drivetrain will quickly cover itself in grit and grime, increasing wear on all components in the drivetrain. On the other hand, an under-lubricated drivetrain will limit your cycling performance and increase the wear rate on your drivetrain.
To lubricate your drivetrain, you’ll require the following:
- Wet chain lube (for winter/wet months)
- Dry chain lube (for summer/dry months)
- Microfibre cloth
Personally, when it comes to chain lubricants, I only ever use dropper bottles rather than pressurised spray cans.
Spraying any chemicals or lubricants near your drivetrain risks contaminating your braking surfaces (disc rotors and rim braking surfaces).
If you use a spray lube, ensure you cover your brakes & braking surfaces to prevent contamination.
Step 1 – Stand your bike up so that it’s stable. Either lean it against a wall (chain with chain-side facing away from the wall) or put it in a bike stand if you have one.
Next, select the chain lubricant suitable for the current weather in your location, wet for wet conditions, dry for dry.
Also, before we begin lubricating, this can get a little messy, so lay down some newspaper on the floor or preferably do this outside.
Step 2 – With your chain lubricant bottle in one hand and your pedal in the other, slowly begin to lubricate the chain on the inside of the chain links (lower section) whilst rotating your crank so that the chain is spinning anti-clockwise (away from your freewheel/cassette).
Applying lubricant to your chain on the top side will cover your cassette/freewheel in lubricant, which will end with a big sticky mess, so don’t do this!
Continue slowly applying lubricant to your chain for two to three complete crank rotations.
Step 3 – Once you’re happy you’ve applied enough lubricant, or if there’s plenty of lubricant running off the chain, stop lubricating.
If you used a dry lube, it’s essential to let it sits for a minute or two before we wipe the chain down.
Now that the chain is lubricated, we need to wipe away excess. Take a clean microfibre cloth and run the chain through the cloth, gently removing any excess lube.
Final Step – If you’ve made it this far and have fully reconditioned your once-rusty bike part, give yourself a pat on the back. Seriously, great job!
You now understand how to remove rust from a bike, but you’ve also prevented a usable bicycle component from ending in landfills. We salute you!
I understand that many of you will have further questions, which I never like leaving unanswered. So below, you’ll find answers to the most popular bike rust removal FAQs.
Rust Removal FAQs
Rust Remover Chemicals - Are They Worth It?
Rust removers come in many different forms. However, the main categories of rust removers are:
- strong acids & alkalis
- weak acids & alkalis
- water-based solutions
Water-based rust removal solutions are the safest to work with and usually the easiest to dispose of after use.
One of the main criteria you’ll want to consider when purchasing a rust remover chemical is price.
If the item/component you’re removing rust from is severely rusted, do you think it’ll still work when the rust is removed?
Evapo-Rust is my recommendation if you’re looking for a reliable rust remover. It’s non-toxic, reusable and does a great job of removing rust.
Whilst there are non-toxic rust removers, if you can avoid purchasing one altogether, this is the most environmentally friendly option.
I’d recommend trying with vinegar first, as it’s the cheapest rust removal chemical you can get your hands on by far (I recommend white vinegar). However, after trying vinegar, you may decide to use another chemical if it hasn’t worked.
There are plenty of helpful YouTube videos which compare the different chemicals available. Have a look if you’re interested.
Electrolysis For Rust Removal?
Electrolysis is a process that can be used for rust removal. It’s often touted to be one of the best methods of rust removal, and if carried out correctly, it can have fantastic results.
However, I was hesitant to include an electrolysis method in this guide as it’s more complex than the other methods, and I wouldn’t advise someone unfamiliar with this process to attempt it at home without professional supervision.
If electrolysis is carried out with stainless steel anodes, you’ll produce poisonous chromates, which are highly toxic and have been proven to cause cancer. Poisonous chromates are also illegal to dispose of down the drain or in the ground.
Additionally, the electrolysis process produces hydrogen gas, which is highly flammable. So, if this process isn’t carried out in a well-ventilated area, you could risk causing an explosion.
Hopefully, that clarifies why I was hesitant to recommend this method of rust removal.
Does Aluminum Rust?
Despite what many people claim, aluminum does not rust. Instead, this highly reactive metal corrodes.
The difference between rust and corrosion is that rust is the oxidation of iron when exposed to oxygen and water. In contrast, corrosion is the degradation of many materials (non-metals included) due to oxidation.
In its pure form, aluminum is highly creative and reacts with oxygen in the air to form aluminium oxide.
This aluminum oxide then sits on the surface of the aluminum until it’s scratched or rubbed away, exposing the pure aluminium underneath, repeating the above reaction.
When aluminum is exposed to strong acids or alkalis, its outer aluminium oxide layer can be removed before it’s had a chance to reform, resulting in an increased corrosion rate.
But to put it simply, aluminum does not rust. It corrodes.
Does Stainless Steel Rust?
Stainless steel is an alloy which is formed using carbon and iron. Because steel contains iron, it’s prone to rust and will rust unless it’s coated or treated to prevent it from coming into contact with water and oxygen.
One of the standard metals used to prevent steel from rusting is chromium. Steel & chromium alloys are commonly referred to as stainless steel because chromium forms an outer protective layer which prevents any iron from oxidising.
As you can therefore imagine, stainless steel is highly resistant to rust and corrosion.
How to Prevent Rust on a Bike
Preventing rust from forming can often feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.
However hard you try, the orange flakes keep returning, so how can you prevent rust in the long run?
The five rust prevention steps below will help your ride stay rust-free for as long as possible.
1. Install Mudguards/Fenders on Your Bike
One of the best ways to prevent rust from forming on your bike is to avoid riding in wet weather altogether. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for many cyclists, such as bike commuters.
So instead, what you can do to minimise exposure to the elements and give rust as little chance as possible is to use mudguards (aka fenders).
Mudguards will minimise the amount of water coming into contact with the components of your bike on rainy days or muddy rides, and they’ll also help keep you clean and dry whilst riding!
Fenders can be picked up at very affordable prices and can be found in any decent bike shop or online cycling store.
On top of preventing rust, fenders are excellent at stopping dirt and grime from collecting on your bike, saving you time on maintenance and cleaning in the long run!
2. Clean Your Bike Regularly to Remove Dirt
When dirt and grime build up on your bike, they slow down the rate at which any moisture can escape, meaning water will remain on the surface of your bike for long periods.
On top of this, dirt and grime increase the wear on your bike’s components. Many steel components have a protective coating (such as chromium) which prevents the metal underneath from oxidising.
If this protective surface layer is worn away by dirt and grime, your bike will be prone to rust.
Give your bike a clean with warm water whenever you spot that it’s looking dirty. Remember to dry it off and relubricate it appropriately after washing.
3. Dry You Bike After Riding in Wet Weather
As we finished with above, drying your bike after it gets wet is a crucial step of rust prevention.
For components to rust, water is required, so if we remove this compound from the equation, your bike won’t rust.
If you’ve been riding your bike during the winter, I’d strongly advise you to clean your bike thoroughly afterwards. This is because roads are often salted in winter.
For bikes that’re already suffering from rust, adding salt to the equation will increase the oxidation rate. Additionally, salt will increase the abrasion and corrosion on your drivetrain and other components.
Riding on wet winter days = thorough bike wash. After cleaning, see this step for relubrication.
4. Lubricate Your Bike Regularly
If you’re familiar with how bikes work, you’ll understand that their moving parts require lubrication to allow them to operate smoothly.
Lubrication also forms a barrier on your components and prevents them from oxidising as quickly, if at all.
If you wash your bike or one of its components, lubricate it after.
However, while lubricating your bike frequently is great, excessive lubrication will attract unwanted dirt and debris, which will wear down your components at an increased rate.
After lubricating, it’s essential to wipe away any excess to prevent grime build-ups.
5. Store Your Bike in a Dry, Well-Ventilated Area
Keeping your bike in a dry and well-ventilated area will reduce the chances of condensation forming, which can easily cause your bike to rust over long periods.
Storing your bike indoors is preferable if that’s an option. However, a ventilated bike shelter or garage will work fine if you don’t have space.
Additionally, always regularly inspect your bike’s components for signs of rust.
Conclusion - How to Remove Rust From a Bike
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, congratulations on becoming a rust-killing machine!
You should now understand everything there is to know about rust prevention, rust and bikes and how to remove rust from a bike.
If you have any questions or feel like I’ve missed something or haven’t covered an area of rust removal in enough detail, please let me know in the comments below. I’ll rectify the issue or find the answers for you and update the content so that it’s clearer for the next reader!
Remember, keeping your bike clean, dry and well-lubricated is the best step you can take to avoid rust forming. If you notice a build-up of dirt, don’t ignore it. Remove it and re-lubricate!
If you take good care of your bike, it’ll take good care of you.
Additionally, it’s crucial to secure your bike correctly wherever you leave it. Get yourself a good quality bike lock, or if you have the budget for it, an uncuttable bike lock will significantly reduce the chances of your bike being pinched whilst left unattended.
If there’s another bike-related topic that you want me to cover in meticulous detail, let me know, and I’ll get right on it.
As always, lock it or lose it!
Ciao for now.
- Electrolysis & Stainless Steel – Antique Engines
- Aluminium corrosion – ThyssenKrupp
- Rust Romval Chemicals – Armour