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We’ve all been there: you’re getting ready to go out on the first bike ride of the season, the weather is perfect, and you pull out your bike only to realize that something’s just not right.
Now you have to figure out how to remove rust from bikes before taking it out for a spin.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Table of Contents
Simple Products You Can Use to Remove Rust
There are a couple of household products that are good for removing rust. Some of them work through abrasion, and others are more about breaking the rust down chemically.
Household chemicals can be great for removing rust. If you’ve just got a small rust problem, you can consider using baking soda, vinegar, or lime juice.
If the rust is really caked on there, you probably should opt for a more heavy-duty household rust remover. There are lots of rust removers on the market, and some of them are even specifically made for bicycles.
If you don’t have one of these, CLR or WD-40 should do the trick! But, always be sure to follow the safety precautions when using dangerous chemicals like these.
Steps for How to Remove Rust from Bike Handlebars
Handlebars are often the first place that we find rust on our bikes because they’re right in front of us. For this reason, the rust you find there is often going to be less well developed than on other parts of the bike
For rust on your handlebars, you can simply rub them down with steel wool or even tinfoil. Both of these are abrasive enough to scrape away small rust spots and give your handlebars their shine back.
After you’ve done that, you can also apply some protective wax to the handlebars, to prevent the rust from coming right back. After all, the rust is oxygen eating away at the metal. So if you don’t cover it up after fixing the rust that’s there, it will come back!
How to Remove Rust from Bicycle Rims
Bicycle rims are exposed to much more water and moisture than other parts of the bike and will probably rust faster than the rest of your ride.
Clearing rust off bicycle rims is pretty straightforward. First, you need to remove the wheel from the bike. If you leave the wheel on the bike, it’s not only hard to handle and access, but you also won’t be able to get any leverage on it because it will spin.
After removing the wheel, you should also take the rubber tire off of the rim wheel. At this point, you will have a completely exposed wheel rim that you can work with.
First, if the rust is relatively light, you should try just making a simple baking soda and water, or lime juice paste. Apply the paste to the affected areas, and then scrub it with steel wool. For most rust problems, this will be more than enough.
If your rims are going through a bad time in their life and are really rusted out – scrubbing them down will not be enough.
You should soak the rim in a rust remover. Just grab a plastic bucket that can fit a portion of the wheel in it, and put some rust remove in the bucket.
As you let the rust remover do its work, you can rotate the wheel in the bucket, eventually treating the entire wheel with rust remover. This is a slow process, but it’s worth it to get that rust off and protect your bike for the long haul.
Be sure to avoid mixing baking soda, vinegar, or any other household material with rust remover, as it can be a deadly combination. If you’ve tried baking soda and want to move on to rust remover, be sure to wash the wheel down thoroughly before proceeding.
How to Remove Rust from Bicycle Spokes
Many bicycle spokes are made from stainless steel, but others have a zinc or chrome plating that may be liable to rust. If you’ve noticed rust starting to develop on your spokes, or already have a full-blown case of rust, cleaning it off is a straightforward, but repetitive task.
For spokes, you need to get the finest grain steel wool you can find. If you think the rust is completely out of hand you can use vinegar or lemon juice, but for the spokes, it’s probably not necessary.
Simply squeeze the steel wool between your fingers and rub it up and down the spokes vigorously. Make sure that you rotate your grip every once in a while, to get all sides of the spoke. Then, just repeat for every spoke on the wheel.
Dealing with rust on the spokes of your bike is pretty monotonous – so you definitely should apply a protectant, like wax, to the spokes to prevent it from happening again.
Steps for Removing Rust from Bike Chain
The bike chain is critical to the overall functioning of the bike and can affect your ride (and safety) in a way that rusty handlebars probably won’t. With that in mind, if your bike chain is extremely rusty, you should consider replacing it. Super rusty chains can do damage to the rest of the bike and may also break mid-ride.
If you think it’s a rusty chain that’s worth bringing back from the dead – so be it! The first step will be flipping your bike upside down so that you can get a good grip on the chain.
Then, you just want to lift the chain off the drive mechanism, this might take a little force but after the first chain link is off the rest should follow suit pretty easily.
You’ve got the chain in your hand…
…what’s next? It depends on how severe the problem is.
For light rust, you can probably just scrub the chain down with a wire brush, steel wool, and some vinegar or lemon juice. Be careful to wash the chain in soapy water after scrubbing it if you decide to use baking soda or lemon juice, as they both can gunk the chain up after a while.
For more rusty chains, try soaking it in a plastic bucket with a bit of rust remover (like WD-40 or CLR) in it. You really just have to have the chain submerged, so it shouldn’t take more than a depth of about an inch or so of rust remover.
After it’s soaked for a while (the longer the better,) you can take it out and scrub it down with a wire brush or steel wool. Be sure you’re wearing gloves and goggles while you do this, as the scrubbing can send these corrosive chemicals flying all over the place. It’s probably best to be outside as well.
After getting the rust off, you can wipe it down thoroughly to get the excess rust remove of it.
Whether you’re using rust remover or a common household item, the next step is to put the chain back on the bike.
When you remove the rust, you’re exposing new metal to become rusted. If you don’t protect the metal at this point, the rust will come back, and do even more damage to your chain.
So, once the chain is back on the bike, take some bike oil and drip it onto the chain as you spin the pedals with your hands. You don’t need to soak the chain, as this can attract dirt, but you want to make sure that the links are not exposed directly to the air.
Voila! You’ve cleaned and protected your bike chain. If you want to learn more about cleaning your bike chain check out my in-depth guide here!
How to Remove Rust from Painted Bike Frames
The painted areas of your bike can be a bit more finicky than the chrome or stainless-steel ones. If you use an abrasive material like steel wool, it will likely scratch the pain.
This can be a problem if you’re trying to preserve decals or vintage paint jobs as well. In this case, your best option is using a light acid powder, which you can make yourself with baking soda and lemongrass or vinegar.
Yes, baking soda isn’t an acid, but it will give you the slightest amount of abrasion that you need to get that rust off the paint without damaging it.
For this job, you don’t want to use anything more abrasive than a common hand towel to gently rub the affected areas in circles. The rust should come off fairly easily, and you can then use the dry part of the towel to wipe the area clean.
You absolutely have to protect the area with oil afterward, or else the rust will return, and painted areas are not the most durable part of a bike. With repeated rust, they’re likely to chip or become unsightly.
Look, it’s not the ideal way to start a spring day, the first day above 70 degrees of the season, out in the backyard scraping rust off your bike, I know.
But at the end of the day, a quick fix-up at the beginning of the season, with household materials and rust removers, can keep your bike running for years to come and make sure that it looks its best when you first take it out.