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How To Clean a Rusty Bike Chain

Clean a Bike Chain

Your bike doesn’t have to be left outside for rust to start accumulating on your chain. Riders in wet or seaside climates tend to have a serious rust problem. After a long ride, the last thing you’re thinking about is wiping down your bike after. In reality, wiping down your chain may be one of the best follow-up tasks you could perform. If you don’t know how to clean a rusty bike chain, don’t panic.

You can usually fix a rusty chain easily. The following guide will tell you all you need to know about maintaining your bike chain and what to do if it’s too far gone.

How To Clean a Bike Chain

If you don’t have an extensive rust problem, cleaning the bike chain only takes a few steps. Your first order of business is to buy a degreaser. Unless your bike chain requires a lot of work, keep it connected to the bicycle and follow these steps:

  • Balance your bike upside down on its handlebars and saddle
  • Put the degreaser on a wet rag before you wipe down the chain
  • For another option, spray the degreaser on the chain and wait a little while
  • Wipe the chain afterward

If your chain requires a lot more work, keep the bike upside down, but follow these steps instead:

  • Snap a few pictures of the chain to reassemble later
  • Take note of where your chain threads through the derailleur
  • Find the master link on the chain. The master link has a pin and slot connection that the other links do not have
  • Slide the pin from the slot and remove the chain
  • Soak the chain in a bucket with a degreaser for at least 20 minutes
  • Rinse the chain with warm water and reassemble

Once you clean your chain, remember to rinse for any residue and dry the chain after. If you leave your chain wet, it may rust.

How To Remove Rust From a Bike Chain

Most bicyclists swear by WD-40 Multi-Use for a smooth ride. WD-40 protects against corrosion and rust. Not only does it displace moisture, but it can lubricate almost anything. It comes with a straw for hard-to-reach places. You can also use chain lube to keep your bike chain from rusting in the future.

To use WD-40, spray the product directly on the chain. After a 10 minute wait, take a wire brush and scrub the unwanted rust. Once clean, use a rag to wipe off any residue. You can repeat this process as many times as you need to.

Another way to remove rust from your bike uses lime juice and steel wool. The citric acid in lime juice strips the rust. To remove rust using lime juice, use the following instructions:

  • Wear latex gloves! Steel wool can tear up your hands, and so can lime juice.
  • Soak your steel wool with the juice.
  • Scrub the rusted areas of your chain.
  • As your wool becomes clogged with rust, throw it away and use a new piece
  • Scrub the chain for several minutes before wiping it with a clean rag
  • Repeat the process if you have more rust left
  • Use a basin with dish soap and water to clean all traces of lime juice and steel wool from the chain

If you do not lubricate your chain following rust removal, you will have rust again in the future.

When To Replace a Bike Chain

Your bicycle chain is made up of several smaller pieces, including the pin, inner plates, outer plates, bushing, and roller. The links in your chain join each other, alternating inner and outer plates. When you ride, you wear the chain down. This type of chain wear is known as chain stretch. This is because the spacing between pins or chain pitch grows.

If your chain wears out, you may be unable to shift efficiently. The chain becomes weaker and may eventually snap. To measure chain wear, you should use a chain checking tool. Your chain should measure 12 inches across 12 links. If you have anything beyond 12 1/16 inches, you need to replace the chain. Once you wear the chain beyond 12 1/8 inches, you need to replace the cassette too.

If your bike has severe rust, it may also be worn out. Sometimes, it costs less to replace the chain than to spend the time and effort to clean it. However, with a high-end chain and cassette, you should do your best to preserve the chain if the rust isn’t accompanied by serious wear and tear.

If you do have to replace the chain, you need one made for your drivetrain. Look at the rear cassette and count the rings. If you have seven gears, for example, you need a seven-speed chain.

When To Lube a Bike Chain

No one wants to clean their bike chain of rust regularly. To stay rust-free, you need to lubricate the chain as often as possible. Rust happens because of exposure to moisture, mud, and salt. If you want to keep your ride as smooth as possible, wipe down your chain after every ride. Once wiped down, re-lubricate it. This is especially important if it rained or you rode through the mud.

Try to keep your bike inside as often as possible. The best place for your bike is in the garage or bike shed. Even if you bike to work, try to find an inside area to keep it. When your bike stays outside, you have to lubricate and clean it more often.

To lube your chain, keep the bike balanced upside down. Apply the lube of your choice while rotating the pedals backward. The chain should do a full rotation before you’re finished. Use a rag to wipe away any excess. To make cycling an enjoyable hobby, you have to invest some time into bicycle maintenance. A rusted, worn-down chain not only makes the ride difficult but can damage other components. Knowing how to clean and care for your chain will increase its lifespan significantly. For answers to all of your cycling questions, contact us at BikeLVR.

BikeLVR as part of LVR Publishing LLC participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites.