How To Remove Rust From Bike Chain

With the warmer approaching for many of us, it’s time to dig out the bikes. In some cases that’s going to mean a rusty chain – which isn’t good!

Additional friction, more wear on components, and leaving the chain more likely to break. Overall, just not nice. 

So let’s look at how to remove rust from a bike chain.

I have good news in that it’s actually easy to fix and I’m going to show you how! 👍

How To Remove Rust From A Bike Chain

The chain links or teeth are designed to move smoothly with each revolution of the rear wheel. However, over time, these parts become worn down and rusty. This causes friction and makes riding uncomfortable.

Removing rust from your bike chain is much easier than you might first think. Here are the steps to get your chain rust-free and happy!

Step One: Degrease The Bike Chain

To get started you’re going to need to get your chain clean and do this in the same way that you would normally. If the amount of rust isn’t huge, this might actually be the only step you need to take to remove the rust.

Sometimes I use a degreaser too. 

At this point, I wouldn’t be looking at removing the chain from the bike. What you’re doing doesn’t require you to. However, if your chain is going to need more work, then sometimes it’s easier to remove the chain and actually soak it in some degreaser.

Removing The Bike Chain 

If you want/need to remove your chain you should start by flipping your bike upside and balancing it on the saddle/handlebars. If you have a work stand, then obviously use that!

I recommend that you take photos of the chain in place so you’ll know how to put everything back together. Focus especially on where the chain threads through your rear derailleur. 

Now it’s time to look for the masterlink in the chain. The masterlink is a single link that looks different from the other links in the chain. There is a pin connection. When you’ve located the masterlink you need to side the pin out of it and this will release the chain so you can remove it. 

Degreasing A Bike Chain

If you leave the chain on your bike then apply the degreaser to a cloth or towel that is slightly damp and wipe the chain with it.

There is also the option to spray the degreaser directly onto the chain. Leave it for a little while and then wipe it off. 

However, if you opted to remove your bicycle chain then pop the chain in a bucket with a chain degreaser for around 20 minutes. Then give it a good rinse with warm water.

Step 2: Scrub The Bike Chain

If you’ve completed step one but you can still see there is rust on the bike chain then more work is required! 

I recommend using lime juice as it has citric acid and that is good for eating rust. It’s best to use wire wool or a steel scourer with lime juice to scrub your chain as this will help the rust dissolve.

Step 3: Rinse & Dry

Your chain should be looking rust-free by now so it’s time to get the remaining residue off too. For this, all you need is water, warm is best and some washing up soap to give it a thorough rinse.

When you’re happy that your chain is thoroughly rinsed, use a cloth or towel to give it a dry. It’s important to dry your chain as leaving it damp is just asking for more rust.

Related article – How To Tighten A Bike Chain

Step 4: Lubricate The Chain

Lubricating your bike chain is the final step. However, if you had taken off your chain, then put it back on your bike before applying lube.

Keep your bike upside or in the work stand while you do this. As you’re rotating your pedals, start to apply the lubricant. You want your chain to do a full rotation while applying the lubricant.

Once you’re satisfied that all of your chain has enough lube, wipe any excess off with a cloth or towel.

Should I Clean My Rusty Bike Chain Or Replace It?

Sometimes you don’t need to replace your chain but sometimes you do and it all comes down to the amount of rust there actually is. Take a look at your chain – is there a bit of rust or is it totally covered?

If your bike chain is covered in rust, then, to be honest, you’re best off getting a new chain. New chains aren’t a huge expense and they are straightforward to install.

Related article – Common Reasons Behind Why Your Bike Chain Is Slipping

After a bit of guidance?

If you are changing your chain then you need to ensure you buy the correct one. By that I mean it has to design to work with your drivetrain. So if your rear cassette has 11 gears, you’re going to need to get an 11-speed chain.

Related article – Road Bike Groupsets: A Beginner’s Guide

How To Prevent Your Bike Chain From Getting Rusty?

So the hard work is done and if you want to keep your chain rust-free then there are steps you can take to make this happen! 

Where does rust come from?

It’s mainly moisture, mud, and salt so it’s good to keep your chain as free from any of this as best you can. A simple method for this is wiping down your chain when you finish a ride and re-apply lube. This is especially important if your ride involved you going through any rain or mud.

I would recommend that you keep your bike indoors as best you can. If you can’t, you can always look into storage solutions for the outdoors, here is a good starting point. 

Remember we’re trying to avoid moisture so if you commute to work, ideally you want to bring it indoors at the office too. 

Obviously, that isn’t always possible as some workplaces aren’t that cycle-friendly so if you do have to leave your bike outside then just be sure to clean and re-lube a little more frequently.

If you’re just really not up for dealing with a rusty chain and everything that involves then don’t! Get yourself a bike that has a belt-drive, so you don’t have a chain at all. A belt drive totally removes any maintenance required when you have a traditional chain so it can be a good option, particularly for those who live near the sea or in a rainy climate.

Related article – Does Cycling To Work Get Easier?

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Vinegar Remove Rust On Bike Chain?

Vinegar is an effective tool for removing rust on a bike chain because it has a strong acidic property so it’s able to break down the rust. You can spray vinegar onto your chain and use a brush to work it into the chain.

If vinegar alone isn’t removing the rust, then baking soda can help. It reacts with the vinegar and becomes stronger. 

Word of caution here, it does now have the potential to become too strong and damage your bike so do this slowly and carefully.

Whatever you do, make sure you rinse and dry your bike chain thoroughly after using vinegar otherwise it will corrode parts of your bike.

Related article – Best Bicycle Covers For Storage

Can A Rusty Bike Chain Be Saved?

It does depend on how much rust there is on a chain and how worn it is anyway. If your bike chain is completely covered in rust, then it may not be salvageable. 

Although there are plenty of instances where will a bit of work, time, and some product, you can get your clean sufficiently clean again.

For more tips on maintaining your bike, check out our guide How To Maintain Your Bike – Essential Maintenance Tips.

Final Thoughts

Removing rust from a bike chain is something you need to do when you notice it. What may seem like a daunting job is actually quite a simple job when you get started and can save you some money.

Remember to rinse and dry your chain thoroughly after cleaning it otherwise, you might find that the rust will come back. 

How many miles do you get out of your chain?

Related article – How To Clean Bike Brake Pads

Hi, I'm Harry, the owner of this site! A 30-something MAMIL - a middle-aged man in lycra. An avid cyclist who is looking to maintain a baseline level of fitness to be able to enjoy the great outdoors on weekend rides with his mates!

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