If your bike has been sitting outside for a while, or if you live in a wet climate, chances are that at some point you’ll end up with a rusty bike chain. Rusty chain is bad for you. It causes friction, wears your other drivetrain components and makes your chain more vulnerable to breakage.
A rusty chain can be fixed easily. You can either clean the rust off the chain, or-if it’s really bad-replace the chain all together.
Should I Clean My Rusty Bike Chain Or Replace It?
Whether you should clean your chain or chuck in the trash, is dependent on how much rust we’re talking about. Is the chain covered or just a few rusty spots?
If the latter, it’s time for a new chain. A new chain is inexpensive and easy to replace. If you’re not comfortable doing your own work, take the bike into your local bike shop for some help.
When choosing a new chain, you’ll want to look for one that is made for your specific drivetrain. Do you have 7 rings on your rear cassette? 10 rings? Or more? If you have 7 gears on the cassette, for example, you’ll want to get a 7-speed chain.
Step 1: Clean Your Chain With a Degreaser
The first step is to simply clean your chain is you normally would. This might suffice if you only have minimal rust.
You’ll want to use a degreaser. We recommend Muc-Off Drivetrain Cleaner* or Pedro’s Pig Juice Cleaner*.
If the chain isn’t too rusty, you can leave it on the bike for this step (This is obviously the easiest option). If the chain needs a lot of work, however, you’ll want to remove the chain and actually let it soak in the degreaser.
To To do this, turn your bike upside-down and balance it on the handlebars and saddle. If you have one, place it on a workstand. Take photos of the chain to help you reassemble it. Be sure to pay attention where the chain runs through your rear derraileur.
Once your bike is stable and you have your photos, you’ll need to look for a masterlink. This is the link that you have on your chain that is unique from all others. It has a pin/slot connection. (See picture below).
Using this masterlink, slide the pin out of the slot in which it’s seated. You can then remove the chain.
You can also use a damp cloth to clean your chain if you prefer to leave it on the bike. You can spray the degreaser directly onto your chain. Let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe it clean.
You can also use the degreaser to clean the chain. Afterward, you’ll want to rinse it thoroughly with warm water.
Step 2: Scrub Using Steel Wool And Lime Juice
If you still have rust on your chain, it’s time for a little more work. The citric acid in lime juice helps to remove rust.
Use lime juice on a piece of steel wool to scrub off rust spots until they dissolve.
Step 3: Rinse And Dry Your Chain
Once your chain is rust-free, you’ll want to get off any remaining residue on the chain. Rinse the chain thoroughly with warm water and a small amount of dish soap.
Next, dry the chain using a towel or an old cloth. You will only encourage more rust if you leave your chain unattended.
Step 4: Lube Your Chain
The last step is to lube your chain! If you have taken your chain off your bike, please put it back on before proceeding to the next step.
Any chain lube will do, but if you’re looking for something new we really like Rock N Roll* or Tri-Flow*. While the bike is still on its side or on a workstand, apply the lube and rotate your pedals backwards to ensure the chain makes a complete rotation.
To clean up any excess grease, wipe the entire chain with a towel or cloth.
How To Avoid Rust In The Future
Now that your chain is rust-free, you want to try to keep it that way. Keep your chain as free as possible from moisture, salt, and dirt.
This can be done by wiping down your chain every time you ride, and then lubricating it after each ride.
It is also a good idea to keep your bike out of direct sunlight. You can store it in your garage or shed at home. Ask to have your bike brought into your cubicle or office when you commute to work. If you do need to leave it outside, make sure you’re frequently cleaning and lubing your chain.
A belt drive is a better option than a chain, especially if your area is prone to rust. Priority bikes* and the Spot Acme are two great options for bikes with belt drives. A belt drive means you don’t have to worry about maintaining a chain or rust.
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