how to clean rusty bike chain

How to Clean a Rusty Bike Chain: Useful Tips and Tricks

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Cleaning a bike chain is not always the easiest thing to do. Most people don’t have the equipment or know-how to properly take care of it, which leads to rust building up on the chain.

If you want to keep your new chain to last as long as possible, it’s important that you learn how to clean a rusty bike chain. This blog post will give you some useful tips and tricks for keeping your bike’s chain rust-free to ensure a smooth ride!

How to Clean a Rusty Bike Chain: Step-by-Step Guide

To keep your drivetrain in optimal condition, follow these instructions on how to fix a rusty bicycle chain.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

First, prepare your materials. To clean rust off your bike chain, you will need the following:

  • Chain cleaner, degreaser, or lime juice to break down grease and heavy grime from your drivetrain (e.g., commercial cleaner or dishwashing liquid)
  • Rubber gloves and goggles to keep you safe from any chemicals in the product
  • An old plastic milk jug, bucket, or metal bucket to hold your cleaning solution when you soak the whole chain
  • Bike chain lube like WD 40
  • An old toothbrush or cleaning pad to scrub and remove rust off the bike chain
  • Clean cloth, paper towel, or rag to wipe off excess lube and water

Step 2: Remove the Bike Chain

Next, turn your bike upside down on a bike rack and remove the rusty chain. This step is necessary if you want to get rid of all the surface rust on the drivetrain because it will be hard to reach places otherwise.

Step 3: Soak the Chain in the Degreaser

Wear latex gloves and fill the old plastic milk jug or bucket with some degreaser. Soak the entire chain in your degreaser solution for about 15 minutes to help remove stubborn grease and dirt and loosen chain rust. Mix a little dish soap mixed with warm water.

Pro Tip: You can soak the chain for a few minutes more to loosen stubborn rust. Also, never use hot water with a degrease as it will only worsen the problem.

Step 4: Scrub Off the Rust

Inspect the chain links and, using an old toothbrush, scrub off the surface rust that has built up on the chain links over time. Focus on severely rusted areas and use a cleaning pad to scrub off any tough rust.

Avoid vigorous scrubbing and using something too abrasive that will damage the drivetrain. Continue scrubbing until there is no more rust left.

Step 5: Rinse Off With Water

After scrubbing off all the chain rust, rinse the chain with water. You don’t want any chemicals or oils left behind on your bike’s components because that will lead to rusting again in no time at all!

Step 6: Dry the Chain Completely

Shake as much of the excess liquid out as you can from the whole chain, and then leave it to air dry for several hours. Avoid putting it under direct sunlight or near a heat source because that could cause the chain’s parts to warp!

Step 7: Lubricate

Once your drivetrain is completely dry, you’ll need to lubricate it, so rust doesn’t form again even after cleaning. There are several different types of lube for bikes. The important thing about a bike lubricant is that it has the right viscosity to keep liquid from pooling on parts of your bike’s drivetrain, which will lead to rust!

Apply the lubricant directly to the chain, and wipe off any excess with a clean rag or a paper towel.

Step 8: Put Everything Back

Finally, put your bike’s drivetrain back together, and you’re all set! Be sure to clean the chain at least once per month if you’re riding it frequently.

If you follow these steps, your bike’s components will be rust-free and running smoothly in no time at all.

How to Get Rid of Rust on a Bike Chain: Dos and Dont’s

When it comes to cleaning a rusty bike chain, there are some dos and don’ts that an avid biker should consider. And they are as follows:


  • Be careful. Always wear gloves and safety goggles to protect your eyes and skin from chemicals. It’s also a good idea to put on an old shirt or other clothing because some degreasers can stain certain fabrics!
  • Use rubber brushes, toothbrushes, and other nonabrasive tools for cleaning the drivetrain.
  • Remove the chain from the bike before cleaning it with a degreaser. Otherwise, you won’t be able to access all of its nooks and crannies, like the master link, which is crucial for getting rid of rust effectively.
  • Make sure there is no more rust left on the drivetrain.


  • Be careful not to use any chemicals with harsh ingredients like bleach, gasoline, and caustic drain cleaners when cleaning your bikes because they’ll corrode the metal parts.
  • Don’t use any kind of abrasive tools when cleaning the drivetrain because this could lead to scratches or other damage. If you have to use steel wool, choose an extra-fine option to avoid damaging the drivetrain.
  • Don’t use gasoline, kerosene, paint thinner, acetone, lacquer thinner, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene, carbon tetrachloride for degreasing. These chemicals are extremely dangerous and could lead to severe bodily harm.
  • Don’t put your bike chain in the dishwasher because this will cause rust build-up!
  • Don’t put your bike chain back until it’s completely dry and has been lubricated with a degreaser first! Otherwise, rust will form again on the chain very quickly.

Important Things to Consider When Cleaning Your Bike’s Drivetrain

The drivetrain of a bicycle is the set of components that propels it forward. These parts are usually made from metal which can rust over time, causing the chain to become stuck and even snap.

In order to avoid this from happening, there are a few things that you should keep in mind when cleaning your bike’s drivetrain:

  • Pay attention to hard-to-reach, often exposed to air pollutants like salt, oil, and dirt. As this build-up continues without proper cleaning, it can make your drivetrain components rusty.
  • Clean the drivetrain regularly with a degreaser or rust removal spray in order to get rid of heavy grime that may have accumulated over time. However, be very gentle when doing this process as too much force could cause damage and will need professional repairs.
  • To avoid further issues with rust build-up on your bikes, wipe down the chain and components after every ride in order to keep the surface clean.

Why You Need to Clean Your Bike Chain Regularly

You might think that your bike chain does not need regular cleaning. After all, it’s hidden away in the bottom of your bike where you don’t see it often. However, this is an incredibly bad idea because if left to its own devices, rust will build up and cause damage every time you use the bicycle.

If left too long with dirt and rust on there, you could end up buying a new chain when really all you need to do is give it some TLC.

Here are some tips and tricks to help make the cleaning process easier:

  • Use the Right Cleaning Product: You need a strong bike chain cleaner if you want to get rid of all the grime on there (and rust), so the best thing to use is a degreaser. If you don’t have any of this available at home, then you can use dish soap or any household cleaning product with citric acid.
  • Clean Thoroughly: Scrub and rub thoroughly to remove all of the rust. Use a circular motion and pay particular attention to any areas where there might be a build-up. The bike chain cleaner will take around a few minutes or so to really penetrate deep into the links before you can rinse them off with cold water (hot water will only set the grime in there).
  • Dry It Off: You can use an old rag or some kitchen towel for drying. Make sure that you get right into all of those nooks and crannies because keeping a chain wet for long can lead to rusting.
  • Lube It Up: Add some lubricant, such as WD40 or a dedicated bike chain lube you can readily buy at a local bike shop. It will help maintain the drivetrain for a smoother ride. Don’t forget to wipe off any excess lube.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is WD 40 Degreaser a Good Rust Remover for Bike Chains?

WD-40 is designed for degreasing and will remove rust from your bike without leaving any residue behind. It can work to remove surface rust and grease, but it cannot penetrate the metal and get into all parts of your chain.

For really bad cases of rusty chains, you should use an actual rust-removing solution like Evapo-Rust. You can also use lime juice to remove rust from your bike chain. Lime juice is effective for removing rust and grease. However, it may take a few applications of the citrus liquid to remove rust and fully dissolve all of the contaminants from the rusty bike parts.

How Much Rust Builds Up On a Bike Chain in a Year? 

About 0.36 pounds of surface rust per year will accumulate on a bike chain if it is not cleaned or lubricated. This builds up over the course of 20,000 miles that are ridden in one year. How much rust accumulates also depends on how often you ride in wet conditions.

The best way to rust from building up is to take proper care and maintenance of your bike chain when they are not in use.

How Can I Get Rid Of Rust From My Bike Chain Without Wearing Out The Drivetrain?

Removing excess rust from your bike chain will not wear down the components over time. The surface rust that is on the links and pins is usually just a thin layer of corrosion. You can quickly remove rust from your bike chain with lime juice or WD-40.

How Do I Prevent Surface Rust From Forming on My Drivetrain?

To keep your bike chain and the other drivetrain components like the master link rust-free, wipe the surface with an old rag after each ride. Make sure to clean and lubricate all the components frequently when in storage, such as once every three months (or more often if exposed to wet conditions). 

You can use WD 40 or any bike chain oil to remove rust on your bike chain.

How Often Should You Clean Your Bike Chain?

Now that you know how to clean rusty bike chains, you might wonder how often you should do this. Well, it really depends if your drivetrain is frequently exposed to wet conditions and whether or not there’s a lot of rust build-up going on.

If in doubt, then we’d recommend giving the bike chain a clean every couple of months just to keep things running smoothly. Cleaning a bike chain doesn’t have to be hard work and will only take you around half an hour of your time.

Can I Use Steel Wool to Remove Rust From a Bike’s Chain?

Steel wool is an effective tool for removing corrosion from bike parts with a lot of rust. However, it would help if you only used 0000-grade steel wool to avoid wearing down the drivetrain components and making any scratches or dents in your bike’s chain.

Keep It Clean and Rust-Free!

While a bike chain covered in rust can be a pain to clean, getting it back to its optimal condition is doable with the proper techniques. And now that you know how to clean a rusty bike chain, you can keep your entire drivetrain in tip-top shape for years to come.

If you found this article helpful or have any other questions on chain maintenance and upkeep, please let us know in the comments below. We will try our best to answer everyone as soon as possible!

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