How to Remove Rust from Bikes

Table of Contents

I know how easy it is to get back from a ride and park your bike up, thinking the hard work is done.

That’s fine in the summer, but what about when it gets colder and stays wet?

Since your bicycle is largely metal, there’s no telling where the rust will appear. Luckily, there are some quick steps on how to remove rust from bikes:

  1. Clear the bike of dirt and grime.
  2. Use a strong degreaser for most of the rust.
  3. Give your bicycle a baking soda and vinegar treatment.
  4. Use lime and steel wool on the rest.
  5. Rinse and repeat as needed.

But before we look into those steps in more detail, you need to get prepared first.

What You’ll Need

The ingredients list varies widely, but I recommend a high-quality degreaser and something acidic.

Acidic substances include:

  • Coca Cola.
  • Baking soda and vinegar.
  • Citrus juice.

Any one of these can work alone or paired with baking soda. But, they’re most effective as part of a multi-step process.

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How to Remove Rust From Bikes the Easy Way

Chain aside (I’ve covered that at the end), pick your substance from the above list.

I’ll be talking about baking soda, vinegar, lime juice and degreaser today.

But, you can skip the baking soda and use an alternative to lime juice if you wish.

With the substance, you’ll need:

  • Gloves for protection.
  • Several dry rags.
  • A hard-bristle brush.
  • Steel wool.
  • Bike wash (optional).

Step 1: Remove the Dirt

Before you remove the rust, I recommend giving the bicycle a thorough cleaning, but the method depends on the type of dirt.

Dry Dirt

Use a clean, dry cloth and give your bicycle a rub down.

Don’t do this on a floor you care about! Lay down towels or take it outside.

This will shake any old mud loose and get rid of dust. Do it a few times to ensure there’s no more loose dirt to muddy up the next stage.

Caked-On Dirt

Take a hard-bristled brush—but not a damaging one—and scrub down your bicycle.

Again, do this dry. It’ll get rid of tougher patches and invisible grime.

If you like, you can wet the brush and go over things a second time. Or, you can go to the next step.

Step 2: Bike Wash

Bike wash will thoroughly clean your bicycle. It won’t remove rust, but it’ll make the frame cleaner than a dinner plate.

I recommend this Chemical Guys wash. It comes in large quantities, so you can keep it for regular use.

Step 3: Degreasing

Bike wash will remove dirt but not rust or oil.

If there are any unpleasant oils on your bicycle, this step will tackle them.

The degreaser will also help you eradicate most of the rust. In fact, if there’s only a little rust, this may finish the job!

For this, use a degreaser spray or something stronger. I prefer the latter, but it depends on your needs.

For liquid degreaser, I recommend Oil Eater. It comes in a gallon, so you can use it again later.

Part 1: Degrease

If you’re using a spray, this is easy:

  1. Coat the bicycle, focusing mostly on the rusty areas.
  2. Follow up by scrubbing it down.

But for liquid:

  1. Pour some liquid into a clean, dry container—preferably new, to avoid traces of other chemicals.
  2. Soak a cloth in the degreaser for a solid five or 10 minutes.
  3. Wring out the cloth, and get scrubbing.

When you’re done, you should see a considerable difference. Your bicycle is now well and truly clean and predominantly rust-free.

Part 2: Rinse

There’s likely still some degreaser left behind, so spray the bicycle down with a hose.

But, there’s more work to do yet to ensure a substance-free bike.

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Step 4: Baking Soda and Vinegar (Optional)

This step is optional, but I do this, and I know many others do.

I find this helps loosen the remaining rust. This mixture is an excellent ingredient in general cleaning, too.

Just one warning: Please, please, do not do this inside. Baking soda and vinegar are impossible to clean off the floor!

  1. Make a paste out of baking soda and vinegar. It’s going to take a lot of both, and it’ll be messy.
  2. Once you have your paste, spread it over the entire bicycle frame. Concentrate it in areas where rust remains.
  3. Leave the bicycle for 24 hours, and don’t worry if some paste flakes off. It happens!
  4. Once the day is up, rinse or scrub the stuff off. I scrub off the rustiest areas and rinse everywhere else.

Step 5: Lime Juice or Alternatives

Here’s where you grab your limes, turpentine, cola, or whatever you’re using. It’s time to target your enemy!

  1. Soak the steel wool in your substance beforehand, but not for too long! Now, you can get scrubbing.
  2. I recommend scrubbing over the rusty areas with a large steel wool pad first. Increase the pressure with each stroke over the rust. This should get much of it off.
  3. Now, when the itty-bitty-rusty bits are left, use a portion of the wool and the tips of your fingers. It’s like you’re almost scratching the rust off, little by little.
  4. If this doesn’t get everything off, it’s time to ask an expert for help.

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

You’ll most likely be done by now. So, hose your bicycle down and wipe the frame with a soapy, warm cloth. It’ll get any remaining rust and dirt off.

But, if there’s still rust left behind, you can repeat step five. Most times, it’ll be a patch you missed or a few stubborn flakes.

If the issue persists, as I said … go running to an expert. You don’t want to have to replace your bicycle over some rust!

An expert will have some professional grinding tools they can use to loosen the rust.

Optional Step: Tackling the Chain

A rusty chain is another beast. You can ride with a rusty frame, but with a chain, it’s impossible.

I have a full guide on how to remove rust from a bike chain.

If you’re in a hurry, here’s a recap:

  1. Soak the chain in degreaser.
  2. Scrub and rinse away the obvious rust.
  3. Use lime juice and steel wool to tackle what’s left.
  4. Rinse well with soap and water.
  5. Put the chain back on the bicycle.
  6. Lubricate the chain generously.

Part 7: Lubricate

If you treated your chain separately, reattach and lubricate it well—like it’s a brand new replacement chain.

I also recommend lubricating any bolts or joints. Neglected, they can become stiff and rusty. It took multiple people to loosen a bolt on a bicycle of mine once. One of them can lift 300 pounds, showing just how tough the bolts can be.

Ever since, I’ve paid the joinings as much attention as the chain. I never want to experience those rusting again.

A dab of lubricant should keep them in check. I recommend Finish Line, as the brand makes dry and wet lubricant.

How to Prevent Bicycle Rust

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The best way to prevent bike rust is to monitor its storage conditions. Keep it away from moist air, and cover it with a waterproof sheet if possible. Under the sheet, use an anti-rusting spray.

I recommend Gold Eagle Rust Stopper. Customers find it effective, and it’s easy to use.

Here are my storage tips for your steed:

Tip 1: Store Smartly

I recommend keeping your bicycle in the garage, never the shed.

A wooden shed is easily bypassed by moisture—mine can attest! And, steel sheds themselves often rust, and harsh winds can rattle the steel sheets apart if you’re not careful.

Your garage is typically an extension of your home, so it’s likely much safer.

Tip 2: Hang It Up

If your bike’s on the floor, there’s more chance of spilling liquid on it from above. Leaving the bicycle wet and unattended can lead to rust.

Instead, it’s safe from this issue if you suspend your bicycle on a (stone or metal) wall or from the ceiling.

Tip 3: Use a Tarp

Wrap the entire steed in tarp, and secure it at the top.

I use my bicycle lock to secure the tarp and wrap my chain lock around as tightly as it can go, then padlock it.

To be extra careful, I tuck some towels around the top, too. It covers the chain in case of moist air. I also replace the towels weekly.

Tip 4: Visit the Bicycle

Always treat your bicycle as if it’s in use!

Even when I’m not cycling (which is rare), I wash my bicycle down once a week and lube the chain once a month. I re-apply the anti-rust spray after each wash, too.

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Summary

Rust is a tough cookie to snap, but it’s doable.

With a great degreaser, lime juice and maybe baking soda and vinegar, your bicycle should be rust-free in no time.

It’s a process with many parts and steps to each part—and if all else fails, the experts are waiting.

Hopefully, next time, you can store it and tend to it to prevent the rusty mishap from reoccurring. Good luck—and always keep derusting supplies on hand for emergencies.

 

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