It’s not unusual for bikes to develop a rust problem.
You might be restoring an old bike, or even working on a bike that is fairly modern and come across some rust, so it’s essential to know how to remove rust from a bike.
It’s a natural process that happens to metal when it is not properly protected. We often see bikes as little as a few years old with rust beginning to appear already.
At BikeTips, we’re often asked about rust and what you can do to prevent it and remove it. In this article, we’ll be covering:
- What Types Of Bikes Are Vulnerable To Rust?
- What Actually Is Rust – And Why Should I Avoid It?
- How To Remove Rust From A Bike In 5 Steps
- How To Prevent Rust From Returning
- Robbie’s Video Walk-Through: How To Remove Rust From A Bike
Let’s dive in!
What Types Of Bikes Are Vulnerable To Rust?
The most common bike frame materials you’ll come across are steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and (less commonly) titanium.
Aluminum doesn’t generally rust but is prone to corrosion if not looked after properly.
Titanium you won’t need to worry about. It can rust, but it will take 100+ years of submersion in seawater to do so.
Carbon fiber doesn’t rust as it is not a metal.
Steel, however, is very prone to rusting. This is why you will see many older classic bikes getting rusty, as these are generally all made of steel.
What Actually Is Rust – And Why Should I Avoid It?
Rust is formed when iron reacts with oxygen and water. It is a brown flaky substance. It’s very common on the surface of metals that are left unprotected.
If you keep your bike inside, then you have less chance of seeing it get rusty. If you leave it outside, then you can expect it’s only a matter of time before you might see some.
In mild-to-moderate cases of rust on a bike, the rust is likely only superficial, meaning you can clean it off and the bike will still be perfectly safe to ride.
However, in severe cases, rust can compromise the structural integrity of the frame, leaving it unsafe to ride. Ultimately, rust is what’s left behind as the metal corrodes – so significant rust means a substantial amount of frame material has been lost.
How To Remove Rust From A Bike In 5 Steps
This is our tried and tested step-by-step guide on rust removal.
In this article, we’ll be working on a 1980s Murray Sebring, which has definitely seen better days. Let’s get it back to its former glory!
Step #1. Preparation
Before we start, find a safe place to work. Outdoor is probably better than indoor as it could get a little messy. Here’s what you’re going to need:
- Tin Foil
- Small Tub
- Rust Remover
- Cleaning Rags
- Water And A Sponge
- Bike Stand (Optional)
Here we’ve mentioned rust remover, and you’re probably wondering what that is. Many things can do the job. Here’s what we personally use when it comes to rust removers;
- White Vinegar
- WD40 (take great care not to get it anywhere near your brakes though!)
- Coca Cola
- Baking Soda
- Lemon And Salt
We chose to use white vinegar as it is very cheap to buy, something people typically keep around the house, and also a lot less aggressive than some purpose-built rust removers.
Step #2. Clean the Bike
It’s time to wash the bike down and get any dirt and grime off.
We do this so that we can see all the rust spots properly and so we don’t scratch the frame with dirt. Get your gloves on and give it a good scrub down, and if you want to use bike shampoo for a better clean, don’t be shy.
Once clean, let it dry, or use a cleaning rag to speed up the process. Once you’ve finished, it’s worth spending some time identifying the rusty parts of the bike you want to work on.
Step #3. Scrub the Main Rust
It’s time to get the small tub and pour some of your white vinegar in.
Then, pop that on the side and get some tin foil. Rip a square off about 10 cm by 10 cm. Give it a single fold ensuring the shiny side is on the outside, then lightly scrunch it up.
Dip it into the rust remover (vinegar) and then start scrubbing the part of the bike that you want to clean up. It will take some elbow grease and some time, but after around 20 seconds, you should see improvement.
We recommend starting on the larger patches of rust first.
Step #4. Scrub the smaller pieces
Now for the smaller pieces.
These are those hard to get to bolts and annoying parts that are more complex than a flat surface. If you don’t want to remove them from the bike, we recommend spreading a generous amount of rust remover and letting it soak in.
However, the better way to do it is to remove any rusty components and place them in the tub filled with your rust remover. This will give you the best possible chance of removing all of the rust.
After 5-10 minutes, return and start scrubbing the parts with a toothbrush, and you should see some of the rust come off pretty easily.
Once complete, put the bolts back in at the correct torque settings. Doing it this way will take time, but it should make a noticeable difference.
Step #5. Clean the Bike Again
Finally, give your bike a good clean down again. Unless you enjoy the smell of white vinegar, rinse the bike and spend a good bit of time in the areas where you’ve worked.
Once it’s all clean, dry it with an old towel, clean and oil your chain, and then get your cycling gear ready to go out for a bike ride!
How To Prevent Rust From Returning
By now, your bike should look pretty rust-free – so you’ll want to ensure it stays that way!
Here are our top tips to keep your bike rust-free.
#1. Store your bike properly
Rust is made when water and oxygen mix with unprotected iron. We highly recommend storing your bike indoors, or if you have to leave it outdoors, use a waterproof bike cover to protect it.
#2. Keep it dry
When you get in from a wet ride and leave your bike covered in water, it will not do you any favors.
That’s why you see a lot of bikes with rust on the chain as quickly as a few days since the bike was last used.
We recommend keeping a towel in your garage or where you keep your bike to dry it down if you have been riding in poor conditions. Although it might seem like a hassle, it saves your bike in the long run.
#3. Keep your bike clean
A clean bike is a happy bike.
When out on the road, you will pick up mud, salt, and all kinds of grime. Giving your bike regular cleans will go a long way to stopping that rust from settling in.
We recommend a quick washdown after every ride, and a deep clean every few weeks. Investing in good-quality cleaning products will also make the cleaning more effective.
#4. Avoid Scratches
When certain parts of your bike frame might rust but others don’t, it’s usually because they’ve lost their protection – the paint. As soon as your bike gets scratched and loses its paint, it is vulnerable to rust.
If you get a scratch on your bike, we recommend covering it with some paint or even electrical tape to ensure it doesn’t start rusting. This will mainly be on steel bikes, but even aluminum bikes can corrode.
Robbie’s Video Maintenance Guide: How To Remove Rust From A Bike
Check out the BikeTips YouTube Channel here for walk-through bike maintenance guides and more!