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How to Remove Rust From a Bike Chain?

bike chain rust

Cycling is a huge amount of fun, but if you sign up to be a cyclist, you’ll need to learn some basic bike maintenance to keep your bike working in tip-top condition. We get asked many bike-related questions by our readers and love answering them for you. We are often questioned, “How do you remove rust from a bike chain?”

Rust is a really common problem on bikes and can cause havoc on your chain. Not only can it be dangerous, but it is going to cause you a variety of other problems. In this article, we’re going to tell you why you definitely don’t want a rusty chain and, if yours is rusty, how you can remove it before it does too much damage.

What is Rust?

rusty bike chains

Rust is an iron oxide. It is created when a chemical reaction forms when iron and oxygen are in the presence of water or air moisture. It’s reddish brown and very easy to spot as it doesn’t look good. If rust is caught quickly, you can fix the problem and get most of it off. If it is left too long, it can destroy metals.

Why Don’t You Want a Rusty Chain?

There are a huge amount of reasons why you don’t want a rusty chain, and it can cause havoc on your bike. Here are our favorite reasons why rusty chains are awful.

It’s Dangerous

The first thing to mention is they are dangerous. If you let a chain get to a point where it is very rusty, then it is prone to breaking. When a chain on a bike breaks, it snaps, and all the tension and resistance just drops out of the pedals. When this happens, there’s a strong possibility that you’re going to fall off.

It Doesn’t Work Well

A rusty chain doesn’t work as well as it should. Chains are required to have a lot of movement. When they are rusty, they don’t have this movement, and the friction causes the chain to go stiff and heavily affects how the bike works.

It Wears Other Components

A rusty chain not only doesn’t work well, but it wears down other components, such as your chain and cassette very quickly. If you have a clean rust free chain, then it’s going to prolong the life of your other components.

It Looks Terrible

No cyclist has ever been proud to sport a rusty chain because they look awful. If you went to your local cycle meet or club run with a rusty chain, you’re going to be turning heads for all the wrong reasons.

When is a Bike Chain Too Rusty?

So before we go through our methods of how to get your chain rust free, you first need to ask yourself the question, “Is it too rusty and beyond repair?”. If your chain has surface rust but still moves freely, then it’s well worth repairing. You might want to consider a new chain if it has lost flexibility because it is so rusty.

How to Remove Rust From a Bike Chain

In this article, we’re not just going to give you one way to remove rust from a bike chain but two. Every method in this guide will be using household goods and some basic bike tools, and it is very easy to do. Before we start, here’s what you need.

  • Gloves
  • Dirty Cloth
  • Chain Breaker
  • Degreaser
  • Coke / Lemon or Lime Juice
  • Small Pot or bucket
  • Wire Brush
  • Oil or Lube

Step One: Preparation

You’re first going to want to find a nice place to work. We recommend somewhere safe where you are able to make some mess. Outdoor would be better than indoors, and if you have water close, that could help too.

The first thing you are going to need to do is to get your gloves on ready to take the chain off. You can do this by using a chain breaker tool and unclipping the master link. You may also remove the bike chain without a tool.

Once removed, put this link in a safe place and let the chain fall out the derailleurs remembering which way it went through.

With the chain off, you need to get some degreaser on it and remove any oil or lube that might have found its way onto the chain. We recommend using a strong degreaser and letting it soak in before using a dirty cloth to remove any grime.

Step Two: Clean the chain

Method One

Lemon and Lime

rusty chain and a bottle of soda on the floor

Now you have the chain off, and you can see the rust close up. You are going to soak your chain in a bucket and lightly soak it with either lemon or lime juice. After a few minutes of it sitting there, you are going to want to get the wire brush and soak that lightly too.

The acidic nature of either lemon or lime has an amazing ability to remove rust. So now it is time to start scrubbing. Depending on how bad the rust is, it might come straight off, or you could really have to dig in for a few minutes.

You’re going to need to keep scrubbing until it is all gone. It will take a good amount of elbow grease, but you should see the rust removing itself and your chain getting a new lease of life. After you have finished, wash the chain with clean water and let it dry. 

Method Two

Leave it in coke

If you want to get rid of rust easily and have a bit more time on your hands, then you can use the mighty power of coca cola. You are going to need to get your bucket, drop the chain in it and then fill the bucket up until it is submerged in coke. Now you are going to need to leave it for about a day.

After about a day, you’re going to want to dispose of the coke, and then you will have a nice clean chain left. Wash it off with water to ensure no coke is left on it, and the chain should look much cleaner than before. If there’s still a bit of rust, don’t be scared to use the scrubbing pad to clean it further.

Looking for more ways to clean? Here are more steps on how to clean and lube your bike chain.

Step Three: Attach and Oil

removing rust from a bike chain by putting an oil solution
Image by Alextredz via

Now, you’re going to need to attach the chain back onto the bike, ensuring you follow the correct chain line around the derailleur. Locate the master link you had earlier and use the chain breaker to connect it all back together. Here’s how to tighten a bike chain properly.

Once back together, you need to ensure that it works properly, and then you are going to want to grab your oil and start applying it to the chain. Once applied, use the cloth to clean any excess oil off, and you are done.

How is Rust Prevented?

Rust is easily prevented, and all you need to do is stop the chemical reaction between the iron and oxygen. This is really easily done by literally just adding to your chain and keeping it out of the way of moisture and wet conditions.

When it comes to bike chains, the easiest way to do this is to use oil or some form of lubrication. We recommend either a dry lube for summer dry riding and a wet lube if you’re planning on riding in poor or wet conditions.


Cleaning rust off a chain is not a challenging job, but it’s one you can easily avoid doing if you look after your chain properly. We highly recommend both these methods to remove surface rust but do advise on a new chain if the flexibility has gone. Thanks for taking the time to read our article.

Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri is a cyclist living in Norfolk in the UK. From breaking World Records to competing in some of the hardest Bikepacking races in the world he is not shy of riding the miles. He has been lucky enough to work at some amazing shops and with some big cycling brands. Alongside this he even had input in designing bikes and has also been a tester for unreleased products. He absolutely loves cycling and believes everyone should have a bike.