Getting the Rust Off a Bicycle
Rust. Everyone has experienced it, nobody likes it.
Unfortunately, when an oxidizing metal is exposed to water and air, rust happens. Salt makes it worse.
If you're a cyclist who spends any amount of time outdoors, you're bound to run into rust at some point. On your handlebars, on your chain, even on your components.
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to remove that bicycle rust quickly and effectively. It won't cost you very much, and you can tackle this project at home.
1) Aluminum Foil: A cheap way to scrub rust off a bike
You probably didn't know this, but crumpled up aluminum foil (or aluminium to you Brits) will remove rust from chrome parts and make it all shiny again.
Something about the abrasiveness of the foil strips off the delicate rust without overly damaging the harder metal underneath.
Since aluminum is a softer metal than steel, it typically can't scratch or damage chrome.
Also, it's cheap to buy. You probably have some in your kitchen drawer right now.
Tip: I recommend wearing gloves while you do this. The foil tends to stain your fingers, and it can be rough on your skin.
2) Extra Fine Steel Wool
Steel wool is wonderful stuff for removing rust from all your chrome parts and components. It's cheap to purchase too, available at your local hardware store.
Just rip off a little piece of the wool and scrub away gently. It should lift off rust and oxidization.
It'll even shine up your chrome!
Tip: Like aluminum foil, wear gloves. It's hard on hands.
Also, several bicycle blogs recommend that you use extra fine steel wool1 on bicycle components. If it's too rough it'll damage your bike and it won't shine up the chrome. It might even scratch.
You should spot test and make sure the wool does a satisfactory job before really diving in.
3) Baking Soda and Water
A bit of baking soda and water, mixed 50/50, will turn into a paste. You can use that to gently scrub away rust without damaging the metal2.
Just like a toothpaste, this paste has just the right amount of grit to remove those stubborn particles. It's also fabulously inexpensive.
Baking soda is a popular, all-natural cleaning agent and you might also find it useful around the house. We like to use it on stubborn bathtub grime!
Tip: This is a good method to use in combination with aluminum foil or steel wool, as it'll double the effectiveness of both. Again, I recommend spot testing to ensure its effectiveness.
Bonus Tip: Use Oil
If you apply a bit of light oil in the process, or following rust removal via any of these three methods, it'll serve to protect your chrome from further rusting.
Unfortunately, once rust has begun it'll become a routine process to remove it again. Oil helps slow down the returning oxidization.
Important: Don't use oil on your brakes and don't let it get onto your tires. It'll severely impact your ability to stop!
When is a Bike Too Far Gone?
Sometimes, it's just not worth bothering to remove the rust.
If your bike looks like the one in that first photograph, save yourself some time and energy and don't bother. It's too rusty.
Pitting is the Pits
How can you tell whether it's worth tackling? Sometimes it's trial and error. However, once the metal is pitted it's pretty hard to effectively remove all the rust. The more pitting there is, the more diminished your returns will be.
You're not out of options, however. If the bike is very important, you can professionally strip the rust, smooth it down, and re-chrome it using a process called chrome plating3. That's very expensive, however, and not something I'd recommend unless the bike is extremely special.
Removing Rust from Chrome Bike Components: What Do You Do?
There are three methods that I've found super helpful on my bike, but I've heard of all sorts of novel ideas.
What do you use? How well does it work?
Thanks for reading!
1) "How to Restore a Vintage Bicycle | Beautiful Vintage Bicycle Tips", Bikesmarts.com, 2018
2) "How to Remove Rust from a Bicycle", WhatsUpFagans.com, 2016
3) "Chrome Plating", Wikipedia.org, 2018
Travel Chef from Manila on October 15, 2018:
Very useful list here! Just wondering if its possible for me to use vinegar? Some people told me that any acid with help as well. I am not only sure what's the effect of it when applied. Do you have any idea?