Remove Rust From a Bicycle With Lime Juice





Introduction: Remove Rust From a Bicycle With Lime Juice

About: I like sleeping far too much for my own good.

This Instructable is inspired by a tip from Uruwaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan (seen here), a book that we keep around the office. Flipping through it one day, I noticed that they had an interesting method for removing rust from a bike, and I thought I'd give it a try. Working with Jessy, we took a tip from the book in another direction and successfully removed the rust from bikes quickly and easily.

We used it on the chain as well as the other metal parts, and it worked well; however, after discussing with some bike experts and receiving comments about it, it has been determined that using it on the chain is a little risky. If you properly clean off the acid (by rinsing and drying thoroughly), it should be fine, but remnant acid could weaken the chain. So be careful!

Step 1: Materials

For this Instructable, you'll need:

Citric acid: We used some lime juice we had leftover in the fridge, but any citrus-y juice will work--lemon, lime, etc. According to Urawaza, the citric acid reacts with the iron oxide (rust) so it can be removed.

Abrasive: We used steel wool, but anything gritty to help remove the rust will do.

Paper towels or an old rag. To clean.

A bike. Trying to remove the rust from a non-existent bicycle could prove too much for this Instructable.

Step 2: Pour Acid Onto Abrasive

Carefully pour some of the citric acid (lime juice) onto the abrasive (steel wool). You want the section of the steel wool to be damp but not dripping with lime.

Step 3: Attack the Bike!

Rub the steel wool on the bicycle. Parts to attack:

Anything with rust that is accessible to clean and dry. Tire rims, supports, and gears (carefully). As for the chain, it is possible if you clean it thoroughly but you apply the acid at your own risk.

I find that the easiest way to clean the bike without taking it apart is to flip the bicycle upside down so that it is resting on the seat and the handlebars.

Your hands will probably get dirty--this is part of the fun. Take lots of dirty-hands pictures.

Step 4: Rinse

After you've applied the acid, abrasively, you want to rinse off the acid. Remaining acid could weaken the metal, so you want to rinse off the acid with water. Soak a paper towel with water and go over the parts you rubbed with acid, or find another way of rinsing.

Step 5: Dry Thoroughly

This is crucial: dry all of the parts thoroughly! Take a dry paper towel or old rag and dry, dry, dry. A bunch of grease and rust should end up on the dry rag.

Step 6: Lubricate

To make sure your bike runs as smoothly as possible, lubricate all of the parts that will be moving. Either spray lubricant as you spin the wheels or put some lubricant gel on a towel and gently apply as the chain spins.

This cleaning process is just one of many variations on a theme--you can try any combination of citrus and grittiness. For example, the Urawaza calls for a specific mixture of salt and lemon juice. Let us know the results if you try any other way!

Your bicycle should be ready to ride smoothly through the streets and/or mountains. Onward, Joshmobile III, onward!



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    20 Discussions

    and remember to cover your bicycle - if left in the rain - with a nylon sheet (cost 1 USD or equivalent) . you can find huge ones in a do-it-yourself brico center to protect floors from paint. Much better than special covers for bicycles costing 10 times as much.

    The rust may be cosmetic as you stated but if it is rusting then the underlying material is deteriorating. Yes, sometimes the rust can actually form a protective layer and keep oxygen from reaching the metal and doing further damage. However, if you are going to clean the rust off, then be prepared to continually treat the chain and keep further rust from forming. If you clean the rust off and allow the rust to return and then clean it off, you are slowly but surely destroying your chain at a much faster rate than just leaving the rust alone.

    2 replies

    Actually you statement is only partially true.

    The rust of aluminum is hermetic to oxygen and thus prevent further corrosion.

    However the rust of iron is not hermetic and thus the corrosion process will go further and further.

    Thus it's better to keep the chain out of rust by relying on mineral oil


    Only iron bassed alloys can rust, aluminium can only corrode or oxides and the resulting oxide will keep out oxygen, it is also a similar colour to aluminium.

    Finally! I've been looking for a cheap way to do this. Great work!!

    External rust is cosmetic on a bicycle chain. If the chain is not squeaking, then the internal parts have enough lube. A risk with this method of cleaning is that bits of steel wool could work their way into the chain, causing premature wear via abrasion. Similarly, oiling a dirty chain can cause premature wear. For thoughtful advice on care of a bicycle chain, see:

    Thank you,
    Hud Rockson

    oooop meant to say"When I used to maintain a cab fleet" not infer I used laundry detergent to maintain the fleet. lol on busy days my coveralls be dirty and bad, but me hands were "Springtime Fresh!" lol

    Aaww Jessy, no dedicated hand soap( Goop,Lava,etc. ), Don't run for the kitchen. go to the laundry room. A little laundry detergent works great on work hands. After all it is designed to remove all kinds of stains, oil and other stuff . When used to maintain a cab fleet I always had a liquid soap dispenser filled with it ( April fresh , lol ). :) :)

    @ Joshf

    Great idea,

    Just a note, "citric acid in the bottle shown above" is actually very mild and will dissapate quickly with a rinse and its actually a part of what makes up the oil itself in citrus oils used in cleaners that are common in bike shops. The oils can be found many furniture polishes and cleaners. The "rub" is that what is being removed is in fact flash rust. On a chain if the rust is just flash rust no amount of citrus will damage it.

    if it is deeper than flash rust there is a structural integrity problem that is not going to rubbed out.

    I must say that dchall is also partly correct his comment about chain lube is spot on. and they still make it. but the better lubes for a chain use waxes instead of oils, (still basically an oil, just not thin) and therefore require the chain to be cleaned and then lubed.

    one last thing, please dont use motor oil, it transfers to clothing and picks up trash and debris and wears out the chain quite quickly.

    I was going to post my pictures, bu ti guess you would win anyways ;) Though my arm also has rust on it...

    I think I'll use this for getting the rust off my fenders, but do you happen to know a way to keep rust off? like some coating of sumthin?

    1 reply

    Either lacquer or a thin(ish) coat of thick(ish) oil will last a while, when it gets dirty, wipe it off and apply another coat, even used (filtered) cooking oil works a treat, cheap as chips!

    This is very thoughtful, but why would you want to go to the trouble of removing the rust? Just oil it and get going. Using acids on load-carrying parts to clean them scares me. There's only one spray on lubricant I can think of that works for chains. It is called Chain Lube and I'm not sure they still make it. It comes out as a foam and quickly turns to oil. Of course it's been awhile since I was in a bike shop so it might be plentiful. The point is most spray on lubes are far too thin to lubricate a chain. You need motor oil consistency and quality.

    2 replies

    Good points. I wouldn't recommend doing this frequently, but for one time use it seems to work very effectively.

    and now I've reconstructed and redone this Instructable. I appreciate the feedback; you're very correct in your caution.

    Rust removal off of bike chains and such? I like naval jelly for this purpose--works like a champ! Doesn't smell as nice as lime juice though.