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can a rusty chain be brought back?

By sensai_miagi - Posted on 13 June 2011

NB: Originally posted elsewhere on the Global Riders Network and appears via syndication.

say you cleaned your bike one day including taking off the chain and you left the good quality (middle tier shimano) chain outside on the patio and forgot about it and due to all the bad weather keeping you off the bike you only stumbled across it about 3 weeks later to find it all rusty...can the chain be brought back to life somehow?
obviously i would never be this careless, it's just my mate said this is what happened...
my mate would appreciate any constructive feedback thanks,

I would say no and bin it.

Soak the chain in petrol for at least 24hrs.
Fit chain to bike.
Spin chain whilst holding it with a thick cloth (for at least 5 mins), like a towel, to remove most of the surface rust.
Then spin the chain whilst being sprayed with a hose.
Drag chain again through the towel.
Then spin the chain whilst applying lube.
Go ride the bike.

Things to remember is:
A chain is a thing of strength with only a limited mount of acceptable stretch and as long as the inner rings spin freely, any surface rust is insignificant. Stretch is your enemy, not rust!

Hope this helps


... but as pikey says, dependant on stretch. After giving it his suggested treatment, if you then measure 12 link-pairs and the distance centre-to-centre of the pins is longer than 12 1/16th inches (0.5% elongation) I'd bin it.

That's the amount of chain stretch that indicates a chain change is necessary anyway. If it's gone all the way to 12 1/8th inches, you're gonna be up for new cassette and chainrings as well if you run/have been running the chain.

If it's gone to or past 12 1/8 inches, you might as well keep running the whole assembly until it dies as trying to put a new chain on old cogs is just going to lead to chain skip and send you OTB.

Just whateveer you do don't borrow your mate's rear wheel - they won't be your mate for long after your dodgy chain trashes their nice new cassette!

Worth a try.....

or even....

I used this on the 20 yr old 12 speed I just picked up and I was amazed how well it worked at getting rust off chromed and polished parts

in reply to pikey's post above...

hmm..petrol eh? is that better than kero?

Consider the cassette & chainrings as well. a worn chain will wear both out faster, in the end you r bill may be higher.
I bought a new chain recently, you can get an XT chain for 60-70 dollars the shops in the city or 30 dollars on the web.

cheap insurance in my view.

I have heard petrol is better because it contains some lubricants whereas kero will strip all lubes off.

I would say its the other way around with kero containing lubricants, hence the oily feel while petrol is very drying.

Hmm, maybe it was diesel not petrol??

Search Bikeforums for OA or Oxalic Acid rust removal.

Those guys on the vintage forum re-use chains that are 20 years old.

Slowpup - That's what the Diggers product in my post above is - Oxalic acid.

I reckon you could still use that chain. It is not like it has rusted for years. Just a light coating really. Make sure it is cleaned properly, generously lubed, and probably carry a spare chain in your pack! ShockedSmiling

thanks for all the great advice guys. invaluable. my original post made it sound worse than it really is (kind of my intention to gauge the full breadth of my options). it's only very light surface rust on the side plates...only patches, not all over. it's looking pretty good after a few days in a bath of kero and i reckon when i get a brush out it'll be shiny. however i have been inspired by this discussion to finally buy a chain wear checker tool. now all i need is mother nature to ease off on the water!

Don't you mean your mate will get a brush out and clean it off? and your mate is now inspired to buy a chain wear checker? After all I'm sure your chain is fine Eye-wink

Personally id rather be sure and just buy a new chain, for the time it takes to clean it and stuff around you could have been out riding your bike, ah I mean his bike...

haha yeah...

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