It’s a beautiful feeling when the Spring sun is shining bright enough to finally wheel your motorcycle out of the garage to take the season’s first ride.
But if your motorcycle chain is rusty, corroded, or dry enough to impair your bike’s momentum, your ride might be cut short.
This article lists seven steps to removing rust from a motorcycle chain and how to tell if the chain can be saved or if it needs to be replaced.
Table of Contents
1. Consult the Manual for Your Motorcycle Make and Year Model
Before we start, it’s essential to consult your owner’s manual for the suggested chain maintenance.
Different model motorcycles may employ different chain types, slack requirements, and lubrication intervals.
Failure to follow the chain service and preventive maintenance instructions outlined in your owner’s manual can make your chain corrode faster. Also, using the wrong type of chain lubrication can worsen the situation.
2. Inspect the Chain To Ensure It’s Worth Saving
The first step to removing rust from a motorcycle chain is to inspect the oxidized chain to ensure it can be saved. Doing this will also make you determine if it is worth the effort.
You should also consult the manufacturer’s specifications for chain tension and condition, ensuring it meets the minimum requirements for use.
While at it, read their suggested cleaning and maintenance procedures and assess how often you followed their guidelines.
While removing rust from a chain is easy if you catch it early, once a chain is rusted beyond a certain point, the removal process becomes less and less economical than replacing it.
Some mechanics say that if more than 10% of your chain links are rusted, replacing the chain is safer than cleaning and reusing it.
Moreover, you have to consider the bike’s history and the owner’s riding and storage habits to determine whether your rusty chain is salvageable.
You should also consider how often you have ridden the motorcycle since the current chain was installed. In this case, you’ll have to assess how much wear and tear the chain has incurred from usage.
Rust is a chemical reaction occurring on metal in response to excessive moisture and oxygen exposure.
This is why rust, corrosion, or iron oxide forms on a motorcycle chain that is routinely exposed to rain, snow, humidity, salinated air or water, and road salts.
It can also occur from storing your motorcycle in damp or enclosed spaces alongside corrosive airborne chemicals.
Suppose you’re sure your motorcycle has been ridden and stored responsibly, and your chain was lubricated and prepped for exposure to harmful riding conditions.
In that case, the next step is to inspect the chain to determine if it needs to be replaced or if the rust layer is light enough to remove.
Consider the tips below.
- Inspect the chain to see how much of its original color is present beneath the crusty layer of rust on its surface.
- Examine the chain for any chips, warping, or twisting. If the chain’s metal is compromised, it needs to be replaced.
- Lift the links to ensure they’re not too stiff to move or flex smoothly.
- Examine the chain for broken links or cracks.
- Inspect the other drivetrain components, like your chain rollers and sprockets, for rust-caused wear. Damaged sprockets will cause further damage to your chain even after you’ve fixed the chain.
You might also want to check how to detect a loose motorcycle chain.
3. Apply a Baking Soda Solution With a Brush
Another method you can use to remove rust from the motorcycle chain is by making a baking soda solution and applying it with a brush or sponge.
Here is a guide to follow:
- First, mix the baking soda with water until it forms a thick paste.
- Next, apply the solution to the chain with a sponge or a brush that’s coarse enough to scrub rust without damaging the metal underneath it.
- Use the brush or sponge to cover the chain with the baking soda paste, scrubbing the rust in the process.
- Let the baking soda solution sit for 15 minutes. This allows the chemicals in the baking soda to break down the oxidization and loosen the rust from the metal.
- Take a scrubbing pad or an old toothbrush, scrub the loosened rust, and remove the baking soda paste.
- Rinse the chain with soft water until it’s free of baking soda and any loose rust particles that may still be clung to it.
- Dry the chain thoroughly with a soft towel.
If a little rust remains, you can repeat the above method or try one of the other methods explained below before moving to the last section for lubrication.
Note: As always, we suggest you consult the owner’s and service manuals for your motorcycle’s make and year model before attempting any of the methods outlined in this article.
Prioritizing the manufacturer’s recommendations over ours and any others you encounter on the web is not a best practice.
4. Soak the Chain in WD-40
Another practical step towards removing the rust from your motorcycle chain is to spray a non-metal-corrosive multipurpose spray like WD-40 directly onto the rusty parts of the chain.
Below is a simple guide to follow.
- Spray WD-40 directly onto the rusty portion of the chain and let it soak for at least 5 minutes.
- As it soaks, the WD-40 will dissolve the rust and loosen it from the metal chain.
- Scrub the chain with a wire brush or a rugged toothbrush until the rust starts flaking off the chain, continuing until all remaining rust is loose.
- Repeat this process until all rust is either removed or, at least, loose.
- Rinse the chain with gentle water.
- Thoroughly dry your motorcycle chain.
Mind you, while WD-40 can effectively dissolve and loosen surface dirt from metal, it isn’t intended to be a long-term lubricant. This lubricant may not remove thick layers of corrosion nor prevent your chain from rusting more in the future.
If some rust remains, you can try the same method again or check out one of the other methods explained below before moving to the final section.
Make sure you also check out our post on the likely consequences of a loose motorcycle chain.
5. Vinegar Lemon Juice Squeeze and Scrub
Suppose you’ve used either of the previous two methods and your chain is mostly rust-free, but some light patches of rust still coat your motorcycle chain.
In that case, you may remove what’s left by applying a natural acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, and rubbing it into the rust.
Follow the guide below on how to do this:
- Squeeze the acidic lemon juice onto the rusty patches on the chain.
- Let the lemon juice soak into the rust for 15 minutes – 1 hour, allowing it to neutralize the rust, lessening its grip on the metal chain, and making it easier to remove.
- Scrub the chain with steel wool or a hearty brush to get rid of the rust and remove the excess lemon juice. Repeat as needed.
- Rinse the chain with gentle water.
- Dry the chain well with a soft towel until all moisture is gone.
The benefits you’ll derive from using lemon juice to remove rust from a motorcycle chain are due to its natural qualities.
Lemon juice doesn’t harm your skin and lungs like other rust-removing chemicals do. It’s also cheap and easily accessible in many households.
Also, lemon juice is highly acidic, making it practical for neutralizing and dissolving rust.
In addition to oxidation, this juice removes alkaline stains like limescale that can also build up on metal surfaces.
Mind you, lemon juice is less effective than other methods, especially if the rust coating is thick and extensively covers your motorcycle chain.
Lemon juice also takes a long time to soak. While some sources say it can be effective in just 15 minutes, others claim it needs an hour or multiple hours before it can thoroughly neutralize the rust.
6. Treat the Rusty Chain With Kerosene
Another standard product that you can use to dissolve the last bit of rust from a motorcycle chain is kerosene. It can help to restore the chain’s performance, durability, and safe functionality while lubricating it in the process.
However, unlike some other methods mentioned up until now, treating your motorcycle chain with kerosene requires removing the chain from the bike. Aside from that, you’ll need the steps below.
- First, clean the chain with a chain cleaner spray, following the product’s instructions or using one of the methods mentioned earlier.
- Once you’ve rinsed the chain and dried it thoroughly, remove it from your motorcycle.
- Soak the chain in a clean, durable container filled with kerosene.
- Remove the chain from the kerosene container with gloves on and scrub it free of rust with a wire brush.
- Rinse the chain with gentle water.
- Thoroughly dry your motorcycle chain until it’s free of moisture.
- Follow the steps in the last section, or your owner’s manual, for lubricating, greasing, or waxing your chain for preventative maintenance.
- Reinstall your motorcycle chain.
Kerosene is relatively cheap and easy to track down. It is effective for treating mild to moderate rust on a motorcycle chain, especially once it’s been cleaned with one of the previously explained methods.
7. Grease and Lubricate the Motorcycle Chain With Chain Wax To Prevent Future Wear
Chain wax is a thick and sticky substance which, when properly applied to your motorcycle chain, prevents friction. It also guards it against first moisture, wear, corrosion, and rust.
Once you’ve cleaned or replaced your rusted motorcycle chain, applying chain wax – also called chain grease – will extend the life of the new/restored chain and its sprockets.
Chain wax does not only prolong the stamina of your chain, it also prevent more dirt and moisture from entering the chain linked in the future.
Moreover, greasing the chain also keeps it from overheating and changing shape due to friction.
To use this method, follow the steps below.
- Clean the chain, either with an OEM-suggested retail chain cleaner spray or with one of the methods explained above.
- Soak it in kerosene, following the steps in the previous section.
- Once the chain is free of dirt, rust, and old chain lube, dry it thoroughly with a microfiber towel or blow it dry with compressed air.
- Ensure your kill switch is set to “off” and your bike is in neutral.
- Put your bike in a lift or on a center stand so the rear wheel is lifted off the ground.
- Rotate your motorcycle’s rear tire to spin the chain, spraying the chain wax on its top, below the swingarm, with your free hand.
- If you don’t have a center stand or lift, you can walk the motorcycle in neutral while a friend sprays the spinning chain.
- Cover all chain links and rollers with chain wax or grease.
- Wipe off any excess wax that may have coated the outer side of your bike’s chain with a rag.
- Repeat this process every 300 – 500 miles based on your owner’s manual spec, or after riding in muddy, wet, or dusty conditions.