How do you prevent bike chains from rusting?

Anyone that’s ever used a bike for a long time will know all about the issues of a rusty chain. Today, we’ll be looking at how you can prevent this from happening to your bike while also looking at plan Bs if it’s already too late.

The most effective way to prevent your bike chain from rusting

A layer of wet or dry lubricant will prevent bike chains from rusting. Dry lubricants are more enduring and are more effective in dry riding conditions, whereas wet lubricants work well in wet conditions. They form a rust-blocking layer on the surface to cut off moist air, water, and salt. 

How often and when should you use wet lube and dry lube?

How often you should use lubricant depends on the type of lubricant you are using – wet lubricant or dry lubricant. 

Generally speaking, dry lubricants don’t need to be applied as regularly as wet lubricants. Dry lube needs time to dry (sometimes hours), and once applied, can last even for a month. However, in wet conditions, it washes off of your chain easily.

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To use lubricant in the most effective way possible, pour a small amount directly onto the chain and then begin turning the pedals with your hand. As the pedals rotate around, slowly apply more lubricant to the chain until the entirety of it is covered.

This doesn’t mean that you should smother it all on and overload the chain. In fact, if you do this, then it could have the opposite effect, and dirt could attach itself to your chain instead. Once you apply the lube, wipe off the lube in excess.

Dry Lube vs Wet Lube

Wet lubricant

Wet lubricant should most commonly be used in preparation for wet weather conditions. Wet lubes, on the other hand, retain their liquid form when applied to the chain and protect it in wet riding conditions. 

Although they retain their liquid form, they protect the chain better in wet conditions and in rainy weather; it’s enough if you lube your chain once a week. 

You shouldn’t use wet lube if you know that you will ride your bike in dry weather as it will collect all the dust and grime from the road and it might even damage components of your drivetrain.

Dry lubricant

Dry lubricant should most commonly be used in preparation for dry weather conditions. Dry lubricants dry on the chain’s surface and form a long-lasting protecting waxy layer on the chain. It is a thinner finish and is smoother than wet lubricant.

Dry lubricants pick up less dirt and grime from the road than wet lubricants. It is going to keep your chain clean as well as rust-free.

Wax vs chain lube

While lubricants are the most popular method for preventing rust on bike chains, some people use bicycle chain wax instead.

The main reason why some people prefer wax over lubricant is that it doesn’t attract dirt at all.

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The dry nature of wax, compared to the slippery and sticky nature of lube, means that even on the dirtiest of routes, your chain is going to be protected from dirt.

It looks much nicer, and it saves you from the hassle of having to clean and lube your chain after each muddy journey.

Additionally, it also going to provide you with better performance over a longer period. A dirty chain wears away much quicker than a clean one which will result in you either accepting poor riding quality or forking out for new components. Neither outcome is ideal.

The effects of salt on the bike chain

As we mentioned right at the top of the piece, the main reason for bike chains rusting is because of moisture, and one of the most damaging types of moisture for bike chains is salt water.

Realistically, this is only going to be an issue for you if you live close to the ocean or sea.

The problem with saltwater is that when it dries up on your bike chain, small salt crystals form, which attract further water from the air. This means that even if you think your bike appears dry on the surface, small pockets of moisture are still going to be infiltrating your chain and causing it to rust. 

Saltwater is very sticky, as anyone who has ever been in the sea will vouch for. If you cycle near the ocean, then you are going to need to wipe your chain down thoroughly afterward to ensure that rust doesn’t develop on it.

Once you get rid of the salt and the chain is dry, you may apply the lube.

While the issue of salt is mainly a problem for those living near the ocean, you also need to consider it if you go cycling in cold, wintery conditions. 

When main roads are at risk of freezing, they are grit with salt. If you go cycling on these roads, then this salt is going to flick up onto your chain and cause similar issues to what we’ve just discussed.

If the chain is rusty, how do you remove it?

You may well be in a situation where the problem has already gone too far, and a preventative action is no longer an option. If this is the case, then the best option available to you is to either remove the rust from the chain or replace it with a brand-new one. 

To remove rust from your chain, please follow these instructions:

  1. Shift your bike so that you are in the small chain ring in the front and a smaller chain ring in the back so that the chain has the most ‘give’ to it.
  2. Use a rag or brush to remove any large clumps of dirt and debris. This could get messy! 
  3. Inspect the chain to see how severe the rust is. If it’s not too bad, then you’ll be able to clean the rust while it’s still on the bike; however, if there is significant rust, then you’re going to need to remove the chain.
  4. Remove the lid and put some water and chain cleaner (degreaser) in the well of the chain cleaning tool. 
  5. Lift the chain cleaning tool up to the bottom of the lower part of the chain, fitting the chain inside. Carefully put the lid on top so the brushes are against the chain. 
  6. Hook the handle over the rear derailleur, if it has one. This will keep the chain cleaning tool in place. 
  7. Gently turn the pedals so that the chain moves through the cleaning tool until the rust is removed. Clean the chain with a rag and wipe off the dirt and grime.
  8. Once the solution looks dirty, you can empty it and repeat the steps until there is no more dirt and grease to be removed. 
  9. Once the rust has been entirely removed, and the chain has been dried off, apply a layer of lube to protect your chain from developing rust again in the future. 

How do you clean a bike chain without a chain cleaner tool? 

You don’t always need to use a chain cleaner tool. Sometimes because the chain isn’t that rusty or simply because you don’t have a tool.  There are other ways to get the rust off your chain. Some of them are not as gentle on the chain as the one above, but can still work. 

If the chain is very rusty, you can just take it off and put it in a bucket of degreasers. You leave the chain in the degreaser for a night, and it will be perfectly clean for the following day.

Instead of using the chain cleaner tool, you can use some household items such as water, dishwashing soap, vinegar, or baking soda and put in a bit more physical effort.

Instead of using a degreaser, grab a cloth and soak it in warm water. From here, you can either add a few tablespoons of vinegar or dishwashing soap to the cloth. Scrub the chain thoroughly until all the rust has been removed, and then rinse it down with more water before allowing it to dry. 

You can also use baking soda: you are going to need to create a thick paste by mixing it with water. Once you have a smooth, thick paste, spread it all over the rust on your chain. Leave the paste to set on the chain before scrubbing it all off with a piece of steel wool. In theory, the rust should come off at the same time.


The best way to prevent your bike chain from rusting is to use either a lubricant or some bike chain wax. Both options have their advantages and disadvantage, but sensible use of both should prevent rust from ever being a problem for you and your bike. If rust has already formed, then follow our step-by-step guides above to get it removed.

Sam Benkoczy

Hi, I'm Sam. I own and maintain 6 e-bikes, 15 regular bikes (road bikes, folding bikes, hybrid bikes, city bikes among others). I learned about bikes from my local bike mechanic as well as from bike maintenance courses. I love being out there in the saddle, and using my bike as a practical means of transportation. You can also find me on my YouTube channel at Say hi to me at

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