Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Remove Rust From an Old Bike (sort of)

Fourth floor walk-up apartment + huge-and-heavy-as-luck Schwinn =  I left my bike outside for 2 1/2 years. Of course, it became damaged and rusty. The folks at Legend Bikes were good enough to take care of the repairs, but I was on my own with the rust.

Handlebars, before

Seat springs, before
I went to the hardware store and they recommended a product that might as well have had a skull and crossbones on it. The guy behind the service desk told me the product was an acid that basically melted away rust. Acid? Bing! I have acid at home, I thought, as I remembered the aging lemon in my fridge. I did purchase some steel wool on my way out.

I always like to try the path of least resistance first, so I tried just rubbing off the rust with the steel wool. The rust basically flew off the handle bars instantly. It took a little more elbow grease to remove rust from the seat springs, but I got most of it off- at least from the parts I could reach. I failed to remove the rust from every other spot that I tried. Basically, I learned that if steel wool doesn't make a difference after two minutes of rubbing, it will never work.

After steel wool scrub session.

Small improvements to the places I could reach after steel wool session.

I grabbed the lemon from the fridge, quartered it, and covered a wedge with salt. I wasn't getting ready for tequilla shots. Two folks on the internet said that this was another way to remove rust. (Actually they both said lime, but I didn't have a lime so lemon it was.)

Salt + Lemon = Rust Remover?
I rubbed the salted lemon wedge onto the brackets holding my basket. These things were really rusty! I left them alone for a few hours. I then came back and noticed the rust appeared darker, almost black, but maybe this was because it was wet. I reapplied the salty lemon and rubbed for forever with the steel wool.

Now, this post could also be called "How Not to Remove Rust From an Old Bike." Some of the rust did come off, but not much. The brackets are still spotted with rust on the top and there was no change on the vertical part. Maybe they were just too rusty to be helped.

A minor improvement post lemon and salt (sorry about the glare)
When green cleaning fails, this is the point where you have to ask yourself how committed you are. Are you committed to this object? Are you committed to its appearance or cleanliness? Are you committed to your health? Are you committed to the environment and to animals? Will you turn to a toxic chemical or will you just turn away?

I decided there is no way in hell my health is less important than removing rust from a bicycle. If I discover another natural method of rust removal, I'll give it a go. In the meantime, I'll be totally green and a little rusty around the edges.
Lucy is a stunt cat. Don't try this at home.
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