Performance Times

    How to Get Rust off Motorcycle Chrome (Ultimate Chrome Care Guide)

    by Matt VandenHeuvel / May 17, 2024

    Harley with rusted gas tank

    There’s nothing like fresh chrome to make your bike look sleek and incredible–and nothing like rust to really ruin that look. If you notice rust building up on your chrome components, don’t panic–you can restore your bike to its former glory. In this guide, we'll explore effective tips and techniques for removing rust from your motorcycle, restoring its shine, and preserving its longevity on the open road. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and get your bike back in top shape.

    Why is Chrome Plating Used on Motorcycles?

    Aesthetically, chrome-plated parts add a shiny and reflective finish to your motorcycle, enhancing its appearance and giving it a custom look. Functionally, chrome plating provides corrosion resistance and durability, which is crucial for motorcycle parts exposed to the elements, like your exhaust pipes, handlebars, and other engine components. Chrome plating helps protect these parts from rust and corrosion due to exposure to moisture, road salt, and other environmental factors. 

    What Causes Chrome to Rust?

    Since it’s actually resistant to corrosion, chrome itself doesn’t rust. When you notice rust building up on the chrome parts of your motorcycle, it's likely the metal underneath that’s rusting due to the chrome plating wearing away. This can happen for a few reasons.

    • Scratches or Chips: If the chrome surface gets scratched or chipped, it exposes the underlying metal to moisture and air, which can lead to rust formation.
    • Exposure to Moisture: The chrome surface can eventually wear away if it's constantly exposed to moisture, especially in environments with high humidity or if your motorcycle is frequently exposed to rain without proper drying. Once the chrome has worn out, the metal surface underneath is more likely to rust.
    • Chemical Exposure: Certain chemicals, like road salts or harsh cleaning agents, can damage the protective layer of chrome and make it susceptible to rust.
    • Poor Maintenance: Lack of regular cleaning and maintenance can allow dirt, grime, and other contaminants to accumulate on the chrome surface, which can lead to rust over time.

    Stages of Motorcycle Rust

    Rust can actually vary in severity, from superficial blemishes to deep corrosion. Knowing when chrome rust is beyond fixing takes a bit of knowledge, and it also depends on your tolerance for imperfections on your bike. Here’s what you’ll notice at different stages of chrome rust and what your next steps should be.

    Surface Rust

    In the early stages, rust appears as a thin, reddish-brown layer on your chrome surfaces. It can usually be cleaned off relatively easily with mild abrasives like steel wool and a basic chrome cleaner. If you clean off surface rust and the chrome plating underneath is still intact, you shouldn’t have to worry about extensive damage.

    Moderate Rust

    Once you notice pitting in the chrome finish from rust, that indicates the rust has started to affect the integrity of the part–and that’s when it becomes much more difficult to clean. To get rid of rust at this stage, you’ll usually need to use more aggressive cleaning methods and stronger rust removers. We definitely recommend cleaning the rust off at this stage before the problem gets any worse.

    Advanced Rust

    Significant pitting and holes in the chrome finish are good indicators that the rust has compromised the structural integrity of the part itself. Advanced rust also causes discoloration and dark spots, indicating that the metal underneath has been compromised.

    Additionally, if you notice the chrome plating starting to flake or peel off, that indicates significant deterioration of the chrome layer. Restoring the surface to its original condition is nearly impossible at this point and it’s usually recommended to replace the part instead.

    What to Use to Remove Motorcycle Rust

    When you notice rust start to build up on your motorcycle, it’s best to clean it immediately before the problem gets worse. Fortunately, there are several things you can use to effectively get rid of rust and corrosion on chrome motorcycle parts.

    Chrome Cleaner and Polish

    Start by using a chrome cleaner specifically designed to remove rust and restore shine to chrome surfaces. Apply the cleaner according to the manufacturer's instructions, usually by spraying or wiping it onto the affected area, and then gently scrub the rusted areas with a soft cloth or a non-abrasive sponge.

    Commercial rust removers are also available specifically for chrome surfaces. Follow the instructions on the product label carefully, as some rust removers contain harsh chemicals that could damage the chrome if not used properly.

    Chrome Polishing Compound 

    If the rust stains are stubborn, you can use a chrome polishing compound or metal polish. Apply a small amount of the polish to the rusted areas and buff them with a clean, soft cloth using circular motions until the rust is removed and the chrome shines.

    Coke and Aluminum Foil

    That’s right, you can raid your kitchen for a Coke and aluminum foil. This may sound odd, but it’s actually been the tried and true method for removing rust from chrome for decades. Though it’s not super effective on heavily rusted spots, this is a great way to spot clean smaller rusted areas. Just pour some coke over a ball of aluminum foil and rub it gently across the rusted surface to clean it. If you prefer to drink your coke than clean with it, you can also spray the aluminum foil ball with some WD40 for light surface rust. Just be careful that you don’t get too heavy-handed with it, or else you might scratch the chrome finish and put yourself in a worse position than you’re already in. 

    Vinegar or Lemon Juice

    You can also create a homemade rust remover using white vinegar or lemon juice. Soak a cloth or steel wool in vinegar or lemon juice and apply it to the rusted areas. Let it sit for a few minutes to loosen the rust, then scrub gently. Rinse the area thoroughly with water and dry it completely.

    7 Tips for Cleaning and Caring for Chrome Parts of Motorcycle

    Cleaning and caring for the chrome parts of a motorcycle can help maintain their shine and prevent rust and corrosion. Here are some tips to keep your chrome looking its best.

    1. Wash Your Motorcycle Regularly

    Make it a habit to clean the chrome parts of your motorcycle regularly, especially after riding in dirty or wet conditions. Use a mild soap or chrome-specific cleaner and water to remove dirt, grime, and road debris. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that could damage the chrome surface.

    2. Use a Soft Cloth or Sponge

    When cleaning chrome, use a soft cloth or sponge to avoid scratching the surface. Remember, scratches are the enemy of chrome. Microfiber towels are particularly effective for gently cleaning and polishing chrome without leaving lint or scratches.

    3. Stick to Using Chrome-Safe Cleaners

    Choose cleaning products specifically formulated for chrome surfaces to ensure effective cleaning without damaging the chrome plating. These cleaners are designed to remove dirt and grime while leaving the chrome shiny and protected.

    4. Avoid Strong Abrasives

    Avoid using strong abrasive materials like sandpaper or abrasive brushes on chrome surfaces because they can scratch the chrome and dull its shine. If you need to remove stubborn stains or rust, opt for non-abrasive methods like chrome polish or rust removers.

    5. Dry Thoroughly – Every Time!

    After cleaning, thoroughly dry the chrome parts with a clean, dry cloth to prevent water spots and streaks from forming. Moisture left on chrome surfaces can contribute to rust and corrosion over time, so ensure the chrome is completely dry before storing your motorcycle.

    If you’re in a hurry to get back on the road, you can speed up the drying process with your leaf blower. Be sure you’re in a clean environment, and don’t blow any dirt or debris onto your bike. Then, do a final wipe-down with a dry cloth to prevent spotting or pooling up on ledges or crevasses.

    6. Frequently Apply a Protective Coating

    Consider applying a protective coating or wax specifically designed for chrome surfaces to provide an additional layer of protection against corrosion and environmental damage. These products can help maintain the shine of the chrome and make it easier to clean in the future. WD-40 works wonders, but there are other chrome-specific products on the market that potentially work better.

    7. Inspect Your Bike Regularly

    Periodically inspect the chrome parts of your motorcycle for signs of damage, rust, or corrosion. Promptly address any issues to prevent them from worsening and to maintain the appearance and longevity of the chrome.

    Ride Rust Free

    Regular maintenance is key to keeping rust at bay and preserving your motorcycle's beauty and performance. With these tips, your chrome components are sure to stay shiny for a long, long time. 

    Looking for some new chrome parts? Browse our selection of chrome mufflers and exhausts, chrome air cleaners, and chrome engines to spruce up your bike.

    If you're looking for professional-grade chrome cleaning solutions and expert advice, don't hesitate to reach out to your local S&S Cycle dealer. They'll have the products and knowledge you need to keep your chrome sparkling and your ride looking its best.

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    Tags: How-To / Tech

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