The Process

I overhaul A LOT of vintage bicycles, year round. I’m approaching the 1,000 bike mark. This post includes cleaning procedures for small parts, large parts, free hubs and free wheels, frames and wheels. In the last section, I explain how to protect with a rust preventative product if there is pitting and previously a lot of rust on the cleaned part. This post assumes little knowledge. This post is for someone who has completely disassembled a bicycle, and is in the perfect position to make a stunning change in the appearance of a vintage bike.

Partial list of materials:
1. microfiber towels (I buy on Amazon and have a subscription service to replenish. It’s the cheapest I’ve found. I use a lot of them.)
2. 0000-guage steel wool (available at hardware stores)
3. Blue Magic chrome and Aluminum Polish
4. Purple Power degreaser/cleaner
5. Disposable Scott shop towels
6. Evapo-Rust (5-gallon bucket on Amazon is cheapest.)
7. Phil Wood Tenacious Oil
8. RP-342 Military Grade Rust Preventative (It’s the same stuff they sell in bike shops to protect the inside of steel frames. I use it for other applications.)
9. Disposable rubber or nitrile gloves (The blue Permatex ones on Amazon are where the price and quality make sense.)
10. Clear paint from a touch-up car paint pen


Small parts chrome plated or aluminum
Note: For nickel-plated parts (like on Chicago Schwinn’s), skip step 1. It will cause more work on steps 2 and 3.
1. For chrome-plated or aluminum small parts (nuts, bolts, fasteners, quick releases, etc.), soak them in Evapo-Rust overnight at room temperature.
2. Wipe them clean with clean to dingy microfiber towel.
3. Clean up any excess rust or gunk with Blue Magic speared lightly on 0000 gauge steel wool. Rub lightly to vigorously. If there is no rust, polish with disposable Scott Shop towels, cut into small pieces, instead of steel wool.
4. Wipe clean with a clean microfiber towel.

Big parts
1. For brakes, derailleurs, bars, seat posts, cranksets shifters and such, start out with a light spray of degreaser. 1/2 water and 1/2 Purple Power or comparable product. Let sit 5 minutes.
2. Brush with a toothbrush, clearing out all hardened grease and dirt.
3. Wipe clean with a dirty microfiber towel.
4. Smear Blue Magic polish onto small amount of 0000-guage steel wool, and rub away all rust, hardened gunk, and old grease. If there is no rust, disposable Scott Shop towels, cut into small pieces to make it last, to polish.
5. Wipe clean with a dingy microfiber towel, then again with a clean one.

Note: Be careful with strong degreasers. They may take off paint if there is not a good gloss coat on the frame. If so, substitute with Windex.
1. I like to start with the bottom bracket area. It’s the nastiest, so cleaning it will give you inspiration to continue. Spray an area with a degreaser or Windex, let sit 5 minutes.
2. Wipe away dirt and grease with a dingy microfiber towel. For tough stuff, use a toothbrush or a fingernail through a microfiber towel.
3. Polish headset parts with Blue Magic and 0000-guage steel wool, wipe with microfiber towel.
4. Wax with Zymol car wax. Apply with the cut off 4 inches of an old sock that you can use for this without cleaning it for years (literally). Wipe away with a clean microfiber towel.
5. For rust spots in the frame, remove rust with a little bit of very fine sand paper. Be careful not to strip surrounding paint. Coat the exposed steel with clear coat paint, brushed on carefully. Sometimes I use a rattle can for this, as it can brighten up the whole area. Be sparse and use several coats with the spray. One coat with the brush is sufficient.

Follow instructions for big parts, but do not use steel wool on polished aluminum rims (Use Scott towels to polish). Otherwise, go to town on the wheel, starting with the hub and working your way outwards. This is a time-consuming process. I typically spend an hour on each wheel, sometimes more for rusty rims. For the spokes, add a bit of WD-40 to your steel wool and Blue Magic. This will make the movement up and down the spokes easier. Turn on the radio or your favorite podcast.

For parts with pitting
1. Spray on RP-342 Military Grade Rust Preventative. Spread around with Scott towel. Wait 5-10 minutes, depending on temperature and humidity.
2. Lightly wipe away excess with clean microfiber towel until shine is restored. Product will stay in pitted areas and protect them.
3. Let sit for a few hours to let product harden.

Free wheels and free hubs
This is the only part I use in the ultrasonic cleaner. It is not necessary, but if you do this a lot, it’s nice to have.
1. Clean free wheel or free hub cluster in an ultrasonic cleaner for 1 hour.
2. Wipe clean, especially between the gears, to remove any gunk. Coat lightly with Phil Wood tenacious oil and wipe away excess with a dirty microfiber towel.
3. Refer to R.J. The Bike Guy’s video on how to clean and re-lube the ball bearings in the freewheel. You’ll need Phil Wood Tenacious Oil and WD-40.

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