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A motorcycle gas tank should be kept clean at all times. However, it can develop rust and gradually start to cause issues. With the current fuel formulations, rust formation is inevitable. To maintain a smooth ride, avoid replacing your fuel filters, or avoid cleaning your carbs and engine frequently, you should learn the basics of cleaning the tank.

The process of clearing rust formation is not easy. Fortunately, with a little determination, you will be able to save your gas tank and secure the wellbeing of the entire motorcycle. There are several reasons why your tank might develop rust. Before commencing the cleaning process, assess the condition and identify the reason behind the rust development. This way, it will be easier for you to clean the tank and avoid going through the same problem in the future.

Drain and Remove the Gas Tank

This first step is to assess the condition of the tank and decide whether to clean it or replace it. The last thing you want to do is to spend a lot of time trying to save a tank that is beyond saving. Also, all tanks have a varying degree of rust, and the cleaning process varies from one tank to another. By removing the tank from the bike, you can see all the angles and determine how much rust your tank has developed.

Depending on the level of tank degradation, there are critical steps to follow and solve the problem. If your tank has excess rust development, the easiest option is to find a replacement instead of spending too much time and effort trying to reverse the damage. However, before choosing this solution, first you need to understand the make of your bike’s tank.

You can also work closely with a dealer or mechanic to see if they can find a replacement tank that is in good condition. Note: It is better to spend $100 or $200 for a replacement tank than spend too much time and too many resources on a rusty one.

Motorbike on parking in city

Choose a Rust Abatement Method

This simply means diminishing or reducing the rust that is formed inside the gas tank. At this point, there are three methods that you can choose, and they all provide the same results. The three methods are:

  • Manual abatement. This method uses abrasive materials to remove rust deposits. The material can be anything from nuts and bolts to gravel.
  • Chemical abatement. This method uses chemicals, mostly mild acid, to eat into the rust deposits and remove heavy rust formation.
  • A mixture of both. This is a combination of both manual and chemical abatement. However, when you mix both, ensure to swish the tank around to achieve the expected results. 

Whichever method you choose, you should receive professional results as long as you follow the directions correctly. However, depending on the rust buildup, you may have to spend a lot of time on a particular method or even repeat the same process several times.

Prep the Tank

The first step in gas tank preparation is removing and emptying the fuel. Then you must seal all the holes to avoid spilling the chemical or solution you use. Depending on the type of tank, you must seal the holes using either vacuum caps or silicone plugs. Some tanks have crossover tubes, while others have petcock outlets and a filler cap. Choose the most appropriate seal for your tank. If you are cleaning the tank for the first time, don’t worry about making mistakes and choosing the wrong seal. It’s a learning process, and eventually you will get it right. 

Work Outside

Your safety should always come first. During the abatement process, it is essential to remember that some chemical fumes can be harmful. Therefore, before you start working on the tank, find a well-ventilated location where you will do the job. We advise doing this in an open or ventilated area. Also, wear appropriate gear that will keep you safe from any harm that may come from using chemicals. Failing to work in a secure area while cleaning the tank can cause headaches, unconsciousness, nausea and other health risks. When you are working outside, you minimize exposing other items to dangerous chemical fumes. 

Check Volatility

Before you start working on any chemicals to clean the tank, first check the volatility. The volatility is the chemical reaction of the agitator and the cleaner. Checking on the volatility helps to keep you safe and also minimizes any health risks that can result. To check the volatility, simply place the chemical and agitator in a bowl, and let them sit for a couple of minutes. If there is no vigorous reaction or nothing happens, then you can proceed to the next step.

The Process

Once your solution has passed the volatility test, you can begin the abatement process. There are  five steps that you must follow precisely to thoroughly clean the gas tank. You must follow each step in order to get the expected results.

  • Add Acid

Adding acid is the first thing you need to do. Remember that some acids can be dangerous to your bike and also cause health risks. Therefore, choose an acid that will work best in removing rust but will still be gentle to both you and the bike. The most common acid that is safe and works well is white vinegar. After adding the acid you need to give it a few days to settle before proceeding to the next step.

  • Add Agitator

Once you have allowed your acid sufficient time to work, it’s time to add the agitator (some nuts or bolts will do the job efficiently). Whatever you choose to use as your abrasive material should be manageable and scratch rust away without damaging the tank. At this point, no matter how much abrasive material you have, only use a handful or two to allow sufficient space for the material to move freely and scratch every area of the tank with ease.

  • Shake

After adding both acid and agitator to the tank, you need to shake the mixture together for it to work and clean the tank thoroughly. The shaking process might take a couple of days before you can see the bare metal inside the tank. Shake as long and hard as possible, and take breaks between shakes.  It is up to you to choose how many times you want to shake per day till you see the bare metal. The more times and the harder you shake, the faster the results. Also, if you are not prepared to go through the manual shaking process, you can use a clothes dryer to achieve the same results. However, this might damage your tank as it gets tough to monitor abrasive material movement using electrical techniques.

  • Flush

This simply means you must remove the content from the inside of the tank and rinse it with running water for a couple of minutes. Then neutralize the acid with some dish detergent, fill the tank with hot water, empty it, and let it dry thoroughly. 

  • Finish

The finishing process involves using a sealer to prevent rust and corrosion from occurring. Some people like using commercial tank sealers, but they are not always the best option for the safety of your carbs. If you intend to use your tank immediately after cleaning off the rust, the best and most practical sealer is one that is fuel-soluble. A good finish will safeguard your tank from developing additional rust after cleaning. Also, it helps prolong the gas tank’s life, saving you money. If you intend to keep your tank on the shelf for a little while before use, then choose a sealer that is slightly thicker, such as motor oil.

Two black and silver vintage custom motorcycles caferacers

Using Stronger Acid as an Alternative

If you don’t have time to wait for vinegar to clean your tank, you can use a stronger acid that works within minutes. In less than 30 minutes you can clean your tank and remove all the rust buildup regardless of how intense it is . However, with other acids you must use a different way to seal the fillers because it can damage the caps. Also, fuel caps are vented, and the acid can easily escape through the vents and cause unexpected damage on paint, clothes, or even your flesh. Therefore, you must be extra careful while using muriatic acid.

Note: if your tank is soldered either through repair or by the manufacturer, this might not be the best option. Stronger acid chews through solder quickly, and an old tank might not withstand its effects. If you choose to use this option, be extra careful and always use the right mechanism to neutralize and dispose of the acid after cleaning your tank.

Conclusion

Once you have gone through the cleaning process, it’s probably not something you would want to go through again. Therefore, it is essential to care for your bike and ensure that your tank does not develop rust again. An easy way to do this is by keeping a full tank and using the gas frequently.

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