Technical FAQ: Tips for removing tubular glue

Lennard Zinn offers up a number of reader methods for removing stubborn tubular glue, from torch to citrus solvent

Editor’s Note: Lennard Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

How to remove stubborn glue?

Dear Lennard,
I picked up a vintage Campy/Ambrosio wheelset at a garage sale. The tubular glue is 20-30 years dry. Any good solvent to remove it, or is a chisel needed?

Dear W.,
The standard solvents for that are acetone or, better yet, the less volatile VM&P Naphtha. Otherwise, read on for a number of other methods.

Dear Lennard,
I have a set of carbon tubulars. I have glued several tires on them over the last few years. I don’t remove the excess glue on the rim if it still looks good. I just apply some more glue and go. Never had a problem. However, when I removed an old tire recently, the glue came off in patches. I don’t think I should just add glue and install this time. I think it will result in the tire not being very round due to the high spots and low spots of the glue. So I am thinking that this time I should remove the glue. Where the glue has remained on the rim it is really on there! I tried using paint remover and acetone with not much luck. What is the trick for removing glue from carbon rims?

Dear Matt,
You point out how difficult it can sometimes be to remove, so you may want to resort to some of the methods below.

Fire up the torch

Dear Lennard,
Removing tubular tire glue is a snap. Here’s how:

I have an old road fork I clamp into a vise. Attach the offending wheel (without the tire) into the fork with the skewer. Obtain a small propane torch and a couple of cotton rags. Play the torch flame over an eight-to-ten-inch swath of the rim’s glue until it begins to bubble. Hold the rim to steady it and simple wipe the hot glue off the rim with the rag. Keep moving around the rim with the heat/wipe action and… “Bob’s your Uncle.” All done. No mess, no fuss. Don’t heat the rim too much; it only has to be hot enough to bubble the glue. I’ve been doing this for 40 years with nary a problem. Works great on carbon rims too.

I’m sure your readers consider this method to be sketchy at best, but believe me, it works wonderfully. I don’t wear gloves when I’m heating the glue, that way I know if the rim’s getting too toasty.

Entire wheel done in five minutes, tops.

I can hear you cringe!

Dear Richard,
You’ve got good ears! I don’t think I’ll be trying this anytime soon on any carbon rims.

Heat gun target practice

Dear Lennard,
I’ve been reading about the different methods of glue removal and here is what I’ve done recently on my alloy wheels. When I get built up layers of glue, I use a heat gun and a thin hard plastic scraper to heat the glue up and scrape it off. Doesn’t take long. The rim might not be pristine, but it is even. Doesn’t take long and is easy to do. Haven’t done it on a carbon rim yet, but unless you say this would be an issue, I’m going to do the same on my carbon wheels.

Dear Rutnick,
That’s a little less scary than Richard’s open flame.

Dear Lennard,
It is out of desperation and the dread that goes along with cleaning tubular rims that I have found that heat, like that from a heat gun on low settings, applied carefully really works incredibly well to remove old tubular adhesive from rim surfaces without the tedious labor, time and chemical concerns of using a solvent and scraper. I use great care to not heat the rim too much and alternate the wheel 180 degrees so that I only heat one side, then the other, allowing cooling time for each side in between. I am sure that rims are designed to sustain heating, like that produced during braking and am using that as basis for this tactic being sound. But I also have the feeling that if this was ok, everyone would be talking it up! Is this ok at all or purely a wheel wrecking idea, particularly for carbon rims? It works so well that I can’t understand why everyone does not recommend this technique. My guess is that you could tell me why. Any feedback you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Also, how do you feel about mixing glues, like in the situation where you cannot discern what glue a previous mechanic used to glue a previous set of tires? Should all the “unknown” glue be stripped in favor of the type you know you will be using? Or is it ok to layer up any glue over any glue?

Dear Kevin,
Don’t mix the glues. Clean them off.

As you can see, you’re not alone in your heat method.

Rotary brush

Dear Lennard,
There is nothing faster that I found for removing tubular glue from aluminum rims than a five-inch rotary wire brush attached to a five-inch grinder. Clamp two sides of the wheel on two-by-four blocks on the edge of a workbench to prevent the wheel from moving. You must wear a full face shield and thick sweat shirt to catch the steel bristles that come flying off the wheel. The rim will come out like new and this will remove any anodizing. Save old rims to check that newly purchased tubulars will hold max pressure and if not, send them back as any tire with glue residue will not be accepted back by the retailer. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ON CARBON RIMS.

Dear Bo,
I’m sure it’s effective, but pretty over the top, too. Thanks for recommending the safety procedures. Having gotten metal splinters in my eye before and embedded into my skin in myriad places, I know how unpleasant it can be.

Get that goo gone

Dear Lennard,
Forget acetone: the easiest to use cleaner is some stuff called Goo Gone.
And here’s an easy trick: take an old 700C tire and stick the tubular wheel
inside it.

You now have an instant circular soaking tub. Lean the tire/wheel combo upright against the wall with some cardboard under it. Squirt a little of the Goo Gone in there and just rotate the wheel inside 180 degrees every day, and wipe off the softened glue on the top of the wheel while a new section goes to the bottom to soak.

The old glue comes off with the consistency of, ahem, phlegm, so have several batches of old towels handy to wipe and toss. It’s citrus-y and nowhere near as nasty as acetone.

Set it against the shop wall and clean a new section every day or twice a
day. As another set-it-and-forget-it guy, Ron Popeil, says, “It’s that easy.”

Perfectly clean with citrus solvent

Dear Lennard,
I for one prefer to remove all glue from rims prior to installation of new tubulars.

My thought is that applying glue over old glue creates high spots, which tires adhere to, leaving gaps adjacent to the high spots where the tire is not bonded to the rim. Applying more glue to noted high spots only creates larger gaps between the tubular and rim. Furthermore, if a tire is “rolled off” a rim while riding, clearly a poor bond is to blame. I would start my post-roll inspection by determining if multiple layers of glue created high spots resulting in areas of no bonding or if the initial gluing occurred without adequate preparation.

To remove glue, I found citrus-based solvents work well when enough time is allowed to soak in in order for the solvent to break down the glue. Typically, citrus-based solvents do not evaporate quickly and will soak into the glue nicely. One could use an acid brush to spread the solvent on the rim, let sit for an hour or so and scrape off accordingly. I suggest a non-metallic scraper to remove the glue. Repeat as needed.

When I am satisfied with the glue removal, I thoroughly clean the rim with acetone to remove any residual solvent and glue prior to a tire installation. My preference is to start the tubular gluing process with a rim that is as clean as it was when it left the factory.

I have used the same technique to remove tape, but I find tape removal to be much gooier.

Dear John,
I applaud your insistence on a pristine surface to glue to. And yes, more environmentally friendly citrus solvents can remove glue, but need to be removed themselves with less environmentally friendly ones.

Reynolds’ recommendation

Dear Lennard,
At Reynolds Cycling we recommend that you use acetone along with a Scotch Brite pad to remove glue residue. If you have a particularly tough area or base tape fibers imbedded in the glue, both Finish Line Citrus degreaser and Pedro’s Oranj Peelz work well also. If you use these products, be careful, as they can damage decals. We recommend that you always clean the rim with acetone to remove the oily residue left by the citrus solvents.

Please do not use any metal tools (screwdrivers, brushes, files) to pry, scrape, or pick glue or other material from carbon rims. Our recommendation is to use a plastic tire lever for this.
—Jeremy Clay
Reynolds Cycling
Warranty & Technical Support Manager