How can I treat my stuff that gets torn up by rock salt
January 22, 2014 4:46 AM   Subscribe

I gotta wheelchair. Inflatable tires. The rock salt put down for snow in Philly busts my tubes, which is an inconvenience at best, a possible safety hazard (if I get stranded in the Polar Vortex) at most. How can I pre-treat the exposed rubber around the valve so I don't get flats?

BONUS QUESTION: I have some wheelchair, full-fingered, not waterproof gloves. I've ruined a fews pairs with the salt already. They're $30 a pop and mail-ordered, so they're not the easiest thing to replace. Anyway I can protect these things? They get wet, they get torn by the knobs on my tires, then the salt does the coup de grace and they become like shredded pork. What, oh what, might I do?

Am I missing something? Do I need to treat any surface of my (titanium with aluminum parts) wheelchair that's exposed to the salt?

THANK YOU for reading and answering
posted by angrycat to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This may be a perfectly stupid question, I have no experience with wheelchairs or anything or what normal practice may be, but do you clean/wipe down things when you get back inside to get the salt off so that it doesn't have a chance to do damage? Salt is a big problem for cars in the winter where I live (Canada) and most people I know get regular carwashes in the winter to try to control that.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:58 AM on January 22, 2014

Hey there. Fellow wheelchair user here. I have a power chair so it's not as big of an issue but a couple of things come to mind....
1) These look legit... Not sure they'd cover the entire wheel though which could still leave you with some buildup underneath.
This seems like it'd provide fuller coverage but it's not the cheapest option and I don't know that I'd love needing to wash those things after every time I go out.

Your best bet would probably be a shower-cap-like thing, only in the shape of a wheel, with the first cover on underneath. Though Googling didn't turn up anything that looked promising.

As for gloves, other than something like this, I'm not really sure wht you could do to preserve structural integrity beyond thicker gloves, which I know woulad probably cost you some of your grip. Maybe a latex glove over the fabric one for short stints of really fast wheeling? Ugly, but it could work.
Stay safe! I'm treading carefully myself.
posted by marsbar77 at 5:03 AM on January 22, 2014

Oooh! Take a look at the MudEaters at the bottom of the page.
posted by marsbar77 at 5:13 AM on January 22, 2014

Can you perhaps ask bike shops for advice? They may recommend different tires, but they may also have some magic tip or trick that could solve things cheaply.
posted by Madamina at 5:17 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: hey marsbar77 *hi-five* those covers are sweet, but that seems more a matter of protecting the floor from what the tire picks up from outside, as opposed to protecting the tube from salt exposure.

I haven't tried wiping down things immediately post-outside but will try that -- though I think one of my flats happened mid-transit, as in the salt got to the tube just in the context of my journey -- but I could be wrong, maybe it got immersed earlier.

On preview: those mud eaters are sweet, too.
posted by angrycat at 5:18 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The ski industry loves these Atlas Thermafit gloves. They are few dollars a pair and are warm and durable. The palms and fingers are waterproof and very grippy.

Have you considered swapping to winter tires? There's quite a few bike companies that make a tire specifically for lower temperatures and grit and salt.

As for corrosion, a coat of T9 or ACF-50 on exposed metal parts can ward off a lot of troubles.
posted by tumble at 5:20 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you say more about how salt busts your tubes? I can't imagine it's having a significant chemical effect on them, but maybe crystals are getting in-between the wheel and valve stem and cutting the tube? Are you finding leaks right at the valve stem, or nearby it? If that's it, I'd be inclined to put a bead of silicone caulk around the stem. I'd also make sure the tires were kept up to pressure.
posted by jon1270 at 5:21 AM on January 22, 2014

Seconding jon's suggestion to caulk. Also, what about water repellent on the tube ( the salt is very rarely bone dry and if the water's repelled it would probably carry the salt with it)?
posted by marsbar77 at 5:40 AM on January 22, 2014

I'm not clear either how the rock salt is doing the damage.

If you're talking about puncture damage or damage through the tire, then kevlar tires are the way to go.

If salt ingress around the valve stem is a problem then I'd probably put silicon grease round it to repel water. Don't use petroleum-based grease - it perishes rubber. You could use caulk but I think it might be too stiff.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:44 AM on January 22, 2014

> "exposed rubber around the valve"

Do these wheels have Schrader valves? The rubber will be exposed all the way to the threaded tip of the valve. Do you have a photo of that part failing?

If that is the part is failing, there's a couple of companies that make a Schrader valve tube with an all metal valve body. Perhaps give these from Continental a try.

I'm not a fan of the caulk being suggested, I think it's more about finding the right parts than it is about adding glue and sealants to the wrong ones. I'd be willing to add some grease to parts, but I don't like caulk.

I'd be willing to bet that you can find a local bike shop mechanic that would love to help winterproof your ride.
posted by tumble at 5:46 AM on January 22, 2014

Response by poster: The flats are blowouts, if I'm using that term correctly -- the rubber around the valve gets corroded or something, and I think when I go to cold air to warm air, there's more pressure on the tube, and then the blow out. When I say blow out the valve is torn badly or in one case, came completely off.

Caulking sounds like a good idea -- can I just order some of off Amazon and apply it myself, or is it trickier than that?

I can't say for sure that it is rock salt exactly -- it is something in the mixture of slop my landlord puts down around the place in lieu of shoveling (a separate issue I am attending to). It could be beet juice. I dunno. It just looks rock-salty.
posted by angrycat at 5:47 AM on January 22, 2014

People who boat in salt water face a lot of corrosion issues; many use various Salt Away products; you might find them or similar products at various outdoor discounters for a good price.

Have you looked at flat-free options for wheelchair tires; perhaps as a second, winter set?
posted by TedW at 5:50 AM on January 22, 2014

Apologize for my lack of knowledge about gloves for wheelchair use, so excuse this suggestion if it's stupid: What about mechanic's gloves? The kind my husband has are basically form-fitting to his hand (so you retain dexterity), but the material is relatively impenetrable. Not sure how they would hold up against rock salt, but this example from Amazon is cheaper than what you've been paying. They may not be particularly warm on their own, but you could wear a thinner cloth glove underneath.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:02 AM on January 22, 2014

Response by poster: so lotions are mostly petroleum, based, right? I'm trying to find something around the house that will serve until can make the journey to the drug store tomorrow. There's no bike shops or hardware stores that are really reachable (I don't have a car) until stuff thaws out. Olive oil? Vinegar?
posted by angrycat at 6:07 AM on January 22, 2014

Response by poster: oh, sorry to thread sit, but just this and I'm out: they are indeed Schrader valves.
posted by angrycat at 6:08 AM on January 22, 2014

I doubt that your tube problems have anything to do with salt (or temperature for that matter). What pressure are you running them at?

Have you tried a different brand of tubes? Have you checked around the inside of the valve stem hole in the rim for burrs?
posted by ssg at 6:51 AM on January 22, 2014

I suspect that the tube failures happened because of something else: if salt wrecked valve stems, there'd be cars with flats all over right now. If you had a just replaced tube go out, I would suspect bad positioning in the rim.
posted by 445supermag at 6:59 AM on January 22, 2014

From a bike perspective, most failures at the valve stem come from riding on under-inflated tires. Without adequate pressure, the tires and tubes start to slowly shift away from the hole in the rim. Eventually, the rim rips the stem right off. Do you have a way to reliably check your tire pressure? Tires generally have a recommended pressure printed on them.
posted by advicepig at 7:14 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The way you're describing the valve being chewed up, it sounds a lot like the valve is rubbing against the hole in the rim and being abraded til it fails. Are the tires possibly losing pressure with the cold and sliding about the rim so the valve stem is rubbing against the hole? This might explain why, when things re-expand as the tubes warm, you get the blowout.

I live in Pittsburgh and grew up mountain biking through slush and salt, and I've never had a valve stem fail the way you describe from anything corrosive.

I would check the hole in the rim for burrs.
posted by bfranklin at 7:15 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you asked your question at You will probably have to register to search the forums and ask a question.
posted by firstdrop at 7:26 AM on January 22, 2014

If your tires are blowing just from going from cold air to hot, there's something wrong. The only way I could see that happening is if you inflated your tires outside in the cold, and inflated them to the maximum that they could take. Then the additional pressure from going inside might cause a blowout. If that's really what's causing it, try just putting a little bit less air in the tires – inflate them to maybe 10psi less than their maximum rating – or buy tires with a higher pressure rating.

Blowouts are actually more commonly caused by underpessure rather than overpressure. Sometime when your chair has been out in the cold for a while and the tires are nice and chilly, check the pressure on them. If it's more than about 10psi lower than the maximum, you should add some more air. Tires that are too low will be compressed by the weight of the chair and rider (well, the bike and rider in my experience, but the same principle applies) and that deformation creates stress spots on the tube which lead to punctures and blowouts.

It shouldn't be your valve stems. Valve stems are made of brass, and won't corrode easily. That is, in fact, the reason that they are made of brass – it's the cheapest material that is both strong enough and which also has really good corrosion resistance. (Much better than stainless steel in that regard; the only thing that would be much better would be bronze, but that'd be overkill.)

You could try buying better tubes. Whatever brand you're buying now, step up to a more expensive brand. While you're at it, protect them by installing some kevlar tire liners to prevent punctures.

Also, the valve hole in your rims may be the issue as has been mentioned above. Next time you are changing a tube, run your hands carefully over the rim, and especially around the valve hole, checking for rough spots. Everything should be smooth, there shouldn't be any sharp points or burrs. If there are, take a little steel wool or fine sandpaper and smooth them out. A manufacturing defect in your rims could have left a little burr somewhere that's gradually cutting through your tires.
posted by Scientist at 12:27 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the gloves, once they've gotten wet already just go ahead and rinse them off when you get home. Even if they are leather -- they are already wet and dirty/salt, changing that to just being wet is better. Don't dry them anywhere that gets too hot to touch.
posted by yohko at 1:04 PM on January 22, 2014

In the winter I ride my bike 5-10 miles per day through Chicago road salt and slush and I've never had a blowout like you describe--including this winter which has been brutal and salty enough that my (steel) bike is going to need a paint job come spring. I make sure my valves match the hole in the rim (i.e. Schrader valves in Schrader-drilled rims) and I keep them properly inflated, but don't take any other precautions for cold or salty conditions. I use "normal" tubes, usually Bontrager, but often just whatever the bike shop is selling. So, I also doubt this is mechanical or chemical damage caused by salt.

I second the the possibility that you're experiencing an underpressure blowouts caused by the inner tube (and probably the tire as well) shifting slowly around the rim because of the resistance offered by the road. This applies a shearing force to the base of the stem, and even though this part of the tube is reinforced, it eventually splits. Low pressure also allows the tube, rim and tire to shift around a but relative to each other which can wear the tube, but I generally see this on large mountain bike tires run at very low pressures (20-30 PSI).

On bikes, underpressure flats are usually the distinctive "snakebite" pinch flat caused by hitting something--which seems like it could be less of a problem for wheelchairs--but I also see this kind all the time at the shop I work for.

The best diagnostic is that your valve stem will slowly shift around to exit the rim at something other than a 90° angle. Installing tubes with the stem slightly fore or aft of the valve hole can also cause this kind of flat, so make sure you're aligning the valve properly when you put in a new tube.

A couple of other possibilities, some of which have been addressed already:

1. Make sure the valve hole is smooth and free of burrs. If it isn't, carefully clean it up with some emery cloth.

2. Make sure the valve hole is appropriately sized for the valve. There shouldn't be much if any room to wiggle the valve stem in an appropriately sized valve hole. All good modern rims come pre-drilled with holes of the right size, but I don't want to take it for granted that yours did.

3. Make sure rim tape is present and in good condition. If it's a plastic material with sharpish edges, or a decaying strip of rubber, replace it with a cloth rim strip. The most common and best product is made by Velox.

Finally, if none of these sound like realistic possibilities, can you post some pictures of failed tubes?
posted by pullayup at 3:33 PM on January 22, 2014

« Older Best New Yorker articles of the last 2 years?   |   How to fairly split household expenses Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.