Choosing and cleaning inner tubes

This post is the second part of a series on crafting with inner tubes. You can find part 1 here.

Inner tube craft tutorials | Bicitoro

Welcome! Today we’re going to talk about our raw material: where to get your hands on inner tubes, what sizes are good for what projects, and how to clean them properly.

On Thursday, we’ll talk about cutting up inner tubes, and Friday I’ll have a craft project to play with over the weekend.

Let’s get started, shall we?

What are inner tubes made of, anyway?

The short answer is butyl rubber, which is a synthetic rubber formed by doing science. (Click the link if you want Wikipedia to tell you the specifics.) It was developed around World War II as an alternative to natural latex rubber, which comes from Amazonian trees.

You can still get latex inner tubes, which apparently have their own special reasons why why you might want them, but nearly all inner tubes these days are made of butyl rubber. (Which is also used in chewing gum to make it nice and rubbery, buen apetito.)

cleaning bicycle inner tubes | Bicitoro

Where do I get inner tubes

Well, beyond the obvious answer of get a bunch of flats yourself (boo!), I recommend checking out your local bike shop. Most of those folks do a brisk business in fixing flats, and they’ve probably got a stash of busted inner tubes in the back.

Some shops recycle them, and if you live in a crafty city like Seattle, a lot of shops might have agreements with companies like Alchemy Goods to supply them with tubes. But if you ask nicely, I’m sure they’ll have some to spare.

What size do I want?

For our crafty purposes, bicycle inner tubes come in 2 sizes: road bike and mountain bike. Road inner tubes are narrower, to fit in those skinny little tires—mtb inner tubes can be almost 2-3 times as wide.

road inner tube vs mountain bike inner tube

Road inner tubes make long flat strips, and are excellent for crafts like:

When you cut a road inner tube open, you end up with a piece of rubber 2-3″ wide that lays almost perfectly flat. When you cut a mtb inner tube, on the other hand, it’ll have a definite curve. If you try to force it flat, the rubber will show ripples.

Mtb inner tubes are good for crafts where you want short, wide pieces, like:

Essentially, save the mtb inner tubes for times when you need a wide piece that’s either short enough that the curved surface doesn’t show, or when the curve is actually a benefit.

Clean ‘em up

Cleaning inner tubes is pretty simple: just cut out the valve stem, slice the tube open lengthwise, then scrub with dish soap and hot water.

cleaning bicycle inner tubes - 2 | Bicitoro

Most inner tubes have a white powder inside them (it’s just crushed fairies*, no worries), so cut the tube open over a trash can. Not, you know, on your sewing table right next to a pile of fancy dress pieces you just cut out like I did. (You would never do that, I’m sure.)

Sometimes you may run across an inner tube that’s had a long, hard life—it’ll look dirty, even rusty. I find that using rubbing alcohol on a rag normally gets rid of anything that soap and water can’t handle.

Craft away

Questions? Comments? Clarifications? Leave ‘em below—and don’t forget to come back by on Thursday where I’ll dissect the myriad ways of cutting into our newly harvested inner tubes.

* Or talcum powder. Whatever. Don’t breathe it, either way.

Want more inner tube crafts? Check out my ebook Crafting with Inner Tubes.

Crafting with Inner tubes | Bicitoro bikes and crafts

14 thoughts on “Choosing and cleaning inner tubes

  1. Definitely a good idea to do cut open over the trash. Some inner tubes may have green goo in them (to help repair a puncture with a quick spin of the tire till you get home) and that goo needs to plop into the trash and not on the floor. I just wash them up after in the sink and the green goo is gone. xoxo

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  8. Talcum powder is used inside tire tubes.

    Talc Safety

    Several studies have established preliminary links between talc and pulmonary issues,[4] lung cancer,[5][6] skin cancer and ovarian cancer.[7] This is a major concern considering talc’s widespread commercial and household use. In 1993, a US National Toxicology Program report found that cosmetic grade talc caused tumours in animals (animal testing), even though it contained no asbestos-like fibres.[5] Scientists have been aware of the toxicity of talc since the late 1960s, and in 1971 researchers found particles of talc embedded in 75 percent of the ovarian tumors studied.[8] However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers non-asbestiform talc, that is, talc which does not contain potentially carcinogenic asbestiform amphibole fibers, to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in cosmetics. [9]


    who knew

  9. Hello

    I tried making things out of inner tubes a couple of years ago. I did the usual washing stuff but then also wiped them over with jojoba oil (I had some so thought I’d try it) which seemed to clean off any dirt that was left and left it with a lovely finish. After reading your posts I’m reinspired to have another go!

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