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The tube inside by bicycle tire (inner-tube) got a hole and now I can't ride the bike. It isn't a big hole, so I am going to repair it myself. The only problem is that it takes an extremely long time to find the hole. I usually run my finger around the entire tube looking for it, until I eventually find it. This usually takes 20-30 minutes. There must be an better alternative. What is an easy way to quickly find a hole in a tire tube?

  • Just how often do you get holes in your bike tires? – Mooseman Mar 11 '15 at 19:47
  • @Mooseman This doesn't happen to me as much, but I have a family member who likes off terrain biking – michaelpri Mar 11 '15 at 20:04
  • Put your tire in a river man !!! – MoonMind Mar 12 '15 at 11:25
  • Instead of feeling with your finger hold the tube near you mouth, so you feel the escaping air on your lips. If that does not work it is time to use liquids, as explained in several of the answers. – Willeke May 27 at 16:34

10 Answers 10

55

Take a bucket full of water (the bigger the diameter is, the better) and push your inflated inner tube into the water - section for section. As long as the hole isn't like really, really tiny, you will see some bubbles right away. With tiny holes you need some steady hands, more time and a good pair of eyes. Small bubbles are hard to spot.

For easiest bubble-spotting, use a dark bucket, because you will see the bubbles better if the background is dark.

Just make sure to dry the area around the hole thoroughly before applying any kind of fix to it.


There is also an improvement to the run-the-finger-along-tube-method you already know: Instead of moving your finger along the tube, move the tube along your lips - not really touching them, of course. The area around our lips and tip of the nose is extremely sensitive to airflows.

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    The area around the eye is also very sensitive at detecting air escaping from a tube, and I use this method often. – Clive van Hilten Mar 11 '15 at 21:30
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    If you can pump air into the tire while immersing part of it the bubbles will be much easier to spot. – kojiro Mar 12 '15 at 3:43
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    Don't use bucket for this, use a vessel with least height so that you can rotate the tire easily. if you are near to a beach or river use that ;) – MoonMind Mar 12 '15 at 11:26
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    @MoonMind I agree, that a vessel or anything with a smaller height works better. But I won't recommend doing this in a river, because it's even harder to spot bubbles in moving waters. – Alex Mar 12 '15 at 12:41
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    Remember to check the inside of your outer tube for sharp objects, especially if you find lots of tiny holes in your inner tube; there may be a thorn or tiny piece of glass stuck on the inside between the inner and outer tube, and you'd be fixing your tube constantly... – Marc Dingena Mar 13 '15 at 15:01
47

Use soapy water if you don't have where to submerge the tire:

  1. Take soap and some water and make soapy water solution (liquid soap dissolves faster)
  2. Start to apply soapy water on the tire with your hand
  3. When you put soapy water on the hole you will see soap bubbles appearing. At the same time you can feel the air flow with your hand. Wet hand becomes more sensitive to air flows.

I have seen some children using this method to find a hole on a football or basketball ball, and it will surely work for tires.

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    This is probably the most correct answer. It is much easier to use soapy water than trying to submerge the entire tire. I have done this with my full size car tire more than once. – Jason Hutchinson Mar 11 '15 at 20:12
  • definitely the best answer, it is a lot easier to keep a small bottle of soap and a rag with you when biking rather than a whole bucket and enough water to fill it :) – celeriko Mar 12 '15 at 15:50
  • As a guy who worked in a tire shop, we had a bucket shaped like a half tire to locate the general area where the hole was, and then if it wasn't obvious after that, or was just to small to see, we used soapy water to pinpoint it. – agweber Mar 12 '15 at 18:51
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    I would suggest an edit to fix the grammar in this post if I only knew what all the places that need work are trying to say... – ErikE Mar 12 '15 at 20:44
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    This technique is used in the oil and gas industry to locate leaks in pipe joints & seals. They call the soapy water "snoop". It works! – Hydrargyrum Mar 16 '15 at 1:46
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You may need to use water, as others have said, but before you do that....

  1. Get the tube and partially inflate it

  2. Hold the tube to your ear and slowly rotate it

  3. When you hear the air hissing out, you have found the hole.

Not only is this quicker than water, it also works out on the road (as there never seems to be a bucket of water around when you need it).

  • +1, this has worked flawlessly for me every time I get a puncture. – Nobilis Mar 12 '15 at 14:36
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    *on a road without traffic. This only works well in quiet environments. – Alex Mar 13 '15 at 7:22
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    If you're on the road, it's easier to just bring a spare inner tube instead of a puncture repair kit. – David Richerby Mar 13 '15 at 8:55
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    @DavidRicherby yes, good thinking. Do you think I could point out that if they learned to cycle while balancing a bucket of water, all their options would then be covered? Not to mention, if they learned to unicycle (still with bucket) they would halve their risk of a puncture in the first place? – PeteH Mar 13 '15 at 10:56
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    @DavidRicherby - great advice, it's no fun to patch a tube next to a busy highway, but carry a patch kit too so when Murphy's Law strikes and you get a second flat on the ride, you'll be able to repair it. I carry a tiny self-stick patch kit as a backup for the spare tube, 6 patches fit into a tiny container not much bigger than a quarter. – Johnny Mar 13 '15 at 19:23
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At most bike shops here they sell this:

enter image description here

It is like a box with small very light balls in them. Just move it along the tire and the balls will start to jump at the hole

  • Welcome to Lifehacks.SE! Product recommendations is a controversial topic on Lifehacks meta. But since you don't recommend a specific model/brand I guess it's ok. Could you please add the name of this thing or how you could make one yourself? – Alex Mar 12 '15 at 8:52
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    Well in Dutch it's called a "lekzoeker" which translates to "leak finder" or "leak detector". I couldn't find any english websites that have it so maybe it's just a Dutch thing. But even here not many people have it I think. It's not that popular I guess. No idea how you could make it yourself. – Ivo Beckers Mar 12 '15 at 8:58
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    @Alex - this is an excellent example of where a product recommendation is a good thing -- I've been biking for decades, and have never seen or even heard of such a device before, so I'm sure that many people have no idea that such a thing exists. – Johnny Mar 13 '15 at 18:51
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    I signed up just to say that this is genius, should be allowed on the site, and I've never seen one in England. I imagine you could put one together with a spent metal mint tin, a drill, and some polystyrene balls (excuse to fire up Amazon*!). Just make sure the holes are smaller than the balls (duh) - I reckon you'd be able to feel them move; get away without the transparent tin. *other sites are available. – OJFord Mar 13 '15 at 20:37
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The quickest overall method is this: Pull the tube from the tire and pump it up well above the volume it would be inside the tire. Then (in a quiet place) rotate the tube past your ear. You will almost certainly be able to find the general location of the leak by hearing the hiss, then explore more closely with your finger, keeping your ear close to the suspected area. You will probably hear a noise as your finger blocks and then unblocks the hole. Lips are also good for detecting the stream of air, as Alex pointed out.

Bonus technique: when you remount a tire, move the valve stem so that it is near the tire label. When you get your next flat, find the hole in the inner tube, and then find the corresponding location on the tire itself and explore it for thorns, nails, glass or other puncture-causing objects. If you don't do this, there may still be a sharp object imbeded in your tire and you will quickly get another flat.

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    Lining up the outer tube with the valve stem/hole in rim is not guaranteed to work in the long run... The outer tube can slowly move over the rim as the bike is ridden due to friction so it looses alignment. Just run your fingertips along the inside of the outer tube around the entire tire to sense anything spiky that might puncture the inner tube. Unless your fingers are heavily callused you should be able to find by touch any problems sharp enough to do damage. (You might prick your finger too, but that usually closes itself quickly. Don't try this if you have hemophilia :-) – Tonny Mar 13 '15 at 23:30
  • This is a problem, but only in theory. Also, you will know the label and valve are out of alignment before you remove the tire, so there is zero harm in using this technique. The worst that happens is it doesn't help you. Yes, you could search the entire tire, but you are much more likely to miss what you are looking for and cut yourself if you don't know where to look. Pros use the valve/label method for a reason. – BretW Mar 15 '15 at 19:54
  • +1 for bonus — previously I was damaging my tube about 20 times in a row before I found a sharp piece of nail in the tire. – Sarge Borsch Mar 16 '15 at 9:13
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One of the tricks I've heard of is filling the inner tube with air and submerging it in water. If you're having trouble finding the leak, then the air isn't escaping too quickly for you to be able to detect it underwater.

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In the absence of a bucket with soapy water (eg. on the go), I usually use my tongue.

If you don't mind the taste of the rubber, it works even better than using your lips. The saliva on your tongue will create a seal against the hole and gently squeezing air out of the tube will 'burp' or 'fart' against your tongue.

This is very helpful with tiny holes because it's not the size of the hole you are detecting, it is the amount of air that is trapped beneath your tongue before it escapes. You regulate this with air pressure in the tube and tongue pressure on the tube, so take your time and allow the air to build up momentarily before it escapes from beneath your tongue.

To be clear, I'm not talking about licking the tube! Lightly press the tip of your tongue against the tube and run the tube against your tongue. When you think you have found the hole then you can press a bit more firmly with the tip of your tongue to seal the hole and verify it's location.

Personally, it works so well I don't bother with soapy water. Also, if it's not an emergency, I don't patch tubes anyway.

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    If you're on the go, it's easier to just carry a spare inner tube with you. – David Richerby Mar 13 '15 at 8:57
  • That should be a given but if you think you need to carry a spare tube then you should also carry patches. A spare tube is only good for one emergency. I have taken tubes out of the box that were split down the seam or missing the valve assembly. They don't do much good. – Fuzzy Logic Mar 13 '15 at 18:08
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I like to hook up something in generally. If you have found the leakage, while on the go, saliva works almost as good as leakage-search-spray which is nothing else as soap-water. You can now double check it and check it again to ensure your patch is close. It works very good for the valve also (in addition for car-tires valves also...)

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For finding leaks in tires of any sort, I like to keep a spray bottle of soap water handy. Just spray the tube, and it will bubble wherever the hole is.

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At home, I use the bucket method. However, "in the field" I don't carry a bucket with me when I cycle. Finding the source of the puncture can be critical, whether one is patching the tube or using a replacement.

I first chalk the tire at the value stem, and mark the rotation direction on the tube. This allows me to "align" the punctured tube with the tire.

After removing the wheel, and separating the tire from the tube, I inflate the tube and both listen and feel for a leak. Sometimes I hear it. Other times I feel the escaping air on my face or eye. Once I know where the puncture is on the tube, I can align it to the tire, and find the place on the tire where the puncture occurred. There may still be debris in the tire that I need to remove such as metal, glass, nails, and even a wood splinter once.

protected by michaelpri Mar 12 '15 at 20:05

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