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How to Clean Rusty Tools

Wait! Are you throwing away your tools just because they look a bit… ok, a lot rusty to you? Well, we wouldn’t recommend doing this because there are plenty of easy ways on how to clean rusty tools.


If you’re a DIYer, you probably love your tools. The fact that they have rusted tells us that it’s been a while since you last took a home improvement project. When metal tools are not used regularly, they become susceptible to rust. Over time, steel and iron are exposed to moisture and oxygen and go through oxidation, a chemical reaction that causes rust. You see this visual evidence in the orange-like burnt speckling, which covers your precious metal possessions.


The good news is that these tools can be easily cleaned using store-bought rust removers such as WD-40 and DIY solutions, such as vinegar, baking soda and water, lime juice, etc. Let’s look at the methods and how they work:


Removing Rust Using Store-Bought Chemicals

Use WD-40

One of the best rust remover sprays out there in the market is WD-40. It’s a multi-purpose spray that works as a lubricant, displaces moisture, loosens stuck parts and of course, removes rust. Using it is pretty simple. All you have to do is spray the tool with WD-40 and let it sit for a couple of minutes. With the help of a wire brush, scrub a small area to see if the rust has loosened. If not then spray a little bit more and then completely scrub the exposed metal. This spray does not damage metal so you can safely use it every time to remove rust.


Note: To prevent any future rusting, cover the metal with WD-40 Specialist Penetrant. This chemical leaves a non-staining film on the metal that protects it from dust.


Use Rust Remover Chemicals

Rust remover chemicals have either of the two key ingredients ― phosphoric or oxalic acid. While these ingredients are great at fighting rust, they are harmful to the skin, which is why you need to use them safely. Unlike WD-40 that can be left on the tools for just 15 minutes, these require a much longer wait time, of about 2 to 3 hours. You’ll then have to put in some elbow grease to scrub away the rust. Once the tool is cleaned, apply some rust converter to prevent the metal from rusting again. Like the WD-40 Specialist Penetrant, a rust remover works as a primer and keeps the rust from spreading.


Use Oxalic Acid

If you can’t get your hands on a rust remover chemical, you can directly use oxalic acid. You’ll have to protective measures while using this acid, like coveralls, rubber gloves, and goggles. Avoid inhaling any fumes that may arise when the acid is poured into a container.


To remove rust, first, dilute 25ml acid with 250ml water. Submerge the tools in the solution for 20 minutes, take them out and scrub them using steel wool, wash them under tap water and then finally dry them with a cloth.


Use Citric Acid

Powdered citric acid is also great at removing rust. Throw your tools in a plastic bucket and cover them in citric acid. Add boiling hot water into the bucket and leave the tools overnight. Make sure that every inch of the tools is submerged in water. Remove the tools from the bucket in the morning wearing gloves and run them under tap water. Instead of letting them air dry, use a soft, clean cloth to wipe them.


Removing Rust Using DIY Solutions

Equipment and Materials You’ll Need

  • Large Bowl
  • Hard-Bristle Brush
  • Clean Rags
  • Spray Bottle (Optional)
  • White Vinegar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Baking Soda or Borax
  • ½ Potato
  • Salt


Removing Rust with Vinegar

  • Fill a large bowl with 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water (If the tools are big or more in quantity, use a bucket instead)
  • Submerge your tools in this solution and leave them in place for 30 minutes (This duration would be longer if the rust layer is thick)
  • Take out the tools after the time is up and use steel wool to scrub away the rust (If you still see rust, submerge them again in the vinegar solution)
  • Rinse the tools under tap water and wipe them with a clean cloth


Removing Rust with Potatoes and Baking Soda

Potatoes are a great source of oxalic acid. It’s a toxic-free cleaner that does not require you to wear gloves or goggles. Learn how to clean rusty tools with potatoes and baking soda since they are easy to find in most homes. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Cut the potato in half and then sprinkle baking soda on it
  • Rub the open side of potato on the rusted area
  • Rinse the tools under tap water and wipe them with a clean cloth

The oxalic acid in this vegetable will help lift the rust, whereas the baking soda will scrub it away.


Using Lemon or Lime Juice

  • Squeeze 3 to 4 lemons in a bowl
  • Add in baking soda or borax to form a paste
  • Apply this wet paste on the rusted tools and leave it in place for 30 minutes (If the paste starts to get dry, spray some water on top to re-wet it)
  • Use a hard-bristle brush to scrub away the rust
  • Repeat the steps if you still see rust on the tools
  • Rinse the tools under tap water and wipe them with a clean cloth


Our Final Thoughts

There you have it ― multiple easy and safe methods on how to clean rusty tools. The ingredients for the DIY methods are available in most households so you can start cleaning your tools right now. If the layer of rust is thick, switch to store-bought cleaners.

Most ingredients mentioned above for cleaning rusty tools are acidic. Acid has the power to not just break down the components of rust but also dissolve it so your tools can become as good as new. Remember, once the tools have been cleaned, apply a coat of primer to prevent this from happening again.


About Chris

When Chris first bought a house, he quickly realized that he was now going to need to be a weekend handyman. Every project that he worked on, he kept realizing that he needed more and more DIY tools. Chris is also someone who likes to do a lot of research before making large purchases. Since he had already done most of the research, Chris decided to put the info that he accumulated about his favorite daily tools onto