5 Easy Rust Removal Methods

Rust on metal items is unsightly and can cause a safety hazard. Keeping rust at bay by removing it as soon as it appears is the best option. Read this first!

Strong acids, like hydrochloric acid (also known as muriatic acid when diluted) and strong alkalis, remove rust quickly but also eat away at paint and finishes and can be dangerous to work with.

1. Lemon Juice and Salt

The acid in lemon juice is a natural cleaner and works well to remove rust from most smooth surfaces. The abrasiveness of salt helps to scrub off the rust as well. This is an inexpensive, easy-to-use method for removing rust from a metal item. If the item is labeled as dry clean only, test a small spot of lemon juice on the fabric to ensure it’s colorfast before proceeding.

Soak the item in a mixture of equal parts lemon juice and salt. Leave it submerged for several hours, checking every hour for progress. The rust should loosen easily with some scrubbing from a brush or steel wool, after which the item can be rinsed and dried.

2. Baking Soda

Sodium bicarbonate is a mildly abrasive powder that can help remove surface rust from metal objects. It also has the ability to dissolve rust when in contact with water, but it is important to use cold water because warm or hot water can corrode steel.

Mix a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to rust spots, covering them completely. Let it sit for about an hour so the concentrated alkaline can start to break down rust stains. Scrub the affected area with a scrub brush or steel wool. Rinse and dry the metal object thoroughly to prevent re-rusting. You can also rub the rusted item with lemon juice or certain vegetables that contain acid, such as potatoes, which have oxalic acid.

3. Oxalic Acid

Oxalic acid is a powerful acid that can remove rust and stains. It works well on all metals and is commonly used in industrial cleaning applications. It is also a popular choice as a bleaching agent and is an excellent reagent for dyeing and developing photographic film.

You can use oxalic acid in a vat with water to create an effective solution for cleaning and removing rust from metals. Pour the solution over a piece of metal and allow it to sit for a while. Then rinse it off with water. You should notice a big difference as the rust dissolves away from your metal object.

4. WD-40

WD-40 works to loosen excessive surface rust on iron, chrome car parts, chainsaws, and stainless steel appliances. It can also help prevent further rusting by creating a barrier between oxygen and the iron object.

Invented by Rocket Chemical Company in 1953, the trade secret formula it contains was developed to protect the Atlas rocket’s outer skin from rust and corrosion. The company sold WD-40 to the public shortly thereafter, and it quickly became an indispensable household item.

WD-40’s Specialist Rust Remover Soak dissolves rust, restoring the metal to bare metal without harming parts, trim, gaskets, or paint. Leave items submerged in the soak for 1-3 hours or overnight for heavy rust removal.

5. Citrus Acid

Citric acid is one of the fastest, safest, and least abrasive ways to remove rust from metal tools. You can buy it in powdered form at most grocery stores in the baking supplies area or in a liquid form from home brew and canning supply shops.

Dipping your metal item in the citric acid solution chelates the iron and dissolves it, leaving you with clean steel that you can wipe away. Citric acid doesn’t produce harsh chemical fumes like oxalic or hydrochloric acid and is fully biodegradable, so it is more environmentally friendly than other common rust remover chemicals.

To use it, pour a small amount of citric acid powder into a plastic container and add enough water to cover your item. Dip the item and check it periodically to see how much rust is coming off.

6. Potatoes

Potatoes are a staple of most kitchens and can be used as a simple, effective homemade rust remover. Simply slice a potato and dip the non-peel-covered end in baking soda or dish soap, then firmly rub it over the rusted area.

The oxalic acid in the potato acts as a natural corrosive, similar to that found in many commercial cleaning products, and the salt acts as a mild abrasive. Scrub the item until all visible traces of rust are removed, then thoroughly rinse and dry the metal surface. This method is particularly useful for items that are hard to clean with a brush, such as cast iron pans or kitchen knives. Browse the next article.