How To Remove Rust From Metal

By: Contributors  | 
Old, rusty utensils in a wooden box.
You can salvage vintage utensils that are coated in rust with a little baking soda and elbow grease. Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Rust, the unsightly reddish-brown flaky coating that often appears on metal surfaces, can be a nuisance for many. Understanding how to remove rust from metal is crucial not just for aesthetic reasons but also for maintaining the integrity and longevity of your metal objects. This task might seem challenging, but with the right techniques and some elbow grease, you can effectively tackle rust and restore your metal items to their former glory. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore various methods to combat rust, ensuring that your metal surfaces stay clean and rust-free.


The Baking Soda Method

For light rust stains, baking soda is an excellent, non-toxic rust remover. Mix baking soda with water to create a thick paste and apply it generously to the rusted area. Let the paste sit for a few hours or overnight for better results. Using steel wool, a scouring pad, or a wire brush scrub the paste in a circular motion to remove the rust. This method is gentle and especially suitable for metal surfaces in contact with food, such as pots and pans and kitchen knives.


White Vinegar Soak

White vinegar, a common household item, is effective for rust removal on metal surfaces. Submerge the rusty object in white vinegar, ensuring it's completely covered, and let it sit overnight. The acetic acid in vinegar breaks down rust, making it easier to scrub off. After soaking, rinse the object with water and dry it completely to prevent new rust from forming. This method works well for small items like screws, bolts, pliers, and kitchen utensils.


Lemon Juice and Salt

Lemon juice and salt can form a potent mixture for removing rust. Sprinkle salt over the rusted area, then squeeze lemon juice over the salt. Allow the mixture to sit for a few hours, providing time for the acid in the lemon juice to react with the rust. Use a scouring pad or brush to scrub away the rust. This method is also safe and eco-friendly, ideal for rust stains on delicate metal surfaces.


Using a Wire Brush

For more significant rust, especially on surfaces like galvanized steel, a wire brush is a handy tool. Vigorously brush the surface rust with firm, even strokes, applying sufficient pressure to remove the rust without damaging the metal. This physical method is excellent for larger surfaces where chemical methods may be impractical.


Potato and Dish Soap

A surprising yet effective rust removal method involves a potato and dish soap. Cut a potato in half, dip the cut end in dish soap, and rub it over the rusted area. The oxalic acid in the potato helps break down the rust. Let the juice sit for a few hours before rinsing. This method is particularly useful for small, intricate metal objects.


Commercial Rust Removers

When dealing with stubborn rust, commercial rust removers can be highly effective. These products are specifically formulated to tackle rust on metal surfaces. Apply the solution according to the manufacturer's instructions, usually involving application, waiting, and then scrubbing. When using these products, always wear protective gear, such as gloves and goggles, for safety.


Aluminum Foil Scrub

Aluminum foil, when dipped in water or vinegar, can serve as a gentle abrasive for rust removal on thin metal surfaces. The softness of the foil minimizes the risk of scratching the metal. Gently rub the foil on the rusted area, and the chemical reaction between aluminum and rust will facilitate the removal process.


Citric Acid Solution

Citric acid, a natural and mild acid, is effective for rust removal. Mix citric acid with hot water to create a solution and submerge the rusted item. Let it sit for several hours or overnight for more severe rust. After soaking, use a brush or scouring pad to scrub away the loosened rust. This method is particularly effective for removing rust from small metal parts and tools.


Sandpaper for Severe Rust

For severe rust that has deeply penetrated the metal surface, sandpaper or a metal brush can be the solution. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper to remove the bulk of the rust and then switch to finer grit to smooth the surface. This method is labor-intensive but effective for heavily rusted metal surfaces.


How To Prevent Rust

Preventing rust is key to maintaining metal objects. Regular cleaning and drying of metal objects, especially after exposure to moisture, is essential. Applying a protective coating, such as paint or a specialized sealant, can significantly reduce the risk of rust formation on metal surfaces. Regular inspection and maintenance of metal objects can also prevent the onset of severe rust.

Dealing with rust doesn't have to be a daunting task. With a range of methods available, from household remedies like baking soda and vinegar to more robust solutions like sandpaper and commercial rust removers, you can tackle surface rust on any metal object. Regular maintenance and protective measures are also key to keeping your metal surfaces rust-free and in good condition.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

Remove Rust from Metal FAQ

What household products can you use to remove rust?
You don't need to buy commercial rust cleaners since many household products can easily do the job. The most effective products include baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar.
How do you remove rust from metal objects?
The most effective way to remove rust from metal is by mixing water and baking soda until it forms a thick paste. You can spread the paste on all the rusty spots and let it sit for at least an hour. Then use a wire brush to scrub the metal object and remove the rust. Rinse the paste off and dry the item. Alternatively, if it’s small enough, simply soak the item overnight in a container full of vinegar.
Is it possible to remove rust from stainless steel?
Yes, it is. You can use different solutions, such as using a paste made from baking soda and water or any acidic household product. If these solutions fail, you can buy a commercial rust cleaner from a local hardware or home improvement store.