Rust can be a huge pain in the rear when it comes to any of your metal possessions that contain iron and are exposed to rain. Really anything that is made of metal, exposed to water and allowed to oxidize (dry out on its own) can rust.. Common items in our day to day lives that can accumulate rust include tools, cars, metal building tools like nails and screws, outdoor furniture or garden fixtures, bicycles and fences.
Once a piece of metal starts to rust it will continue to corrode unless intervention and further rust prevention occurs, until the metal is weakened, compromised. Eventually, the entirety of the metal will rust away, though this takes years. Obviously this is not ideal when we need and rely on those rusting parts as part of a machine or weight support. Rust can also be really dangerous to humans which we’ll talk about in more detail. First, let’s briefly take a look at what rust really is.
How Does Metal Rust
Rust, or iron oxide as it is known in the scientific community, is the reddish brown substance that forms when iron, or its alloys, react with oxygen, usually in the presence of water! For metal located underwater, oxidation will still occur and you will instead see a formation in a pale green hue. Underwater rusting can be just as dangerous and inconvenient as rust that occurs above the surface.
That reddish-brown color is an indication that a chemical reaction is occurring and that the substance is slowly reverting back to its naturally lower energy form of ore. Oxygen is one electron shy of a full valence set. In case you’re interested in a brief chemistry lesson… iron is inclined to donate or be robbed of its electrons as it is a less stable metal.
The Dangers Of Rust
- Rust weakens metal. When it comes to most metal objects, the reason that they were made of metal in the first place is for the strength and durability of this particular substance. A lot of intended purposes for these parts and objects rely solely on their chemical makeup. So when your hammer rusts and the reaction is not stopped it becomes weaker and weaker over time and can be dangerous and just completely unusable.
- Rust corrodes metal. And corroded metal forms holes allowing for further corrosion. Pipes that corrode will leak resulting in more water contacting metal and more likely further rusting. Corroded metal will also become sharp and can pose a risk of cutting or slicing their user open which can lead to bacterial infections.
- Rust makes moving parts stick! Any tool that uses a sliding motion will stop functioning as efficiently and entirely if rust is not removed and corrected. Tools such as pliers or scissors will not work as well once they start to rust due to the added friction from the flaking of textured rust.
- Rust prevents magnetic abilities. Iron is uniquely magnetic and as the iron deteriorates, your product will become less and less magnetized. If that is an important function of the tool or device you will of course want to prevent rusting from happening.
- Rust prohibits electrical conductivity. Rust is simply an inferior conductive material, which you might be happy to hear if you drive a rusting car in a tropical area. Jokes aside rusting can impact electrical wirings and components by preventing the flow of energy.
- Rust can harbor life-threatening bacteria. The bacteria Clostridium Tetani causes the disease tetanus which can be fatal in humans by causing strokes. The spread is quite simple, the bacteria only needs to enter your bloodstream. There it will slowly begin to do its damage to your body. You may not know you have tetanus until up to a year after you contract the bacteria
Side note: No joke I know someone who got tetanus from a rusty fence as a teenager, had a stroke in her bathroom 6 months later, and was seriously concussed when she hit her head on the bathtub. She still suffers from severe migraines from the experience.
Most of us are vaccinated for the bacteria as it is present in soil however young children may not be vaccinated yet. There tends to be an increase of bacteria both on rusting objects and in the soil surrounding them so even if the rust isn’t inhibiting an item’s function it can be dangerous and best to dispose of that item.
Preventing Rust From Forming
There are a couple of ways you can prevent metal from oxidizing, and they both involve coating the metal with a substance, essentially sealing it and preventing air from coming in contact with it. You can’t continue to oxidize if you don’t come in contact with any oxygen!
The first is really quite simple. Are you ready? It’s paint. Painting any outdoor furniture that has begun to rust will seal it from the outside air preventing further rust from forming. Of course, this isn’t a great solution for items like cast iron pans or wrenches, but for fences, furniture, or decor it works wonders!
The other prevention option is to seal the metal using zinc, a metal that does not rust. How that works is through a process called galvanization. What happens is the zinc coating essentially volunteers as tribute to protect the iron. The zinc will oxidize as well and is actually more susceptible to the electron losses to oxygen (this is what oxidation really is). In some cases, magnesium is also used.
Typically, metals are galvanized before you buy them. Items like pipes that are prone to getting wet will almost always be coated. You can however galvanize metal at home, though it is not a simple process and can be dangerous. I’ll let the experts give you further instruction here if you are interested, check out this source for steps to galvanize metal at home.
Home Remedies For Rust Removal
If you have items that have begun to rust, you can remove that rust without too much trouble. Be prepared to scrub, these methods will need some elbow grease.
Lime and Salt
You can also use lemon juice here as it also has a high level of citric acid. Like the other methods that you will see further on in this article, this method involves soaking the rusted part, for this formula the soaking liquid is lime juice. Even if you cannot fully submerge the object you will want to allow the lime juice to sit on the surface for at least an hour (reapplying as needed) up to 12 hours.
The first step is to cover the surface with salt, so this method will be the easiest if you have a flat surface as the salt will need to stick. Sprinkle the surface with salt and then generously add your citrus juice and allow to soak.
After you have soaked for the time you deemed fit you will need to get down to some serious scrubbing. The juice may have gotten the rust loose, but you will have to add some elbow grease to really get it off. For the best experience I recommend a metal brush or steel wool.
Baking Soda Paste
If you’ve read some of my other articles here at PMC, you’ll know that baking soda is my personal favorite cleaning product. It can be an excellent product for removing gunk from your vehicle, cleaning tires, getting stains and messes out of carpeting and upholstery, cleaning seat belts, cleansing your kitchen sink… I could go on and on, but I won’t. The point is that baking soda is an awesome cleaning agent and if you don’t already have some on hand, I’d pick up a big bag!
Anyhow, when it comes to removing oxidized metals of their rust coating, baking soda is yet again a front runner among DIYers. You’re going to want to use my famous paste method. Mix a 1:1 ratio of water and baking soda and lay it on thick to whatever surface you’re trying to rehabilitate. Allow this mixture to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour, then rinse with water.
Next you’re going to scrub off the rust with a wire brush or a sander. You can also opt to remove the rust by hand using steel wool or an abrasive pad.
Baking Soda Paste Paired With Vinegar:
Follow the steps detailed above in our section on baking soda paste. For an extra kick you’re going to want to slowly add vinegar or place the item in a vinegar bath, allowing the baking soda to react and get all bubbly. After the reaction has completed, rinse your rusted item with clean water. Next, you are going to take a wire brush or something highly abrasive and scrub off the rust. The sound is awful but the rust shouldn’t be too difficult to remove thanks to the baking soda and vinegar combination loosening the reddish brown particles.
This is a pretty simple and easy to use method. You are only going to need two things, vinegar and something to put the vinegar in that is big enough to fully submerge whatever you are trying to remove the rust from. I typically like to use white vinegar for my household cleaning vinegar simply because it is colorless and inexpensive, but any vinegar will work for you.
Length of soaking is entirely up to you, I recommend at least an hour and up to 24 hours. Typically I will just do a soak overnight, the 12 hour mark seems to be the sweet spot. After your items have soaked you’re going to take an abrasive cloth or pad and scrub scrub scrub all of the rust that has been loosened by the soak. You can finish off the surface with a fine grit sandpaper as needed.
Coca Cola Method:
Yep you read that right, Coca Cola, the world’s favorite beverage and renowned branding conglomerate can help you remove stubborn rust from your tools, or really anything that is both rusted and is small enough that you can reasonably soak it in the sugary pop beverage. You’re going to want to use the original formula, so skip the Diet Coke and Coke Zero. Fill up a container with the carbonated soda and place your rusted object inside the soda bath. Allow the Coca Cola to eat away at the rust for an hour to overnight.
After the items have finished soaking, you’re going to have to apply some elbow grease, though the soda should have done a decent amount of the heavy lifting for you. You can use any abrasive surface from a dobie pad or other abrasive sponge to steel wool. Finish your work using fine grit sandpaper. You should be left with a surface that is free of rust and ready for many more years at its intended purpose.
Soap And Potato Method:
This method seems a bit far fetched, I’ll admit, but it truly works to remove rust where you need it to. What you’ll do is cut the potato in half, then cover the flat end of one of the halves with soap. At this point you’re going to use the flat, soap covered end as a sort of scouring pad, rubbing the surface of the rust vigorously with your soapy spud. The rust will eventually start to give way to your scrubbing.
The best uses for this method are going to be less severe cases of rust and of course surfaces that are easily accessible by the potato. This method is awesome because most of us have potatoes in our kitchen and we practically all have soap. This is essentially a zero cost method.
Chemicals To Buy For Rust Removal:
If you aren’t interested in making your own rust removers at home, or you have a job that is perhaps more severely rusted, a pre mixed rust remover is a great option for you. These convenient jugs of formula pack a punch, they are extremely convenient to order, inexpensive and easy to use. Best of all there are quite a few options on the market, here are some of our favorites.
Evapo-Rust: The Original Super Safe Rust Remover
Evapo-Rust is one of the most trusted brands on the market. It is safely water based and is a nontoxic formula. What that means is that if it comes in contact with your hair, skin or eyes, it’s not the end of the world. Obviously don’t aim for that and follow the manufacturers instructions and safety recommendations.
It is also important to note that this is safe to use as a soak for all metal and plastic pieces. It won’t destroy the plastic parts of the rusted metal wrench you are trying to clean. It’s pretty tough on the rust but is gentle on everything else.
Disposal of this rust remover is far more simple than some of its competitors because it is REUSABLE. At under $10 this is a bargain product and the 32oz should last you quite a while considering again that it is again, reusable. The seller guarantees that you will love their product or they’ll give you your money back. Check out their amazon page here.
Sunny Side Back to Nature Rust Remover
Sunny Side and their Ready Strip line of products are well known and trusted in the community. They sell products that range from graffiti removal to commercial paint spatter removal. This product is on the lower end of the pricing scale and is affordable no matter your economic situation.
What I really love about this product is that it comes in an easy to use spray bottle and that this method is not a soak. It is also completely safe to use indoors, is free of all odors and harsh chemicals. Speaking of safety, this formula is also biodegradable and water based. Check out current prices here:
WD- 40 Rust Remover Soak
We’ve almost all used WD- 40 on sticky moving parts that no longer glide the way that they should, but WD- 40 as a brand makes way more than gear lubricant. They actually manufacture one of the best rust removers on the market. This is a soak formula best left to do its work overnight. The best part of this particular rust soak is that it is guaranteed scrub free.
Other product factors that make WD-40 an excellent choice for consumers is the package size. This particular size is a 1 gallon and comes in either a one pack or a 4 pack option for those who have larger jobs. This brand is ideal for auto restoration and is safe to use, nontoxic and biodegradable. Check out current prices here:
Quick – Glo Original Chrome Polish And Rust Remover
This product is a staff favorite for a couple of reasons. The first is its compact size, the product comes in an 8 oz container that will fit pretty much anywhere with ease. This makes it the best friend of auto enthusiasts who display their vehicles at auto shows. So is it a polish or is it a rust remover? Well, it is actually both. The original formula has been around since 1957 and it hasn’t changed since then.
The formula utilizes pumice versus its competitors that use sand. What this accomplishes is an abrasive agent which continuously breaks down into smaller and smaller abrasive particles. It’s like using a smaller and smaller grit of sandpaper when you are polishing. You don’t have to worry about using gloves as it is non toxic and safe to use indoors. Check out current prices here:
Loctite Naval Jelly Rust Dissolver
Next up we have Loctite Naval Jelly Rust Dissolver. This is the economy product on the market that delivers the best results. Sitting at the bottom of the price range this product is in the reach of anyone and it is available on amazon. The package size is 16oz which should be suitable for application to most items. It can be used on cars as well, but you need to be cautious to keep it away from the surrounding paint and plastic pieces.
Application of this product should be done following manufacturer instructions and while using gloves. After application you will take an abrasive tool such as steel wool or a metal brush and scour the surface of the metal. The oxidized pieces will flake off easily. Check out latest prices here:
Loctite Extend Rust Neutralizer
The same company that makes the rust dissolver also makes a product called a rust neutralizer. Essentially what this product does is it primes the surface of the rusting metal so that paint can be applied. It can also be used to simply seal the metal and prevent further rusting. This product comes in an aerosol spray can and could not be a more convenient product to use.
It is important to note that this is a good option for less severe rusting cases. Of course if the metal has deteriorated and corroded to the point where it is compromised and non weight bearing, you should replace the tool or item.
So there you have it, probably more information than you needed on rust and several excellent products you can make or buy to help you take care of rust removal. For those of you reading this to repair the rust on your vehicle, Protect My Car is a great resource for protecting your high mileage vehicle utilizing an extended car warranty.
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