You’ll find it on your bike handle, your tools, your pipes and your car, especially after a long snowy winter or rainy spring. Rust occurs when metal faces prolonged contact with water, and combines with oxygen in a process called oxidation. The process corrodes the metal, dissolving it into the chalky reddish-brown substance known as rust.
The best way to deal with rust is to prevent it by keeping metal surfaces dry. Of course, this is not always possible. You could buy rust removal products containing toxic chemicals that are both bad for the environment and dangerous to keep around young children and pets. But there are many safer solutions, and you probably already have everything you need for them at home–here are six safe and easy rust removing tricks to get you started:
1 — A good place to begin is simply scrubbing the rusty surface with steel wool, sandpaper, a wire brush, or even a crumpled up ball of tin foil. If the metal hasn’t rusted too deeply, a little elbow grease will go a long way. But even if the rust is deep, it’s a good idea to eliminate outer flakes of rust first, before using other methods.
2 — For more stubborn rust, try using white vinegar. The acetic acid in this common household product is acidic enough to dissolve rust. You can soak smaller things like earrings, wipe it onto a surface with an old cloth, or just pour it directly over rust spots or bolts and screws that have rusted together. Be sure to rinse items thoroughly after the rust has dissolved, since vinegar left on the metal could damage the surface.
3 — Baking soda is great for cleaning lots of household messes, but have you ever tried it on rust? Make a paste by mixing it with water, making sure it is thick enough to stick to the rusted surface. Let it sit for a while and then scrub it off with steel wool or a wire brush. You may have to repeat this process a few times.
4 — Have an extra potato lying around? You can use a slice of it to scrub rusted surfaces–this works especially well for knife blades, pots, and pans. Sprinkle a little salt or baking soda onto the potato and then rub it over the rust spot, or just insert the knife into a potato and let it sit. The oxalic acid in the potato helps to dissolve the rust.
5 — Lemon juice can also dissolve rust–sprinkle some coarse salt onto the rust, then add lemon juice. Don’t let it sit too long, or it might cause damage. Wipe off the juice and rinse. Try mixing lemon juice with a little vinegar for an extra strong solution. Not only will you be rust-free, but whatever you are cleaning will smell like citrus!
6 — Does Coke really remove rust? If you’ve ever dropped a penny in a glass of Coke, you were probably impressed (or alarmed) that the penny came out clean. Coke contains high levels of phosphoric acid (a common ingredient in store-bought rust removal products) and can be used for rusted nuts and bolts or even corroded battery terminals. However, it can be quite a challenge to clean up since it is so sticky, so you may want to try a different method first.
Once you’ve finished, rinse and dry all surfaces completely–if you leave items wet, they’ll just rust again! You may want to prime and repaint things like bicycles, lawn furniture, or any surface that will face continuous exposure to wet weather. Also be sure to check bikes (especially the chains) for any damage deep rust might have caused before you start using them again.