Farmers' Almanac

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Rust Remedies

Rust Remedies

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.

14 Responses

  1. To Donna: I have used vinegar and baking soda on carpet to clean out pet stains. If you put the vinegar down first, it bubbles up when you pour the baking soda on top. Let dry and vacuum. Perhaps this would also work on rust on carpets as both products are mentioned in the writeup.

    by R Lowry on Aug 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm

  2. Toilet bowl cleaner works WONDERFULLY on alot of stuff. Outside.

    by jlee629 on Aug 19, 2014 at 9:36 am

  3. need to get rust off the carpet after removing something

    by DOROTHY FREI on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm

  4. […] been paying attention, your high school science teacher might have mentioned how rust is formed. The Farmers' Almanac mentions it, too: Rust is formed "when metal faces prolonged contact with water, and combines […]

    by How to Remove Rust with a Potato on Aug 6, 2014 at 5:21 pm

  5. I have a covered arena with 12 posts about 8″ in diameter x 15′ tall and hundreds of feet of rusted pipe fencing. I need it all painted in time for a wedding, but what is the easiest, most cost effective way to remove rust from such a large area? I don’t have the man power to grind or sand it, so I need to spray it with something probably. Any ideas?

    by Denise on Jul 3, 2014 at 9:23 am

  6. i have a big , big, problem with a fuel tank and need a fast remedy ,inside is full of rust and to buy a new thank this big will cost me 5 t grand , that’s a lot of money ,i wonder if there is something anybody may know how to clean all that rust and use it that fuel tank again , i would really appreciate any advise , thanks

    by ARMANDO NAVA on Jun 20, 2014 at 6:39 pm

  7. I like reading all this my first time here I have a problem my good quality tools now have scale and rust on them I need ideas please

    by Sean Sewell on Jun 11, 2014 at 12:48 am

  8. This seems to be the best site for rust removal as some of my tools have scale and rust on them need ideas White Vinegar?
    Sean Sewell

    by Sean Sewell on Jun 11, 2014 at 12:46 am

  9. We have had exactly the same problem as Donna Johnson.Did she get any results following her email with regard to rust on her carpet?
    Thank you
    J H

    by Joe Hogan on Aug 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm

  10. This info was verry helpfull

    by dylan coffey on Jul 21, 2013 at 4:08 pm

  11. Bar Keepers Friend sold with the cleansers is great for rust or hard water spots on tubs, sinks boats and other items. Mix with water and make a paste leave overnight. Hard wate rings on toilets you have to flush and turn the water off so it does not fill to water line. mix up paste let sit and scrub later.

    by Vicki Ferguson on Oct 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm

  12. How do you remove rust from carpet? There was a chair sitting for a long time on the carpet and it had metal tips. Now the house is for sale and we’re trying to remove the rust. I hope you can help me. Thanks!

    by Donna Johnson on Sep 18, 2012 at 5:53 pm

  13. Have a fiberglass shower that has rust in it.How do u get it off? plz let me know asap ty Kay

    by Kay on Jul 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm

  14. Very interesting as well as informative article. I use white vinegar to remove the mill scale on the metal for my candle holders, but was not aware of it’s rust dissolving abilities. The “Farmer’s Almanac” is always an educational experience.

    by Jerry Snow on Apr 17, 2011 at 9:07 pm

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