Cleaning Rusty Tools

How to Clean Rusty Tools

Even if rust has built up on your tools for years, there are ways to clean them effectively without damaging their surfaces. This article summarizes the best rust removal solutions to help you learn how to clean rusty tools more efficiently—from chemical rust removers to homemade remedies and DIY techniques. So before you throw away your rusty tools, check out these methods.

Removing Rust by Scraping

A file is used to remove rust from a tool.

The first rust removal option is to remove the unwanted rust physically using an abrasive. This method requires a lot of strength and effort, but it’s doable. Some easily accessible household objects you can use for this job include steel wool and screwdrivers.

For moderate rust issues, ensure you select an effective scraping material to avoid any damage. But deeper rust problems will require you to use heavy metal tools and plenty of effort. Scrape off the rust, and once it’s all gone, use fine sandpaper to clear any scratch marks that may have been created.

However, consider renting some from a nearby hardware store if you don’t have the right tools. Electric rust removers like an electric sander can do the job perfectly, especially if you need to remove rust from larger surfaces. When scrubbing, it’s always prudent to start from the rustiest areas and gradually proceed to areas with smaller stains.

How to Clean Tools Using Chemical Rust Removers

Another brilliant way to clean rust off tools is by using chemical rust removers. Keep in mind that these chemicals are produced using phosphoric or oxalic acid, making them harmful to the skin. So it makes sense to take precautions when using a rust chemical remover on any metallic object to ensure safety. When you buy your rust chemical remover, make sure you read the directions and apply the product according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Citric acid powder in a bowl.

Unsure how to clean rusty tools using chemical rust removers? Well, there are many types of chemical rust removers to choose from. Let’s look at some of the most effective options.

Citric Acid

Using citric acid is one of the safest, easiest, and most effective ways to get rid of surface rust from your old tools without damaging their finish. Before starting the process, you’ll need rubber gloves, citric acid powder, a plastic container with warm water, and a scouring pad (a steel brush or steel wool).

Place the rusty objects in the plastic container (large enough to accommodate the parts) with warm water. Add citric acid powder and gently wiggle the solution, and then let it rest for some minutes. Scrubbing with a steel brush or scouring pad will help speed up the process.

You should soak them lightly to moderate rust issues for about 4 hours before scraping. Objects with deep rust may need to rest overnight and rinse in the morning. Dry the tools thoroughly with a clean cloth.

Oxalic Acid

Oxalic acid is a strong chemical agent. So ensure you observe the necessary protective measures before using this chemical. Your protective gear should include rubber gloves, goggles, and a nose mask to protect you from inhaling the acid fumes.

You should mix water and oxalic acid in appropriate proportions—250ml water and 25ml oxalic. Soak your tools in the mixture and let them sit for about twenty minutes, or wipe the objects using a cloth or brass brush. When the rust is completely gone, clean the parts and subsequently dry them.

Rust Removal by a Rust Converter

If you are still wondering what chemical to use to clean your rusty tools, you have another option. Get a rust converter and use it to prevent rust from spreading further along the metal surfaces. However, the downside of rust converters is that they don’t completely remove rust from an object. You should only consider them if you’re planning to paint the surface of the metal object.

How to Clean Rust off Tools Using Homemade Rust Removers

Baking soda is mixed with water for scrubbing tools.

Undoubtedly, there are circumstances when you wouldn’t want to use chemicals to clean your tools, depending on their use. In such a case, there are homemade solutions you can use as brilliant alternatives. These include:

Lemon or Lime Juice

The acid in lemons can be used together with salt to remove rust from metal surfaces. This method is pretty quick and straightforward. Sprinkle salt to cover the area of an object that has rust. Then squeeze lemon over the surface and let it rest for 3 to 4 hours before you clean it. Lemon or lime juice can remove rust from metal objects without causing damage.


Vinegar is one of the most effective homemade rust removers. Rust not only reacts with vinegar but also eventually dissolves in it. To remove rust from metal objects, simply soak the tools in white vinegar for some hours and wipe off the rust. If the object is too large to fit in a container, sprinkle white vinegar over its surface and then allow it to settle for some time. Alternatively, dip a piece of aluminum foil in white vinegar and rub it against the rusted surface.

Baking Soda

Mix baking soda with water to create a thick paste and then spread it evenly over the object. Let it rest for some time before you scrub it off. You can use a toothbrush to remove the paste before you wash it with clean water. There are no hard and fast rules for mixing the paste components. Therefore, dilute them according to your preference.

Rusty tools don’t look good and are also inefficient at work. But before you give up, there are methods you can use to restore them. The rust removal methods discussed above are some of the most effective ones. Pick one or two techniques that work for you to keep your tools in good shape.

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