How to Clean Rusty Tools, 5 Ways

Image of rusty tools

IronHeart / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 2 hrs

When tools get rusty, it might seem easier to simply throw them away. But there are several easy and effective ways to bring rusty tools back to their shiniest state. Whether you have an easy project on your hands that requires just a household item like lemon juice or vinegar, or you need to bring in the heavier duty chemical cleaners, there's a method that will get your tools back into working order in no time.

Keep reading to learn how to clean rusty tools.

How Often to Clean Rusty Tools

Tools should be cleaned after every use to avoid rust building up in the first place. After using your tools, wipe them down with a cloth first, removing any debris. If there is dirt, dust, or grease, use warm water or grease-fighting dish detergent to get them sparkling clean. Let the tools dry completely before storing them.

If rust does appear, clean them as soon as possible to stop further corrosion in its tracks. The more rust that builds up, the harder the tools will be to clean.

What to Consider Before Cleaning Rusty Tools

Your cleaning method should be driven by how bad the rust is. This could be a simple, straightforward process where you sand away the rust, wipe them down, and you're as good as new. Or, it could involve chemicals and patience.

Rust is caused by a chemical reaction as a result of water, oxygen, and metal mixing. If you can make sure your tools are completely dry before putting them away and that they are stored in a dry place, you should be able to minimize the risk of rust in the future.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Sandpaper or Scouring Pad Method

  • Steel wool
  • Scouring pad

Lemon Juice Method

  • Cloth

Baking Soda Method

  • Scrub brush or cloth

White Vinegar Method

  • Bucket
  • Scrub brush or cloth

Oxalic Acid Method

  • Plastic gloves
  • Goggles
  • Bucket


Sandpaper or Scouring Pad Method

  • Dish soap
  • Sandpaper

Lemon Juice Method

  • Lemon juice
  • Salt

Baking Soda Method

  • Baking soda

White Vinegar Method

  • White vinegar
  • Oxalic acid


How to Clean Tools With Sandpaper or a Scouring Pad

  1. Clean Tools with Grease-Fighting Dish Detergent

    First, you'll want to remove any dirt, grime, or grease from the tools so that you can get an accurate picture of the rust. Use a grease-fighting dish soap to clean the tools, then make sure they're totally dry before going to the next step.

  2. Use Elbow Grease to Sand, Scour, and Scrape the Rusty Tools

    Using a wire brush, scouring pad, or steel wool, scour the areas that are the most heavily rusted to break up the biggest, thickest areas of rust. Then, use sandpaper to remove the remaining rust. This could take a big of elbow grease, but if you aren't making progress, you may need to move on to a heavier duty approach using a chemical rust remover.

How to Clean Rusty Tools With Lemon Juice

  1. Cover the Rusty Tools with Salt

    Cover your rusty tools completely with salt. This is critical to the chemical reaction that will occur in the next step.

  2. Squeeze Lemon Juice All Over the Rusty Tools

    Once the tools are covered in salt, squeeze a lemon over them or pour lemon juice. Let the lemon and salt-covered tools sit for two hours while the acid breaks down the corrosion.

  3. Use a Cloth to Clean Off the Rust

    The salt and lemon should break down the rust enough to make it easier for you to scrub it away with a cloth.


    Start with a cloth and, if the rust is persistent, go back to the sandpaper method for a heavier duty approach.

How to Clean Rusty Tools With Baking Soda

  1. Create a Baking Soda Paste

    Add water to the baking soda to create a paste. Cover the rusty tools with the paste and let it sit for two hours.

  2. Wipe the Rust Away

    Wipe away the baking soda paste and scrub the rust if necessary. Clean the tools completely with water and let dry.

How to Clean Rust With White Vinegar

  1. Soak the Rusty Tools in White Vinegar

    White vinegar is everyone's favorite household multitasking cleaner and, of course, it can also attack rust. Soak rusty tools in a bucket with vinegar for up to a day to let the vinegar eat away at the rust.


    With white vinegar, patience is key. This isn't a fast reaction, but it's effective. Give it at least several hours, but ideally overnight, to work on the rust.

  2. Scrub the Rust Away

    The vinegar should make it easy to scrub the remaining rust away. Wipe the tools down and let dry completely.

How to Clean Rusty Tools With Oxalic Acid

  1. Take Proper Precautions

    Although oxalic acid is not a strong acid, you'll still want to take proper precautions, including putting on plastic gloves and wearing goggles.

  2. Fill a Bucket With Oxalic Acid and Water

    Using a ratio of one part oxalic acid and ten parts water, fill the bucket. Add the rusty tools and let them soak for up to twenty minutes while the acid works its magic on the rust.

  3. Rinse and Dry the Tools

    The oxalic acid should do most of the work for you. Scrub away any lingering rust, then rinse and dry to reveal your as good as new tools.

Tips to Keep Tools Rust-Free Longer

  • Always dry tools completely before you put them away. Even a drop of remaining moisture can turn into rust.
  • Do not store your tools in a humid environment. Keep them in a climate-controlled space that remains dry.
  • Avoid letting grease, dirt, or dust build up over time. Most jobs are dirty jobs, even if you don't realize it! Always, always wipe dow your tools after each use.