How to Remove a Rusted Screw, 3 Ways

Rusted Screw

Enzo D. / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 5 - 20 mins
  • Yield: Remove one rusted screw
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $20

When removing a rusted screw, the screw head may strip or the screw may break off entirely. Rusted screws in metal are especially tight because the rust bonds with rust on the metal. But a number of basic methods can help you remove a rusted screw, whether the screw is in metal or wood, or if the screw head is stripped, broken, or embedded in the material.

3 Methods to Remove a Rusted Screw

Screwdriver and Penetrating Oil

Light-viscosity petroleum-based penetrating oil is effective at loosening rusted screws because the oil breaks the link between the rust on the screw and the metal. Tapping the screw assists with removal. When the screw head is stripped, add a friction material like a rubber band or a drop or two of screw-grab friction drops.

Best for: Rusted screw in metal, screw head not stripped or partially stripped, screw not broken.

Locking Pliers or Extractor Pliers

When a rusted screw cannot be removed with a screwdriver, pliers can be used to grasp the screw head and turn the screw out. You can also use pliers to grasp the shank of a rusty screw that has a broken screw head.

For easier extraction, purchase a pair of screw extractor pliers. Grooves on extractor pliers run horizontally and vertically. The vertical grooves allow you to hold the pliers upright instead of sideways.

Best for: Rusted screw in wood, broken or stripped screw head, embedded rusty screw.

Lefthand Bits or Screw Removal Kit

Lefthand drill bits or a screw removal kit can extract rusty screws by boring into the screw. Lefthand drill bits are slightly easier to use than a screw removal kit because the bit simultaneously bores and turns out the screw. Screw removal kits require you to first drill a hole in the screw, then switch to a second tool that extracts the screw. Penetrating oil assists with removal if the rusty screw is in metal.

Best for: Larger diameter screws, heavily stripped screw heads, embedded rusty screw.

Safety Considerations

Always wear safety glasses when removing a rusted screw. Penetrating oils, as well as liquids used to make homemade penetrating oil (acetone and automatic transmission fluid) are toxic. Handle with care.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Screwdriver/Penetrating Oil Method

  • 1 manual screwdriver
  • 1 safety glasses

Pliers Method

  • 1 pair locking pliers
  • 1 pair screw extractor pliers
  • 1 flat-head screwdriver
  • 1 safety glasses

Lefthand Bit/Screw Removal Kit Method

  • 1 set lefthand drill bits
  • 1 screw removal kit
  • 1 electric drill
  • 1 safety glasses

Materials

Screwdriver/Penetrating Oil Method

  • 1 can penetrating oil
  • 1 can screw-grab friction drops

Lefthand Bit/Screw Removal Kit Method

  • 1 can penetrating oil
  • 1 bottle cutting oil

Instructions

Remove a Rusted Screw With a Screwdriver and Penetrating Oil

  1. Clean the Screw and Material

    With a wire brush or steel wood, carefully remove rust from the screw and from the surrounding area. This will help the penetrating oil reach deeper into the screw threads.

    Tip

    Brands of penetrating oil include Kroil, Liquid Wrench, PB Blaster, and Royal Purple. Penetrating oil can be made with a 1:1 ratio of acetone and automatic transmission fluid.

  2. Tap the Screw

    Tap the screw head a few times with the hammer to start to crack the rust. Placing a bolt on top of the screw head will concentrate the hammer blows. Do not use a nailset or other pointed tool to avoid damaging the screw head.

  3. Apply Penetrating Oil to the Screw

    If the penetrating oil can has an applicator straw, attach it. Saturate the rusted screw with the penetrating oil. Let the oil soak into the screw for 15 to 30 minutes.

  4. Tap the Screw Again

    Tap the screw once again to help the oil penetrate around the screw threads.

  5. Turn Out the Rusty Screw

    Use a correctly sized manual screwdriver to turn the rusty screw counter-clockwise and remove it.

    Tip

    If the screw head is partially stripped, add a wide rubber band over the screw head to improve friction. You can also improve the grip with one drop of screw-grab friction liquid or a modest sprinkle of a gritty household cleaner like Bon Ami.

Remove a Rusted Screw With Pliers

  1. Grip the Screw With Locking Pliers

    Attach the locking pliers either to the head or the shank, but be sure to do so from the side. Pliers must be held sideways to take advantage of the pliers' horizontal grooves. Turn the rusted screw counter-clockwise.

    Tip

    Do not use penetrating oil on wood as it is specified only for metal-to-metal contact. Soaking wood with penetrating oil or any liquid causes wood to expand, making removal even harder.

  2. Grip the Screw With Extractor Pliers (Option)

    With vertical as well conventional horizontal grooves, extractor pliers' jaws allow you to hold the pliers in a more natural vertical position. Grasp the screw head from above and turn counter-clockwise.

  3. Dig Into the Material Around the Screw

    As an option, when the screw head is flush with or just below the top of the wood, dig into the wood around the screw head for more material to grab. If the wood is soft enough, you can use the tips of the needle-nose pliers to dig into the wood. Another method is to tap the back of a flat-head screwdriver and create shallow indentations around the screw head.

Remove a Rusted Screw With Screw Extractors

  1. Clean the Rusty Screw

    With the wire brush or steel wool, remove rust, corrosion, and paint from the screw. Make sure that the screw head perimeter is clear of obstructions. The penetrating oil needs access to the perimeter so it can soak down to the threads.

  2. Tap the Screw

    Gently tap the screw head a few times with a hammer. Use a ball peen hammer to direct the force on top of the screw or tap a bolt with the hammer.

  3. Apply Penetrating Oil

    Fit the applicator nozzle on the can of penetrating oil. Saturate the screw. Alternate tapping the screw and adding penetrating oil. Let the oil soak in for at least 30 minutes.

  4. Select the Correct Drill Bit

    Select a lefthand drill bit that is less than the diameter of the screw threads. A lefthand drill bit will often begin turning out the screw before it reaches the shank. In case it continues, you'll want to make sure that there is enough screw material for the bit to grab.

    Tip

    If in doubt about size, start small. You can always work upward in size. If you start too large, you risk boring out the entire screw and possibly damaging the surrounding material.

  5. Chuck the Bit Into the Drill

    Chuck the drill bit into an electric drill. Tighten down the chuck as hard as you can by hand. The drill will be turning in reverse, and this will loosen the chuck if it's not tightened down firmly enough.

  6. Drill Into the Rusted Screw

    Add a drop or two of cutting oil to the screw. With the drill in REVERSE, drill into the center of the screw. Keep the drill in line with the screw. Drill into the screw, maintaining slight pressure on the drill to force it into the screw. You may need to drill for as long as a minute or two before the screw begins to draw out of the surface.

  7. Use a Screw Extractor Kit

    For more difficult extractions, use a screw extractor kit. Though similar to the lefthand drill bit method, there are two key differences:

    • Drill the initial hole into the top of the screw with the drill set to FORWARD rotation. Be sure to use cutting oil. Remove the drill bit when finished drilling the hole.
    • After the hole has been drilled, tap the removal bit into the hole. Use a hammer to lightly tap the back of the bit. Once the removal bit is in place, turn it out by hand or with the electric drill, depending on the type of screw removal kit. Turn counter-clockwise.
FAQ
  • How do you remove a rusted screw that won't budge?

    If the rusted screw is in metal and won't budge, applying penetrating oil to the screw and turning counter-clockwise with a screwdriver is the best method. If the rusted screw is in wood, turning with a larger screwdriver or pliers usually works.

  • Does WD-40 help remove a rusted screw?

    Though not as effective as penetrating oil, any type of lubricant, including WD-40, will help remove a rusted screw.

  • How do you remove an embedded rusted screw?

    An deeply embedded rusted screw can be removed with a screw removal kit or with left-hand drill bits.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Use Penetrating Oil to Loosen a Stuck Nut or Bolt. The Balance / LiveAbout

  2. Joseph Jackson, Kano Laboratories, LLC (Kroil), personal communication, March 10, 2023