3 Easy Ways to Remove Rust From Metal

Metal scraper with rust surrounded by removal materials

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5-10

Rust can form on some metal surfaces when iron, oxygen, and moisture collide. It's best to remove the rust as soon as you see a small spot because it will continue to corrode the metal the longer it stays on the surface. While there are dozens of commercial rust removers, the acids found in pantry products, such as vinegar, lemon juice, and potatoes, can break the bonds of small amounts of rust from some metals. Add the abrasive action of borax, baking soda, or salt, and you may never need to buy a commercial remover.

Here are three ways to remove rust from metal.

Tip

Caring for your tools and equipment properly can prevent surface rust. Be sure to clean and oil garden tools before storing, hand-wash and dry kitchen knives instead of putting them in the dishwasher, and store metal items where they'll be protected from excessive moisture.

rust remover illustration

Illustration: The Spruce/Daniel Fishel

Before You Begin

Every type of metal reacts differently when cleaned. Before you begin any type of rust removal, consult the manufacturer's manual if you have one. If the item is valuable or an antique, consult an expert or test your homemade rust remover on an inconspicuous area first.

When you are cleaning rusty items, protect countertops and wooden surfaces with a plastic drop cloth or tarp to prevent staining or damage.

Keep all rust-removal ingredients away from children and pets. Although these ingredients are less harsh than most commercial rust removers, they still can pose risks if not handled properly.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Old large glass or plastic bowl
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Soft-bristled brush or old toothbrush
  • Plastic tarp
  • Sponge
  • Knife
  • Measuring spoons
  • Small bowl

Materials

  • 1 Distilled white vinegar
  • 1 Borax
  • 1 Lemon juice
  • 1 Salt
  • 1 Baking soda
  • 1 White potato

Instructions

Materials and tools to remove rust from metal

The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Remove Rust With Vinegar

  1. Cover Object in Vinegar

    Submerge the rusted object in undiluted distilled white vinegar. If the object is large or has electrical components, liberally spray vinegar on the rusty area or place a cloth saturated with vinegar over the rusted area. 

    Vinegar sprayed on metal scraper with rust

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Allow to Soak

    Allow the object to soak in the vinegar for at least 30 minutes. Check the progress. Excessive amounts of rust will require longer soaking, up to two hours.

    Warning

    Metal objects may appear black after soaking in vinegar or lemon juice, but they should return to their original color after rinsing in water.

    Metal scraper with rust soaked in bucket with vinegar

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Scrub Surface Rust

    Remove the item from the vinegar and use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the rusty areas. An old toothbrush works well for pieces that have detailed carvings or small nooks and crannies.

    Hard-bristle brush scrubbing rust off metal scraper

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  4. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse the metal well with water and dry it thoroughly with a soft, microfiber cloth. Repeat the process or try another cleaner if any rust remains.

    Clean rag wiping off rust from metal scraper

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Remove Rust With a Lemon Juice Paste

  1. Make a Paste

    Mix two parts borax or baking soda and one part lemon juice in a small bowl to form a paste. The paste should be easily spreadable but not too runny. You may need to adjust the proportions of the ingredients.

    Lemon juice squeezed and mixed with baking soda for paste

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Apply the Paste

    Use a sponge to thickly apply the paste to the rust, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. If the paste begins to dry out, spritz it with a bit of water to hydrate it. If there is a large area of rust, mix more paste.

    Clean rag applying paste to rusty metal scraper

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Scrub the Rusty Area

    Use a brush to scrub the rusted metal. The scrubbing will help lift the rust from the surface. If any rust remains, repeat the steps.

    Old toothbrush scrubbing paste into rust on metal scraper

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  4. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse the item well and dry completely before using or returning the item to storage.

    Microfiber cloth drying metal scraper after rinsing paste

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Remove Rust With Baking Soda and a Potato

Potatoes contain oxalic acid, a common ingredient in commercial rust removers. When a potato is combined with a gentle abrasive, it can be an effective natural rust remover.

  1. Prepare the Potato

    Slice the potato in half, and sprinkle the cut side with salt or baking soda.

    Baking soda sprinkled on potato half

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Rub the Potato on Rust

    Rub the cut side of the potato over the rusted area. Add more salt or baking soda to act as an abrasive as you scrub the rusty spots.

    Tip

    If you have rusty spots on your kitchen knives, plunge them into a potato and let them sit for at least a few hours. When you pull the knives out of the potato, the rust should wipe right off.

    Potato rubbed on rust with baking soda

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse the object with water and dry thoroughly. If rust stains remain, try another method of removal.

    Metal scraper rinsed and dried with microfiber cloth

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

Originally written by
Erin Huffstetler
Erin Huffstetler is a frugal living expert who has been writing for over 10 years about easy ways to save money at home. She's covered money-saving advice and tricks for numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Forbes, among others. She is the owner of "My Frugal Home," a money-saving, frugal living how-to guide.
Learn more about The Spruce's Editorial Process
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. Selection and Use of Home Cleaning Products. New Mexico State University.