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.
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.
Equipment / Tools
- Old large glass or plastic bowl
- Spray bottle (optional)
- Microfiber cloths
- Soft-bristled brush or old toothbrush
- Plastic tarp
- Measuring spoons
- Small bowl
- 1 Distilled white vinegar
- 1 Borax
- 1 Lemon juice
- 1 Salt
- 1 Baking soda
- 1 White potato
How to Remove Rust With Vinegar
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.
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.
Metal objects may appear black after soaking in vinegar or lemon juice, but they should return to their original color after rinsing in water.
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.
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.
How to Remove Rust With a Lemon Juice Paste
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.
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.
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.
Rinse and Dry
Rinse the item well and dry completely before using or returning the item to storage.
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.
Prepare the Potato
Slice the potato in half, and sprinkle the cut side with salt or baking soda.
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.
Rinse and Dry
Rinse the object with water and dry thoroughly. If rust stains remain, try another method of removal.
Selection and Use of Home Cleaning Products. New Mexico State University.