Rust appears as a reddish-brown discoloration when iron and oxygen react in the presence of moisture to form iron oxide. It can add character to metal surfaces, but its detrimental qualities outweigh any supposed beauty. As rust spreads and the volume of iron oxides becomes greater than the original metal, the structure or integrity of the material can be damaged, often beyond repair.
That's why so many iron objects are coated with rust-resistant alloys like stainless steel, galvanized with zinc or aluminum, or coated with paint, lacquer, or varnish to prevent or delay rusting. However, with normal wear and exposure to the elements, these deterrents can become thin and rusting will begin.
Since iron oxides are often powdery, they travel easily to other surfaces and are notoriously difficult to remove from everything from fabrics to stone counters to metal itself. We'll share the best ways to remove rust as safely and easily as possible.
How Rust Removers Works
There are three types of rust removers: chemical, chelators, or converters.
- Acids: Whether you use many commercial rust removers or ingredients from your pantry, a key ingredient is an acid. Citric acid (lemon juice), acetic acid (distilled white vinegar), tartaric acid (cream of tartar), and stronger acids like hydrochloric and sulfuric acid react with the rust to help loosen its bond to other surfaces.
- Petroleum-based solvents: Not as toxic as acids, these solvents, like WD-40, work much more slowly to loosen rust.
- Sodium hydrosulfite: Found in powdered commercial rust removers, this salt compound works well on fabrics, stone, and finished surfaces like porcelain.
Non-toxic and eco-friendly, chelators use a chemical reaction to surround the iron oxide particles and break their bond with the underlying surface. They take longer to work and can require soaking for up to eight hours.
For a heavily rusted item, converters use tannic acid and an organic primer to stabilize rust and stop the damage to the underlying surface. They also act as a primer for painting the item. While ineffective on some metals (aluminum, copper, stainless steel, or galvanized metal), they do work well on iron or steel surfaces like fences or railings.
Equipment / Tools
- Microfiber cloths
- Wire brush
- Cream of tartar
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Lemon juice
- Commercial rust remover or converter
- Baking soda
- Paint with rust inhibitor
How to Remove Rust From Garden Tools
Use a Petroleum Solvent
Rust on garden tools can affect the integrity of the metal and cause moving parts to malfunction. Regular cleaning with a petroleum solvent like WD-40 or covering with a rust converter will extend their life for many years.
How to Remove Rust From Metal Furniture
Take Preventative Action
Wrought iron furniture is lovely but will eventually begin to rust unless it is protected with paint or lacquer.
Address Small Rust Spots Immediately
For small areas of rust on indoor or outdoor aluminum or stainless steel furniture, use a commercial rust remover or make a paste of baking soda and a few drops of water. Apply liberally and let it work for at least 10 minutes. Scrub with a microfiber cloth and rinse. Repeat until the rust is gone.
Put Some Elbow Grease Into It
Removing extensive rust will take some elbow grease and scraping.
How to Remove Rust From Cast Iron Cookware
Unless cast iron cookware is kept well-seasoned with oil, rust can quickly grow just from the humidity in the air.
Clean Thoroughly When Needed
Don't discard a pan just because it is rusty. With some proper cleaning and seasoning, you can save the pan or grill.
How to Remove Rust From Stainless Steel Appliances and Utensils
Make a Homemade Paste
If your favorite stainless steel pan or spatula begins to rust, make a paste of cream of tartar and a few drops of hydrogen peroxide. Apply the paste to the rusty area and cover it with some plastic wrap. Wait at least 30 minutes and then clean everything away with a microfiber cloth. Rinse well, and you're ready to get cooking. This same paste works well on stainless steel countertops and appliances.
How to Remove Rust Stains From Fabrics and Carpet
Try Home Remedies
Home remedies like a paste of lemon juice or distilled white vinegar and salt and the ultraviolet rays of the sun can work wonders to remove rust stains on fabric. It just takes patience and, often, repeated treatments.
Keep chlorine bleach away from any stain on fabric or any surface that looks like it might be rust. Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is an oxidizing agent that reacts with the iron particles and will cause the stain to be permanently bonded to the underlying surface.
How to Remove Rust Stains From Concrete Floors
Use Distilled White Vinegar
If the rust stains aren't very dark on the concrete, pour distilled white vinegar directly onto the stains and let it work for at least 30 minutes. Scrub with a stiff brush and rinse. If the stains are large and dark, use a commercial rust remover that contains oxalic acid.
How to Remove Rust From Bathroom Fixtures
Get a Rust Remover
Water that contains iron bacteria can leave rust stains on bathroom fixtures. Home methods and commercial rust removers are effective in removing the stains. However, they will return unless you treat or filter the water supply.
How to Remove Rust From Metal Roofs
Power Wash With Detergent
New metal roofs are coated with a protective finish that resists rust. However, older metal roofs will rust. The best way to remove the rust is to power wash the metal with detergent, scrape or sand away the rust, and coat the surface with a rust converter, then paint the roof with a paint that contains a rust inhibitor.
Tips for Preventing Rust Stains
- Apply oil or paste wax to iron surfaces.
- Avoid scratches to protective coatings and keep the metal clean.
- Paint the metal.
- Store metal items properly and avoid long-term exposure to moisture.
- Choose coated or galvanized metals.