Project Guide

How to Remove Rust from Tools

How Does Rust Form?
A person holding a rusty tool.

Rust forms on steel or iron when the material is exposed to oxygen and water for a length of time. Other metals and stainless steel do not rust, but they can corrode. Rust or oxidation is a chemical process that occurs when water and oxygen bonds with the iron. 

How to Remove Rust
Rusty wrenches on a table.

Just because there's rust on your tools, doesn't mean you have to discard them. As long as there are not holes in the metal, you can remove the rust from the surface. Here are a few methods of rust removal.

An array of sandpaper on a white background.

The sanding method is a good starting point for removing rust from tools. It does require a bit of work, but this method gets off a good bit of rust.

  • Use a degreaser, if needed, to clean your tool. Wipe away any dirt or debris with a tack cloth. Let it dry.
  • With a steel wool or a stiff wire brush, clean the areas most corroded by rust first. Get as much of the rust off as you can.
  • Next, use a coarse grit sand paper to continue to remove any thick patches of rust. 
  • If there are any fine layers of rust left, switch to a finer grain sandpaper and continue to remove any remaining speckles.
  • Rinse and dry the metal tool. If any rust remains, you may need to try a chemical rust remover.
Vinegar and Salt
A cruet of vinegar on a table.

The vinegar and salt method works best for tools with large areas of rust.

  • Degrease, clean and dry tools.
  • Place the tool in a bin large enough to fit the entire piece.
  • Use 1/4 cup of salt per liter of white vinegar. Pour enough vinegar into the bin to cover the tools. Sprinkle the appropriate amount of salt according the above ratio evenly over the surface. 
  • The vinegar and salt mixture need time to break down the rust. This can take anywhere from one to three days. 
  • Check periodically to see if the rust has softened. 
  • Once the rust has softened, use a metal brush or steel wool to scrub off the surface. 
  • Wash, rinse and dry the tools.
Baking Soda
A bag of baking soda on a white background.

Baking soda works well for small areas of rust or rust stains.

  • Degrease, clean and dry tools.
  • Pour baking soda in a bowl and add enough water to make a paste. 
  • Apply the paste to the rusted area. 
  • Let it sit for a couple of hours. 
  • Use a brush to scrub off the paste.
  • Rinse with clean water and dry.
Oxalic Acid
A bottle of oxalic acid on a white background.

If none of the other methods work for rust removal, oxalic acid is a commercial rust remover that will dissolve rust quickly. You will need to wear rubber gloves and eye protection and use the acid in a well-ventilated area.

  • Degrease, clean and dry tools.
  • Put on your goggles and rubber gloves.
  • Add one gallon of water to a container large enough to hold your tools.
  • Add three tablespoons of oxalic acid to the water. Mix carefully and be sure not to splash the acid onto yourself or the surrounding work area.
  • Place the rusted tools into the mixture. Allow the tools to soak for 20 minutes, or according to the product's direction. 
  • Rinse away the rust and remaining acid in water. Dry thoroughly.
How to Prevent Rust
A person holding a shiny wrench.

Rust can be prevented by not allowing water or moisture to stay in contact with metal surfaces. You can do this by thoroughly cleaning and drying tools after each use or by applying a protective coating onto the metal. It's best to employ both of these rust prevention methods. Keeping metal tools dry and out of the elements as much as possible and adding a protective coating can further reduce the odds of rust appearing.

Get more life out of your tools by keeping them rust free. Get all the supplies you need to remove rust from your local The Home Depot.