So many great deals can be found if a little disrepair doesn’t scare you off (garage sales, thrift stores, classified ads). Many times I’ve picked up garden tools that have solid wood handles and iron ends for working–heavily used the past few decades and still decades of use ahead of them. These old treasures are the best buy to be had but there’s a downside: many times there is a sign of corrosion developing or is seemingly beyond repair with a heavy reddish-brown flaky crust buildup.
The Good News: There are several ways to remove rust and pieces can be cleaned up in a jiffy! No special equipment or supplies are needed, most ingredients are commonly found in the house & garage. Better yet: many remedies cost just pennies. Literally. Pennies!
First a few notes, we want to learn why and how to fix the source of the issue whenever possible so there are no repeat instances to contend with.
Causes & Prevention
We’re all aware the main culprit for instances on metal is because the environs are damp or if an object hasn’t been properly wiped down to fully dry before being stored away for future use–but why does staining develop in the weirdest places too, such as clothing, table linens and carpeting?
Stains are a common occurrence on fabrics and textiles due to a variety of factors: appliances (such as a washing machine or hot water heater) have red or yellow rust deposits, bacteria is interacting with aged iron pipes (in the home) or the neighborhood main has recently undergone maintenance and the routine hard flush probably loosened sediment or debris. If metal furniture (ie. filing cabinet, chair/table leg protection caps, trunk) resting directly on carpeting has rusted due to age or contact with moisture, that will transfer to the fibers.
Here is a variety of methods for eliminating spots from laundry, carpets, how to get rid of grungy buildup in toilets & sinks plus I added a couple old workhorse recipes I found for tackling assorted items (cast iron cookware, yard implements, car parts, sheet metal, tools, etc.). Most of the remedies contain natural, simple ingredients.
Lots of ways listed here to help bring goods back to nearly new condition, I’m sure you’ll find the perfect fix-it technique for your needs and bonus! no expensive chemical cleaner products required…good luck!
Rust Removal Hacks: Some Quick, Some Easy & Some Heavy Duty
Note: After finding a treatment that works as desired, rinse well to strip all traces of solution then wipe dry with towel. It is recommended to apply a rust inhibitive primer before applying a fresh coat of paint, this will help prevent a new occurrence by decreasing or slowing down the corrosion rate of a material.
Helpful gear that makes the cleanup job easier: Steel wool, wire bristle brush, old toothbrush (for tight corners & ridges), scouring pads, plastic dish tubs or ice cream pails (for small bits and bobs) or 5 gallon pails (for treating larger pieces).
- Cream of Tartar & Hydrogen Peroxide: Combine to make a paste, apply with a brush.
- Borax & Lemon Juice: Make a paste, apply and work on patch with a brush.
- Salt & Lemon Juice: Stir salt into lemon juice (2/1 ratio), rub into area. For clothes: Try treating with a 50/50 ratio. Let sit for about 30 minutes before laundering.
- Baking Soda: Ideal for getting rid of light surface rusting. Start by combining the bicarb w/water, making a paste. Next slather over the spots. After a couple hours take a piece of steel wool to the patch and scrub (gentle pressure).
- Toilets, Bathtubs & Sinks (porcelain): Try any of the recipes above but if they don’t get the job done, try using a pumice stone or a piece of fine steel wool (being careful not to scratch porcelain surfaces).
- Cast Iron Cookware: Nylon scrubber or fine steel wool for scouring. You can also sprinkle an abrasive powder over top if it’s an especially stubborn job (Tip: I find salt works best, sand does the trick too). Cut a potato in half, drizzle a bit of liquid dish soap detergent or scouring powder into the cookware, then scrub with the cut side of the potato. Once corrosion has been removed, wash and season pan before storing away. More tips are found on this page: The Ultimate Cookware Maintenance & Care Guide.
- Lighter Fluid: (remember, this is flammable!) Rub into the spot w/a soft cloth, rinse well to completely remove the lighter fluid. Method requires a well ventilated room.
- Rubbing Alcohol: Using a generous amount, rub into area then wash off.
- Rugs & Carpets: If it’s a light colored carpet, try the lemon juice & salt “or” borax methods (mentioned above) but be aware this may bleach or discolor fibers. You could also try a straight shot of white vinegar. Let the solutions set for several hours before washing (soapy wet cloth–excess liquid squeezed out).
- Cocoa Cola; Club Soda; Vinegar: I have several tips stating to soak metal objects overnight in *one* of the liquids (separate, not combined). This should loosen things up so you can get at it with a wire brush. Garden Implements: Soak overnight in vinegar then scrub the next day. To protect during the off-season, fill a pail w/sand and dig a garden tool in right up to the handle and store them this way until needed.
- Nuts, Bolts, Screws, etc.: (that are corroded tight) Spray one of the following over entire surface then let penetrate for a few hours: WD-40, vinegar, coke, club soda. You might have to saturate a rag with one of the solvents first and wrap it tight around the bolt it to penetrate.
- Molasses Brew: Hobby auto restorers trick, 48 hrs (minimum) required for removing corrosion. For every 10 cups of formula, combine 1 cup molasses into 9 cups water. Submerge metal piece, lid to cover. If damage is really bad, considering leaving the brew alone for several days (even a month) but know that the batch gets rank and foul. Scour with wire brush, rinse clean. Both food grade and farm grade molasses are effective but if it’s a large piece being treated (say a truck bumper), go for the farm grade since it’s a lot cheaper. There’s a terrific video on Youtube that records this process as an experiment: Testing DIY Molasses Restoration.
- Steel Items: Concoction of three parts water/one part phosphoric acid, spray over entire surface and be sure to allow a 30 minutes (or longer) soak time. Rinse then scrub.
This next hack is from an article I read in an old Popular Mechanics magazine (1979) and provides two different recipes for cleaning objects (their noted source: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards’ Consumer’s Guide on corrosion). Caution should be used and note these are poisonous so it’s best to keep away from kiddos while working:
For Iron Or Steel: Dissolve four teaspoons of citric acid (or sour salt) in one quart of water. Carefully add small amounts of household ammonia to this solution, mixing thoroughly. Very carefully sniff the mixture after each addition. After the first few additions of the ammonia, you will not smell an ammonia-like odor from the mixture. Keep adding small amounts of ammonia and mixing until the mixture just starts to smell of ammonia again. Add more water to bring the volume of the mixture up to two quarts.
Put the solution in a fire-safe glass or enameled container. Place it on the burner of the kitchen range and heat the liquid to a temperature of about 150 to 160° F. Maintain that temperature and soak the object. Check from time to time by removing and rinsing w/water. For heavy rust, the procedure may take several hours.
For small spots: Combine 2 oz. of cream of tartar and 1 oz. of oxalic acid (caution: poisonous). Moisten the spot, apply the powder and leave on for 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly then dry it quickly.