5 ways to remove rust from common household objects
Posted by AMH Team
5m read time
Apr 19, 2022
Whether it’s on a frequently used tool, a piece of silverware, or a household appliance, rust is never a welcome sight. Not only does the reddish-brown hue look unpleasant, rust can also cause items to deteriorate and stop working effectively. Luckily, there are ways to remove rust from different types of metal objects. But, first, it’s important to understand why things rust in the first place.
Why rust occurs
Rust (also known as iron oxide) occurs when certain metals come in contact to oxygen and water for a prolonged period. Rusting is a chemical change, so it only impacts steel and iron. Other types of metal may corrode, but they don’t rust. Iron or steel objects left in a completely dry environment won’t rust. The problem is that the air in just about every home has moisture in it, which can cause oxidation—or rust—to occur, even if the metal doesn’t touch any water.
How to avoid rust
There are ways to prevent rust from forming in the first place, or at least slow it down. Keep objects like tools and silverware in a dry area, and oil your tools before putting them away. If possible, store larger metal objects inside, such as lawn mowers, saws, leaf blowers, or bikes. Certain products like silica gel packets — those ones you find in the pockets of clothes or in small, shipped packages — are designed to absorb moisture and keep air dry. Keeping a few in a toolbox or in your silverware drawer is helpful in limiting rust. Using a dehumidifier in humid climates can also minimize the risk of rust. Finally, dry off any metals that become wet as soon as you can, which limits oxidation.
Ways to remove rust from metal
Despite the above precautions, you’ll likely still encounter some rusting of your iron and steel objects. But all hope is not lost! Before you throw away that tool, pot, cooking sheet, or knife, try one of the below methods to remove rust from metal. Even better news: You probably have these items in your home already.
Vinegar is among the best cleaning products you can use for your kitchen. If you have several rusty items, such as a toolbox or a full set of forks and knives, a little vinegar bath can strip the rust off all of them at once. Put your metal objects in a bowl filled with vinegar and let them sit overnight. In the morning, remove the items and scrub with steel wool or a metal or wire brush. If your item is too big to be submerged, soak washcloths or rags in white vinegar and wrap the rusted parts. Repeat this process until all rust is removed. Once you’re satisfied, clean the objects with dish soap and water and dry thoroughly. Otherwise, that oxidization process will jumpstart all over again!
Another multi-purpose cleaner, baking soda works great for thinner items — pans or light tools, for example — or rusted areas that aren’t as “baked into” the metal. Combine water and baking soda into a bowl and stir it until it becomes a thick paste. Spread the combination over your rusted items, then let the paste settle for an hour or two. After that, use steel wool or a metal or wire brush to clean off the paste and scrub away the rust. For a larger item, such as a baking sheet, a scouring pad works best. It takes a bit of effort to fully scrub away the rust, so you’re getting a good arm workout in, too! Rinse off any remaining paste with soap and water and completely dry your items.
Lemon juice and salt
Much like rust itself is a chemical reaction between metal, water, and oxygen, one of the best ways to treat rust takes advantage of a chemical compound. The acidity of a lemon or lime paired with sodium’s abrasiveness offers a great technique for removing smaller rust stains. Generously sprinkle salt over the rusted areas and squeeze lemon or lime juice over the salt. Let this mixture sit for a couple of hours, then scrub the salt and juice off. If you used a fresh lemon or lime, you could use the rind itself to scrub. Otherwise, steel wool or a metal brush is the way to go. Once you’re done scrubbing, rinse off the object and dry it entirely.
While most rust removal techniques are great for smaller items, what if you want to tackle something larger, such as a lawn mower, bicycle, metal bedframe, or even your car? Naval jelly just may do the trick. This solution, which uses phosphoric acid, is more heavy-duty than the other methods, and it works more quickly, too. Simply spray the solution on the rusted object, and the naval jelly will dissolve the rust in about ten minutes. Follow the manufacturers instructions and avoid leaving naval jelly on metal for too long — it can further corrode rusted areas. Though it’s useful for larger items, naval jelly (or similar heavy-duty rust removal solutions) should never be used on knives, stainless steel, or thin metal. Only use it for thicker metals, and save other methods for smaller objects.
Take a decent-sized potato and cut it in half. Layer dish soap on the open end and use the potato like you would a scouring pad or brush. The combination of potato and soap will start removing rust away. This method works particularly well on kitchen appliances and smaller rust stains, but it’s also fairly messy, so work over a towel or the kitchen sink to keep your clean-up easy. As a bonus, pick up a couple of extra potatoes and bake yourself a nice snack while you work!
Whatever method you decide to use, be sure to thoroughly rinse and dry off your objects when you’re done. The oxidization process intensifies when there’s additional moisture in the air or on the object itself, and that can undo your hard work. Be especially careful around knives, too. Always work on a flat surface and never clean the knives in mid-air. It’s worth investing in protective gloves to minimize the risk of serious cuts, and limit your handling of sharp blades. Finally, keep any rust-removal activities away from children and pets. You don’t want either accidentally ingesting something or cutting themselves on a sharp object. It’s all part of being a good parent and pet owner. Now, go on and get those items looking good as new!
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