How To Clean Rusty Tools: Making Your Tools Last Longer

How to Clean Your Rusty Tools If you have ever worked with tools, you have probably come across rusty tools in your toolbox. Rust occurs when the metal comes into contact with water in the presence of oxygen, resulting in oxidation and rust. While rusty tools can be frustrating, it is possible to regain their effectiveness by cleaning them. You can save a lot of money by simply cleaning your rusty tools instead of throwing them away. While there are different types of rusts, this article is designed to help you understand multiple methods to clean rusty tools.

Why Tools Get Rusty

Have you ever wondered why tools get rusty? Inadequate storage is the primary reason why your tools are rusting. If poorly stored, the tools are exposed to moisture, which is the biggest cause of rust. To avoid moisture, you should always keep your tools properly stored in a metal tool box or tool chest. When metal tools are exposed to moisture, the that along with the presendce of oxygen causes a chemical reaction called oxidation to occur. Oxidation is what forms the rust, and without water, it cannot occur.

Types of Rust

How many types of rust have you ever come across? While the most common type of rust is red, there are other different kinds of rust. Every type of rust is formed under different circumstances. The most common types of rust being: red, yellow, black, and flash rust.

Red Rust

Red Rust on Tool Red rust on metals occurs due to exposure of these tools to high oxygen levels and water. The reaction must occur several times with contamination, such as salt. Unlike other types of rusts that forms rust runs on the affected areas, red corrosion occurs throughout the metal due to atmospheric condition. Red rust is usually a mixture of the following four elements: Iron, water, oxygen, and time.

Yellow Rust

Yellow rust is a type of rust resulting from the metal being exposed to high moisture content. Yellow rust usually appears to run or drip on the affected area—the oxidation of iron III oxide results in yellow rust.

Black Rust

Black rust results from the oxidation of iron oxides and limited moisture. It can be visually identified as a thin layer of the black film resulting from oxidation in a low oxygen environment. It closely appears as a black stain. In most cases, areas with black rust are usually covered by something preventing it from reaching the surface. Black rust is a stable rust layer that does not encourage the formation of other types of rust.

Flash Rust

Flash rust is unique among the different types of rust because it only takes a few minutes to form. Flash rust occurs most commonly after washing something metal with water, and it forms so quickly because of the amount of oxygen dissolved into the water. While flash rust doesn’t look as severe as other types of rust, it is still a problem. You can identify flash rust by its bright orange coloration and even distribution across metal.

Methods of Cleaning Your Tools

When you’re cleaning rust from your tools, there are a lot of options to pick from. If you don’t have one of the components for one method, you likely have the components for another sitting around your house.

Method #1: Name Brand Rust Removers

If you don’t mind spending a bit more money on your rust removal solution, you can get a name brand rust remover that has a better chance of removing rust completely than DIY methods. There a lot of choices for rust removers, though. When you choose one for your tools, make sure you read all of the fine print on the packaging or product listing. Some rust removers are intended for certain materials and won’t work on others. Some may also take several days to completely remove rust, while others may only need a few hours.

Method #2: Vinegar

Cleaning Tools with Vinegar Most people have a bottle of vinegar in their kitchen cabinets for making vinaigrettes and other recipes, but you can also use vinegar for removing rust. Vinegar is extremely acidic, and acid is one of the best rust removers.

To use vinegar to clean rust, simply place your rusty tools in a plastic or glass tub and fill with white vinegar until they are completely submerged. Depending on the amount of rust on the tools, it may only take a few minutes to remove the rust, or it could take a day. Check your tools regularly to monitor the progress. If the vinegar is having difficulties getting the rust off completely, you can use steel wool to scrub off the remaining rust. Once the vinegar has done its job, sprinkle baking soda generously over your tools to stop the chemical reaction, rinse them under water, and dry immediately.

If you’re trying to clean rust from something that is too large to be submerged in vinegar, soak paper towels in the vinegar and wrap them around the oversized tool. Periodically add more vinegar so the paper towels don’t dry before the rust can be completely removed.

Method #3: Oxalic Acid

Oxalic acid can be purchased at most hardware stores, and it is an excellent cleaning solution that removes rust and stains caused by iron. However, it is very toxic and should be handled carefully. Always use protective gloves, a respirator, and safety goggles when working with oxalic acid.

Make sure you only use oxalic in a well-ventilated location. Unlike with vinegar, you’ll need to make an oxalic acid solution to put your tools into—don’t just submerge them in pure acid. Fill a plastic or glass tub with water, measuring it in galons. For every gallon of water, add three tablespoons of oxalic acid and mix well. Place the tools in the solution carefully so you don’t splash it anywhere. Let the tools sit for about 20 minutes.

Once the rust is gone, remove the tools from the acid solution, rinse with clean water, and dry immediately.

Method #4: Electrolysis

Electrolysis is a known method of removing rust. But why use this complicated method while there are other ways? First, some weak acids do not effectively remove rust themselves. Others are too strong, impacting negatively on your valuable metal. If you have a crucial tool that you can’t risk any amount of damage or a tool that is covered in years-old rust, electrolysis is the best way to remove it. The electrolysis method involves passing a small amount of electrical charge from a battery through the rusty material to stimulate iron exchange ones the rusty metal is submerged in the electrolysis solution.

Method #5: Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is acidic, so the acidity will break the rust on your metal. You can sprinkle some salt onto the rust and pour some lemon juice on top. Allow it to sit for a few minutes, then wipe it off and rinse wiht clean water. Monitor your tools carefully, becuase the acid in lemon juice can potentially damage your tools if they are exposed for too long.

Can You Really Clean Your Tool With Coke?

Using Coca-Cola to Clean Tools If you’ve spent time online, there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of those viral sped-up videos on Facebook or Youtube showing someone dunking a rusty wrench in a container filled with Coke only to pull it out moments later completely clean. So are these videos telling the truth? Can you clean with Coke?

Coca-Cola can be used to remove rust from your metal. This is because it contains phosphoric acid, which is similar to citric acid and can aid in removing rust. In addition, its carbonated properties also assist in dissolving metal oxides and breaking up rust. However, despite these factors, Coke just isn’t as effective as other methods of rust removal.

It takes Coke 24 hours to achieve a level of clean that other methods can achieve in just a few minutes, and even after all that time, your tool won’t be completely clean. The acidity level in coke is not strong enough to deal with strong corrosion. Plus, when you submerge anything in a sugary liquid, it’s going to be sticky and require extra cleaning. Therefore, it may be adequate to remove flash rust and any other type of rust that does not require strong reagents. However, if you need to clean rusty tools and only have a bottle of Coke and a bottle of vinegar, we recommend the vinegar.

Why Acid is Effective at Removing Rust

In several of the rust solutions we discussed, acid was a major component for the removal of said rust. But why is acid so effective?

When the acid found in something like vinegar meets the iron oxide found in rust, the acid forms a water-insoluable salt. The rust crumbles away, and the acid also forms a layer of oxidized iron under the rust, which helps the metal resist future rust.

However, not all acid can remove rust. In fact, some acids even help form rust, so you need to be careful when jury-rigging a rust remover at home. Using the wrong acid could leave you in worse shape than when you started.

How To Prevent Rust

Rust can ruin the functionality and effectiveness of your machinery and tools. While there are numerous methods of removing rust, there are also hundreds of preventive approaches. How do you prevent your tools from rusting?

Keep Tools Clean and Dry

After use, ensure you properly clean. Leaving them covered with dirt can cause rust. They should also be kept in a dry place where there is no moisture or high humidity levels that can react with oxygen and iron oxide to cause rust. If you keep your tools in a portable tool box or something similar, make sure you return them to the tool box after use to protect them.

Apply a Protective Coating

You can dip your tools into potassium nitrate or sodium hydroxide to provide an additional coating resistant to rust. Also, products such as aerosol spray or cloth wipes can protect your metals from extreme corrosion.

Choose Tools Made From Galvanized Metal

Shiny Metal Tools Galvanization is a process used to preserve your tools rust-free for many years. In this process, your appliance can be coated with liquid zinc. Zinc is known to offer protection in three ways:

  • It prevents water and oxygen from reaching the metal
  • Through cathodic protection, zinc continues to offer protection to surrounding areas that have been scratched
  • It prevents iron from further oxidation, as it quickly reacts with oxygen to form zinc oxide

Protecting and Cleaning Your Tools Extends Their Life

Rust can be damaging to your tools. Galvanization, using protective coating and keeping it dry and clean, are the top three methods you can use to prevent your equipment from rusting. However, if your appliances have already rusted, there are some effective methods of removing rust. Using these methods can help you prolong the lives of your tools and save you money buying replacements. If you have rusty tools, go and try some of these solutions and see which one works best for you.