How to Clean Rust Off of Carbon Steel

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Carbon steel is a strong metal that forms rust easily.
Carbon steel is a strong metal that forms rust easily. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Carbon steel has many applications. As a strong material it is used in the construction of buildings, tools, cars and appliances. Carbon steel is very prone to rusting, so in many cases the steel has a rust-proof layer attached to the surface of the metal. This is called galvanized steel. Without this protective coating, the steel gets rusty very easily, especially when exposed to water or moisture for long periods of time. The best way to prevent serious rust damage on carbon steel is to remove the rust as soon as it forms. Small rust spots are the easiest to clean.

Things You'll Need

  • 80- to 100-grit sandpaper
  • Rust remover
  • Steel wool pad
  • Rags or paper towels
  • Mineral oil
  • Metal primer
  • Brush

Scrub off the rust with 80- to 100-grit sandpaper. Sandpaper is strong enough to remove rust without damaging the carbon steel.

Pour rust remover onto a steel wool pad. Apply the rust remover to the rust on the carbon steel.

Leave the rust remover on for five to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the rusty area. Commercial rust removers dissolve rust. The main ingredient in rust removers is an acid such as oxalic acid or phosphoric acid.

Wipe away the rust with paper towels or rags.

Apply a thin coating of mineral oil to the carbon steel, if appropriate. The oil provides a moisture barrier that prevents rust formation. Another option is to apply a metal primer to the carbon steel with a brush. Primers provide a rust-proof coating to metals.

Tips & Warnings

  • Wear rubber gloves when using the rust remover to protect your hands.
  • Have plenty of air circulating when using the rust remover. Open windows or doors or work outdoors when possible.

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