The Best Ways to Clean Rusty Tools


If you continuously leave your tools out in wet weather or put garden tools away dirty, chances are they will develop rust. Once rust has formed on metal surfaces, it can be difficult to remove, but removing rust is essential if you want your tools to their retain their effectiveness.

Muscle Methods

  • If you don't mind putting muscle into the project, getting rid of rust can be accomplished by some good old-fashioned scrubbing. There are several tools that will help with this method of rust removal. Sandpaper can scratch outer rust away, or you can use a drill with a sanding attachment, which will do much of the work for you. Belt sanders are useful for flat objects like spades and the backs of shovels. Other helpful tools include wire brushes to remove big chunks of rust and steel wool with WD-40 to scrape away smaller rust particles.

Kitchen Methods

  • If you prefer less scrubbing, you can try one of the rust removal methods that involve standard kitchen supplies. Try 1 tbsp. of lemon juice with enough regular salt to create a thick paste. Dab the mixture onto the rusted area and rub with a dry cloth. The lemon and salt should cut through any surface rust. If you have steel tools, you can use a mixture of one part molasses to nine parts water. Fill a bucket or bowl with enough of the mixture to completely submerge the rusted steel. Let the tool sit in the mixture for two or three days and much of the rust will disappear. If the rust is thick, you can let the object stay in the molasses mixture for up to three or four weeks. Take the tool out every few days and wipe it down with a clean rag to remove the rust that has loosened and monitor the progress.

Naval Jelly

  • Naval jelly is a substance made specifically for rust removal that works well on items with heavy rust. It is simply brushed onto the rusted surface, the rust dissolves and then the metal can be rinsed clean. More specific directions will be included on the jelly's packaging.

Prevent Future Rust

  • Once the rust has been removed from a tool, try to prevent it from recurring. Tools should be hung, instead of being left to rest on surfaces that can become damp, such as shed or basement floors. Coating the metal with some type of wax is a simple way of preventing future rust. People use a variety of wax types, including butcher's wax and motor oil to keep their tools well-coated.


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