Although we do our best to always keep our tools clean and dry, they can still fight rust. When your prevention methods fail, the common wisdom can be to throw away damaged tools – and sometimes that’s unavoidable. But before you throw away your metal tools, there are a few things you can try to salvage them and save yourself the cost of replacement.
What causes tools to rust?
Rust is caused by oxidation or the process that ferrous metal goes through when it reacts with oxygen. This process can be caused by moisture, especially salt water, and is often accelerated when moisture can come into long-term contact with steel objects. Fortunately, this process can be stopped, thus protecting the structure of the tool. While you can’t turn rust into iron without a very sophisticated physics lab and electrolysis machine, you can remove it and prevent it from further damaging your tools.
How to remove rust from your tools
There are several methods you can try to get rid of that pesky rust. Let’s go through them.
The vinegar method
Soaking your affected tools in a bath of vinegar is one way to loosen rust deposits and make cleaning easier. All you need is a container large enough to hold your tool and enough white vinegar to submerge it. The acetic acid in vinegar reacts chemically with rust to produce salt and water, making the vinegar method both simple and safe. And, because the acid involved is harmless to humans, you don’t have to worry about dangerous by-products, and the remaining liquid can be safely poured down the drain.
For more stubborn rust deposits, you can soak your tools overnight to allow them to penetrate deeper. After a good soak, you should be able to remove the rust with a good stiff bristle brush.
The tomato sauce method
To get small rust spots, tomato sauce will, surprisingly, do the trick. Add a generous layer of tomato sauce to a rusty surface, let it sit for a few hours, then scrub it with a wire brush to remove any rust stains. It works the same way as the vinegar method because ketchup contains an acid similar to vinegar. Ketchup’s consistency also makes it good for items that would be difficult (if not impossible) to soak in a bath of vinegar.
A word of warning, though – although tomato sauce is not harmful to wildlife, it could attract insects and animals due to the sugar it contains. If you’re doing this outside, you might want to cover the area so you don’t end up with a bigger problem than rust spots.
The Baking Soda Method
Baking soda can also be used to remove rust: make a thick paste of baking soda and water and leave it on the rusty surface for about an hour, then brush off the rust spots. This method works by dissolving the rust in an alkaline solution, which makes the rust malleable. This can work particularly well for finer types of metals that are stained, but it will also help tools that have difficult surfaces if you can get the paste into nooks and crannies. This might be a better method than ketchup for outdoor use, as the resulting mixture will not cause increased wildlife activity.
The salt and lemon juice method
The lemon juice and salt method of removing rust is a good option if you have a small amount of rust or a flat surface with rust. It’s harder to get into tight spaces than pastes or baths, yet it can’t stay on the surface for too long, so you have to use it with care. Squeeze some lemon juice on the affected area, then sprinkle with salt before adding more lemon juice. The citric acid in the lemon juice will react with the rust, allowing you to wipe it away with a scouring pad or brush. Be sure to remove all of the mixture, as it can also react with the unaffected metal, causing damage.