How do I clean rusty tools?

How do I clean rusty tools? - Fix It Cape Town

Rusted tools can be a real headache for any handyman or DIY enthusiast. Not only do they look unsightly, but they can also hamper your ability to get the job done efficiently. However, with the right knowledge and techniques, you can easily clean rusted tools and restore their functionality. In this article, we will explore various methods to tackle rust, from abrasive cleaning techniques to chemical rust removers. Read on to discover effective ways to revive your rusted tools!

Why Do Tools Rust?

Before diving into the cleaning methods, it’s essential to understand why tools rust in the first place. Rust is the common name for a very common compound called iron oxide. When iron or steel tools are exposed to oxygen and moisture, a chemical reaction called oxidation occurs, leading to the formation of rust. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep your tools dry and properly stored to prevent rusting.

Abrasive Cleaning Techniques

  1. Wire Brush: One of the simplest and most accessible methods to remove rust from tools is using a wire brush. This tool consists of stiff wire bristles that effectively scrape away rust. Gently scrub the surface of the rusted tool in a back-and-forth motion until the rust is removed. Be careful not to use excessive force, as it may damage the tool.

  2. Sandpaper or Emery Cloth: For smaller rusted areas, sandpaper or emery cloth can be effective. Start with a coarse-grit sandpaper to remove the bulk of the rust, and gradually move to finer grains to smoothen the surface. Remember to use even strokes in the direction of the tool’s grain.

  3. Power Tools: If you’re dealing with heavy rust, power tools can save you time and effort. Rotary or oscillating tools fitted with wire brush or sanding attachments are excellent for removing rust from large, stubborn areas quickly. However, exercise caution, as these tools can be aggressive and may damage the tool surface if not used properly.

Chemical Rust Removers

  1. White Vinegar: A popular and inexpensive household item, white vinegar can help dissolve rust without causing harm to the tool’s surface. Simply soak the rusted tool in a basin of white vinegar for a few hours or overnight. Afterward, scrub the loosened rust with a wire brush or a scouring pad. Rinse thoroughly and dry the tool to prevent further rusting.

  2. Lemon Juice: Similar to white vinegar, lemon juice contains citric acid, which is effective in dissolving rust. Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto the rusted areas of the tool and leave it for a few hours. Scrub the tool with a brush or scouring pad, rinse, and dry thoroughly. Lemon juice leaves a pleasant scent and can be a natural alternative to chemical rust removers.

  3. Commercial Rust Removers: If the rust on your tools is severe or resistant to other methods, commercial rust removers can be a reliable option. These products contain chemicals that break down and remove rust. Follow the instructions on the packaging carefully, as some rust removers may require protective gear or specific disposal methods. After treatment, clean the tool thoroughly to remove any residue.


Q: Can I use baking soda to remove rust from tools?

A: Yes, baking soda can be an effective rust remover. Mix baking soda with some water to form a paste, and apply it to the rusted areas. Let it sit for a few hours, then scrub and rinse the tool. Baking soda acts as a gentle abrasive that helps lift the rust.

Q: What about using Coca-Cola to remove rust?

A: Coca-Cola contains phosphoric acid, which can dissolve rust. Soaking a rusted tool in Coca-Cola for a few hours or overnight may help loosen the rust, making it easier to remove. However, it’s essential to thoroughly clean and rinse the tool afterward, as the sticky residue from the soda can attract more dirt and potentially lead to future rusting.

Q: Can I prevent rust from recurring on my tools?

A: Yes, you can prevent rust from reappearing on your tools by properly storing them. After cleaning, make sure to dry the tools thoroughly before storing them in a dry environment. Applying a thin layer of lubricant or wax can also provide a protective barrier against moisture and oxygen.


Cleaning rusted tools and restoring their usability is a task that can be accomplished using various effective methods. Whether you opt for abrasive cleaning techniques like wire brushing and sanding or prefer chemical rust removers such as white vinegar, lemon juice, or commercial solutions, the key is to act promptly and efficiently. By keeping your tools dry and well-maintained, you can prolong their lifespan and ensure they stay rust-free for longer. Don’t let rust hinder your progress – equip yourself with the right techniques, and tackle rust head-on!

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