We all mean to take great care of our tools. I know I do. But, no matter how hard we try, sometimes our tools are neglected and begin to corrode. That, of course, would leave any do-it-yourself homeowner wondering how to remove rust from tools.

After all, you can’t just go out and buy new stuff any time a little rust shows up. Plus, having tools that are decades old and still in good condition is like a badge of honor for amateur handymen like you and me.

So here’s a look at a simple trick you can use when wondering how to remove rust from tools.

The process I’m about to describe works best on steel tools. If you try it on something made of aluminum, it could lead to even more damage. While most tools are made of alloy and carbon steels, you may encounter some that are made of other types of metal. Just a fair warning before you get started.


Step 1: Get the Right Materials

Having the right materials is always half the battle, whether you’re using your tools to build something cool, or cleaning your tools so they’re ready for the next project. The good news is that you should already have most of what you need. The rest you can find at the hardware (or perhaps even the grocery) store. Here’s the list:

  • 1 plastic container (deep enough to submerge your tools)
  • White vinegar (enough to submerge your tools)
  • Salt (enough for 1 cup to every gallon of white vinegar)
  • 1 Scotch-Brite hand pad or toothbrush
  • Water (enough to submerge your tools)
  • Baking soda (enough to 1 cup to every gallon of water
  • 1 steel wool pad (0000, which is “super fine”)
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Coconut oil or camellia oil


Step 2: Prep Your Tools for Cleaning

You’ll to disassemble any tools that can be disassembled. Then hose them down so that any loose dust, dirt and grime are shaken off. Basically, you’re getting rid of the stuff that’s easy to get rid of so that you can focus on the rust.


Step 3: Soak Your Tools (Part 1)

Once your tools are disassembled and hosed down, you want to place them into a plastic container for submersion. You need a container that’s large enough for all of your tools to sit beneath the surface of the white vinegar you’re about to pour in.

Once your tools are arrayed in the contained, pour in the white vinegar. Add about 1 cup of salt for every gallon of white vinegar you use. White vinegar is already mildly acidic, which is great for working away rust. The salt increase the acidity to the perfect level.


Step 4: Let it Sit

You want to give the vinegar and salt plenty of time to work on that rust. At a minimum, you may be able to get away with 12 hours. But it’s better to leave your tools soaking for a couple of days — maybe over a weekend. Go 3 days max.


Step 5: Scrub (Part 1)

Once your tools have sat in white vinegar and salt for a couple of days, the rust should be ripe for scrubbing away. Use a woven pad like a Scotch-Brite hand pad to scrub the rust off. If you don’t have a Scotch-Brite pad or something similar, you can substitute a toothbrush.

You have tons of options for the pad or brush you use. I like the Scotch-Brite pad because it’s woven and chunks of rust won’t build up on the pad. A toothbrush is good for the same reason — chunks of rust won’t build up in the bristles. You can use steel wool, but it’s going to be a little messier at this stage.


Step 6: Soak Your Tools (Part 2)

The acidity of the vinegar and salt was helpful, but now it’s time to rinse it away. Pour out the vinegar from your plastic container and refill with a similar amount of water. Submerge your tools and add some baking soda — again, about 1 cup of baking soda for every gallon of water.

It may seem counter-intuitive to soak your recently cleaned steel tools in water. Water leads to rust, right? But you’re only going to let them soak for 15 minutes this time.


Step 7: Scrub (Part 2)

OK, now’s the time to break out the steel wool — 0000 or “super fine” steel wool works best. Pull each piece out of the tub and scrub with steel wool until you get a nice polish. At this point, your tools should be looking absolutely beautiful.


Step 8: Add the Finishing Touches

Two small things you need to do at the end. First, use a cloth soaked in denatured alcohol to ensure that all of the moisture is fully removed from the tools. You don’t want any little water droplets or particles present to start building up rust again. And, second, add a light application of coconut oil or camellia oil, which will coat your tools and help prevent them from rusting in the future.


Final Thoughts on How to Remove Rust From Tools

This is just one of many home remedy solutions for your rusty tools. You can find some formulas that call for lemon juice and a hair dryer. I’m sure those work, too. But this is the approach that I can personally recommend as you try to coax the longest possible lifespan out of your tools.

Do you have a different approach for how to remove rust from tools? Let us know in the comments section below, or send us a message through our contact form.


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