Nothing is as fatal to the functionality or cosmetics of metal as rust. With tools such as pliers or scissors, it can especially cause a problem. The rust can completely clog up the pivoting axis and render them completely unusable. Plus, who wants to use a dingey brown tool that squeaks like a mouse when restoring it to its former, super-shining glory can be done with basic household items? You don’t have to replace your rusted tools, and you don’t have to spend money on a fancy anti-rust concoction. All you need is some white vinegar, a pan scrubber or wire wool sponge and little salt if you’re feeling fancy.
Rust occurs when iron comes into contact with water and oxygen. The metal reacts or “oxidizes,” creating hydrated iron oxide, commonly referred to as rust. Since steel is an alloy made from iron and carbon, it too is susceptible to rusting if neglected or subjected to water and oxygen for long periods. Rusting takes time to form, and as such, removing it can also take a while – but it needn’t take much effort. The best way to beat chemistry is to use chemistry!
For best results, you’ll want to fully submerge your rusted tool, belt buckle, earrings – or whatever you want to treat – in a container filled with undiluted white vinegar. Add about one tablespoon of salt per liter of vinegar if you like, as this will increase the acidity of the vinegar and help it break down the rust faster.
Make sure you’re using a plastic or non-reactive container, so the vinegar doesn’t end up dissolving or damaging it through prolonged exposure.
Leave your rusted item to soak in the vinegar between three and twelve hours, depending on how heavily it’s rusted. Check the progress of your item every hour or so, and you should see the vinegar discolor to a murky brown color as the rust is loosened. Once the vinegar appears to have reached its maximum murkiness, it’s time to get physical. (Please note that lightly rusted items may not turn the vinegar as dark or murky a color).
We highly recommend wearing washing gloves or similar PPE for this next step as it will protect your hands from loose rust in the solution. It will also stop your hands from smelling of vinegar for the next week.
Using a pan scrubber, wire wool sponge, or any other kind of scrubber with a reasonable level of roughness, you should be able to clear the rust from your item with relative ease.
The vinegar will have broken down the rust’s molecular structure while leaving the original shining metal underneath untouched. You can repeat the soaking process as often as you like if the rust proves particularly stubborn or is in difficult-to-clean places, such as intricate designs or items with moving parts.
Once you have completely removed all the rust from your item, wash it thoroughly with hot and soapy water to remove all of the vinegar solution and any remaining rust debris. This is very important, as it will prevent any further chemical reaction that may damage any surfaces your newly cleaned item comes into contact with. Make sure to dry it thoroughly with a kitchen towel, as this will prevent any rust from returning.
Dispose of the vinegar solution safely by running hot water in your sink and pouring the solution down the plughole. It’s important to dilute the solution when disposing of it, as this minimizes any risk of further chemical reaction in the pipes. It also lowers the acidity Ph value, making it more environmentally friendly.
For larger, un-submersible items, you can paint or coat the rusted area with vinegar. However, you will need to reapply it regularly every 20-30 minutes to get the best results. You will likely need to scrub it a lot more than with submerged items, so we recommend using a wire wool scrubber for better abrasion and rust lift. Do be aware that rougher sponges can sometimes scratch or damage the surface underneath the rust, so use them with care. Applying steel or metal polish after cleaning and drying your rusted item can counteract these side effects. Plus, your now de-rusted goods will look better than ever.