The Best Rust Remover for Household Use
Get rid of tough rust on every surface by using one or more of these impressive products.
When elbow grease fails to remove rust, it’s time to reach for a rust remover. But with so many on the market, each with different strengths and drawbacks, which is best? There are both acid-based rust removers out there, as well as options that rely on advanced chemistry to either remove rust or convert it to a different, non-corrosive substance. Keep reading to learn how the various types of rust removers work and check out our top picks to find the best rust remover product for the job:
- BEST OVERALL: Rust Kutter Rust Converter
- BEST FOR TOOLS: Evapo-Rust The Original Super Safe Rust Remover
- BEST FOR HOUSEHOLD NEEDS: Iron OUT Powder Rust Stain Remover
- BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Corroseal Water-Based Rust Converter Metal Primer
- BEST FOR CARS: WD-40 Specialist Rust Remover Soak
- BEST MULTIPURPOSE SOLUTION: CLR Pro Cleaner
Before attempting the chemical process of rust removal, it helps to understand just what rust is in the first place. Basically, iron corrodes when it is exposed to oxygen and moisture (water or humidity), the technical term for the process being oxidation. When iron molecules are oxidized they form an orangey-red residue (rust) on any surface containing—or in contact with—iron, including clothes, tools, household faucets, shower caddies, and the chrome fixtures on cars and bicycles. Rust stains are difficult to remove because of their bright color and stubborn resistance to typical cleaners like bleach and soap.
Rust removers aren’t good for delicates like wool or silk, but for most other surfaces, you’ll find your solution below.
Types of Rust Removers
1. Chemical Removers
The most common method of removing rust involves commercial-grade chemicals that eat away at rust build-up and stains. The three main types of chemical rust removers are:
Acids, including nitric acid, acetic acid (white vinegar), phosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, muriatic acid, oxalic acid, and citric acid. The typical percentage of acid in a rust remover is about 30 percent—the maximum amount that can dissolve in water and serve as a cleaning agent. Though effective and fast, usually working within minutes of application, acids emit harsh chemical fumes, so you must use them in an outdoor or well-ventilated space and wear protective gear (goggles, face mask or respirator, rubber gloves).
Acids also incur the risk of surface damage due to corrosiveness. Naval Jelly, a phosphoric acid-based, caustic rust remover, is suited for heavily rusted iron or steel, but should not be used on delicate materials like fabrics, as well as aluminum, chrome, stainless steel, cement, fiberglass, marble, plastics, or painted surfaces (it will remove paint). On the plus side, naval jelly gets rid of rust in about five to 10 minutes and any excess product can be removed and cleaned with water.
Petroleum-based solvents, found in products like WD-40. While not as corrosive or toxic as acids, these products often use pressurized gases for dispersal, which are flammable and may have respiratory risks. Expect to wait up to 24 hours for these products to take full effect.
Sodium hydrosulfite, an active ingredient often found in powdered rust removers. This salt compound is effective in removing rust stains from fabric. Research from the U.S. General Services Administration also shows its power to remove rust stains from concrete, limestone, and marble. In home cleaning products, sodium hydrosulfite eliminates the need for scrubbing away stains and can be used in bathrooms, toilets, kitchens, and washing machines. Expect rust stains to fade within five to 30 minutes after application.
2. Chelating Agents
Newer rust removers are non-toxic, acid-free, and eco-friendly, relying on a process of chemical chelation. The product’s molecules bind to the rust particles, making it easier to wipe away rust without damaging surrounding materials. Typically, these products require you to soak rusty items for a minimum of 30 minutes to overnight, time well spent that results in rust-free, stain-free tools and surfaces.
3. Rust Converters
When there is too much rust for either a chemical or chelating product to completely remove the build-up, use a product that converts rust into a stable, black coating that serves a dual purpose: It protects the original surface and works as a primer for oil- and epoxy-based paints.
Though rust converters don’t work on aluminum, copper, stainless steel, or galvanized metal, they’re suitable for any iron or steel object that can be repainted, like garden tools, lawn equipment, fences, and iron railings. After applying, wait 24 hours before applying a second coat, and a full 48 hours before painting over the rusted area.
There are four means of application for rust removers and converters:
- Soaks are best for removing rust from tools, automotive parts, and other metallic surfaces you don’t want to scratch by scouring with abrasive pads or harsh acids.
- Sprays are helpful for household cleanup, as well as rust stains that aren’t too deep.
- Powders are best for preventing or treating rust stains on clothing, as well as sinks, toilets, and bathtubs. Powered rust removers can also be added to your washing machine and toilet bowl, making them ideal for homes with high iron content in the water supply.
- Rust converters, similar in formula to paint or primer, are applied with a brush.
The Best Rust Removers and Converters
1. BEST OVERALL: Rust Kutter Rust Remover
An easy-to-use spray-on product, dual-purpose Rust Kutter Rust Converter converts rust into a primer-ready coating. It dries in about 30 minutes, after which rust can be wiped clean. It’s effective on a variety of interior and exterior surfaces, including tools, tile, marble, and masonry—but it’s best for items you wish to paint, as converted rust can tinge metals a whitish hue. Do not use Rust Kutter Rust Converter on surfaces that have already been painted; it can damage or strip the surface. Also note that with phosphoric acid and citric acid as active ingredients, it’s important to wear protective gear while using the product, and it’s equally important to do so in a well-ventilated or outdoor space.
2. BEST FOR TOOLS: Evapo-Rust The Original Super Safe Rust Remover
One of the first rust removers on the market, this product from Evapo-Rust is water-based, environmentally safe, non-toxic, and non-corrosive, containing no acids to irritate your eyes, skin, or nose. It’s also safe to use on non-rusty steel, plastics, PVC, cast iron cookware, toys, and most painted surfaces that may be in contact with rusty metal hardware. To remove rust fully, soak items in the solution overnight. If a surface cannot be fully immersed, soak a rag in the product and apply the rag to the rust stain for 24 hours.
3. BEST FOR HOUSEHOLD NEEDS: Iron OUT Powder Rust Stain Remover
Gentler than acid-based formulas, Iron OUT Powder Rust Stain Remover contains sodium metabisulfite and sodium hydrosulfite—crystals that are proven rust erasers. This septic-safe powder works for numerous household needs, including bathroom, kitchen, and laundry. For instance, Iron OUT Powder Rust Stain Remover removes rust build-up in water softeners, helping maintain their performance, and similarly, the product can extend the life of your washing machine. If you live in an area with hard water and high iron content, consider keeping a bottle handy to banish corrosion not only on (and within) plumbing and appliances, but also from clothing and fabrics.
4. BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Corroseal Water-Based Rust Converter Metal Primer
Specially designed for the marine industry, Corroseal Water-Based Rust Converter Metal Primer is ideal for heavily rusted outdoor equipment. Instead of eating away at rust the way acids do, this Corroseal product relies on a chemical conversion process that turns rust into magnetite, a stable black coating. Just brush this water-based formula onto any rusty surface (except stainless steel and galvanized metals) and let it dwell 24 hours until fully dry and cured. Then paint over the magnetite coating. Many DIYers consider this to be the best product on the market for heavy-duty restoration of such things as patio furniture and trailer restoration.
5. BEST FOR CARS: WD-40 Specialist Rust Remover Soak
Non-toxic, industrial-strength WD-40 Specialist Rust Remover Soak is perfect for auto restoration, and it can also be used on large, metal outdoor structures like metal swing sets or sheds. WD-40 claims its formula makes old metal look practically new again—without laborious scraping, chipping, or scrubbing—in as little time as 24 hours. Perhaps best of all, WD-40 Specialist Rust Remover Soak doesn’t give off fumes.
6. BEST MULTIPURPOSE SOLUTION: CLR Pro Cleaner
With its potent yet non-toxic mix of active ingredients, CLR Pro Cleaner is fast-acting, industrial-strength, EPA-certified—and one of the most versatile cleaners for home and outdoor use. The formula utilizes both lactic and gluconic acids, which are less caustic but no less effective than harsher acid-based removers. It works wonders on rusty tools, outdoor equipment, car parts, stainless steel, plastic, ceramic tile, glass, and fiberglass surfaces and is also a great alternative to ammonia- and bleach-based products on hard water deposits, soap scum, and rusted toilets.