How To: Remove Rust from Hand Tools

Wait! Don't throw away those rusty hand tools when you can restore them. Follow either of these straightforward methods to restore their shine and stop further corrosion in its tracks.

By Bob Vila | Updated Oct 22, 2020 7:25 PM

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How To Remove Rust From Tools


Has it been a while since your last home improvement project? If your do-it-yourself skills are a little rusty, chances are your tools are, too. Without regular use, metal tools are prone to problems. Over time, iron and steel exposed to oxygen and moisture form a chemical reaction called oxidation. The visual evidence of this reaction is the burnt orange speckling that covers your metal possessions. Eventually, too much rust will ruin your tools—giving you yet another excuse to put off those projects.

Well, no more excuses! Grab those tools and get to work, because rust is removable. Here we offer two ways to quickly and easily bust that rust.

How To Remove Rust From Tools - Sandpaper


METHOD 1: Scour, Scrape, and Sand

If you don’t mind using a little elbow grease, you can physically remove rust with abrasion. Choose an effective scrubbing material when dealing with light to moderate surface rust problems. Deeper rust issues may require more than just muscle, but this physical solution is a good first step.

TOOLS AND MATERIALS Available on Amazon
Dish detergent
Coarse sandpaper
Scouring pad
Steel wool
Fine sandpaper
 Electric drill
Wire wheel brushes for drill

STEP 1: Remove dirt and grease with dish soap.

Start by cleaning the rusted tools in soapy water to remove dirt and grease. Then, rinse the tools with water and dry thoroughly.

STEP 2: Scrub the rusty tools with an abrasive pad.

For light rust, scrub the surface with a scouring pad, sandpaper, or steel wool. Always start with the coarsest abrasive to remove the built-up rust and pockmarks, then switch to a finer grit to smooth out the grooves caused by the coarse grit. If you still see rust, it’s time for a more heavy-duty course of action.

STEP 3: Use a drill-powered wire wheel to buff away stubborn rust.

For more serious rust problems, coat the surface of the tools with kerosene to function as a cutting lubricant. Wait several minutes. Then, attach a wire wheel to an electric drill to buff away the stubborn rust. Finish off with fine-grain sandpaper to remove any leftover residue. If the surface rust is gone, your work is done. But if the problem persists, you may need a stronger chemical solution.

How To Remove Rust From Tools - Oxalic Acid

Photo: via Josh Larios

METHOD 2: Soak in Oxalic Acid

When you want to save yourself some energy, oxalic acid offers an effective chemical-based treatment for dissolving light to moderate rust problems. This mild acid gets right into joints and crevices to penetrate the problem areas, making it especially good at removing rust in tight spaces and hard-to-clean spots. Just pick up the inexpensive chemical at your local home improvement store to get started (you can also buy it online via Amazon or another vendor).

TOOLS AND MATERIALS Available on Amazon
– Goggles
– Rubber gloves
Dish detergent
– Large plastic bucket
– Oxalic acid
– Towel

STEP 1: Clean the rusty tools with dish detergent.

First, clean the tools with dish detergent and water before you begin so grease and dirt won’t block the chemical process.

STEP 2: Pull on protective gear, then submerge the rusty tools in an oxalic acid solution.

Before you pull out any chemicals, don’t forget to strap on a pair of goggles and rubber gloves for protection. Although this is a mild acid, always work in a well-ventilated area to avoid fumes. Mix three tablespoons of oxalic acid with one gallon of water in a plastic container large enough to submerge the hand tools you’ll be cleaning. Then, place the tools in the solution and make sure it covers the tools completely.

STEP 3: Soak the tools for 20 minutes.

Leave the tools in the bucket for approximately 20 minutes, or until the rust is gone. (You may need more time or less depending on the level of corrosion.) Then, rinse, dry thoroughly, and store the tools once more.

How to Remove Rust from Tools


4 Tips to Prevent Tools from Rusting

While there are a variety of different methods for removing unwanted rust, one solution tops the rest: prevention. The following tips will help you stop a rust problem before it starts.

  • Remember to always dry your tools immediately after use, and even spray them with a rust inhibitor like WD-40 (available on Amazon).
  • Store your tools in a clean, dry place. Dust attracts moisture, and moisture leads to rust. Yes, you need to dust your house and your toolbox too!
  • Keep your toolbox moisture-free. Use silica gel packs (available at your local home improvement store) to absorb excess moisture. Or, use an old-fashioned wooden toolbox instead. The wood will absorb any excess wetness.
  • Finally, for maximum protection, invest in a dehumidifier to control the climate and limit the humidity. Beyond saving your metal tools, it will keep you comfortable as you tackle your next to-do with your rust-free equipment.