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Are you one of those home owners who might have stumbled upon his shelf of tools one day to find his favourite torque wrench and screwdriver set covered in rust? If yes, you might be in a dilemma as regards whether to discard them or to go through the trouble of removing the rust and restoring them back to their previous efficient state.

There could be several reasons as to why tools gather rust, the most common among them being:

  • If your DIY skills as a home owner have somewhat rusted over a period of time, chances are high that tools might have rusted too owing to disuse;
  • You might be out in the garden pruning the shrubs when suddenly there is a distraction. In a hurry to rush inside, you leave the tool outdoor, only to find it rusted a couple of days later.
  • High atmospheric humidity due to incessant rains may cause the tools to rust since most of them are made of iron;

As a home owner it is imperative for you to understand that rust is not the same as dirt or dust, meaning it would be wrong to call rusty tools dirty and vice versa. In fact, when tools are covered with dirt/dust, they seldom become rusty owing to being cut off from the surrounding atmosphere. The dirt/dust acts as a protective layer which prevents iron from coming into contact with moisture and oxygen present in the air, two important requisites for rust formation.

How Does Rust Form?

Manifested in form of stubborn reddish-brown stains, rust is actually an outcome of a chemical reaction. This reaction takes place when iron present in the tools reacts with oxygen of the atmosphere in the presence of moisture. The resultant is iron oxide, a reddish-brown compound, which is commonly referred to as rust.

Presence of moisture is mandatory for rust to form, which explains why your tools are particularly prone to develop a layer of reddish-brown stains in damp conditions. Locking away your tools in an air-tight tool chest could be a solution to protect them from dampness and safeguard them against rusting.

Is Restoration Of Rusted Tools Practical?

Contrary to the popular opinion, rusted tools are not ruined. All you need to do is remove the specks and restore them to their original state to be able to use them again. So, the next time you are attracted to an old rust-covered tool which you have been neglecting for quite some time, do not just throw it away. Find ways that will enable you to get the rust off the tool so that it can be used again and save the trouble of throwing it away.

Restoration of rusted tools is indeed a practical idea owing to the following reasons:

  • It saves you the trouble of searching for a replacement, given the possibility that you may not find the exact screwdriver set that you just discarded;
  • Restoring is a more cost effective option as compared to investing in a new set altogether, assuming of course that you find an exact or a better model;
  • Having tools in good working condition would translate into timely completion of your DIY home projects without any excuses;

So now that you are convinced about removing rust from your favourite torque wrench and other tools, it is time to explore various ways that could help you accomplish this task.

Removing Rust from Tools – Useful Tips

Assume for a moment that you finally decided to open your tool chest and find that almost all your implements are marked with varying degrees of rust. Rather than throwing them away, you make up your mind to render them rust-free and this means setting aside a holiday for undertaking this task the DIY way. But do you know how to go about it in a methodical manner and ensure that all your hard work pays off?

Listed as follows is a sequence of useful tips that you can apply to your DIY rust-removing project.

Demarcating the Area of Work

A good way to start entails marking the area wherein you will work with the rust cleaner and the tools. This is important because irrespective of whether it is one tool or the entire lot in the tool chest that needs to be scrubbed free of the rust, the paraphernalia should remain within your hands’ reach all through the process. Advantages that accrue from demarcating your area of work are –

  • With all requisite items around you within an arm’s length, you can remain seated till the work is complete;
  • Rest of the house remains clean, the only exception being your working corner;
  • Chances of hazards are minimized owing to both the tools as also the cleaning agent being close to you;

Preferably choose an area which is the least disturbed and receives minimal foot traffic so that you can work at a stretch without any hindrance. Spread a sheet of cloth or a mat over the floor/lawn where you intend to work and keep a supply of newspapers and tissue papers in case of an accidental spillage.

Pre-preparation

To be able to remove rust as efficiently as possible, there is certain degree of pre-preparation that you need to put in. For this, you will need:

  • Sandpaper, coarse and fine;
  • Steel wool and scouring pad;
  • Rags;
  • Liquid detergent;

Start by scrubbing the tool with detergent followed by thorough rinsing by water. This would serve to remove all the oil, grease and dust that might have accumulated over a period of time. After it is completely dry, scrap the surface of the tool with sandpaper so that loose flakes of rust fall off and only embedded patches remain.

An important tip while using sandpaper pertains to starting with the coarse texture and switching on to the fine texture to scrap loose rust flakes from grooves and corners. Having finished with the sandpaper, take a dry cloth-rag and wipe the entire surface of the tool with it so that all the flakes fall off the tool on to the sheet below.

 Choosing the Rust Cleaner

Subsequent to scraping the loose flakes of rust, it is time to remove the more deep-seated flecks and for this you will need a rust cleaner. For those who are new to the task, rust cleaners can be broadly divided into broad categories, namely chemical-based and natural, and each comes with its own set of unique features.

Chemical based rust cleaners are characterized by the following features:

  • Usually these are strong and hence are regarded as being more effective in clearing stains of rust;
  • They are preferred owing to their ability to provide immediate results;
  • Cost-wise these occupy the higher end of the price spectrum;
  • Abrasives and chemicals used in these rust removal agents could be hazardous to health and cause allergy and other health issues;
  • Owing to the presence of harsh chemicals, these do not qualify as being organic or eco friendly;

Examples of chemical based cleaners are oxalic acid, citric acid and diesel, and these are readily available in any hardware store for purchase.

In sharp contrast, features of natural rust cleaners are:

  • While these can be purchased, another alternative is to prepare them at home by combining certain ingredients.
  • Because these are devoid of chemicals, they do not pose any kind of risk to your health;
  • Courtesy of most of their components being natural, these can be termed as being organic and eco friendly;
  • These are more cost effective as compared to their chemical based counterparts;
  • There is a misconception that these may not be as effective in removing rust, however, in practical situations they have proved to be just as effective as their chemical laden counterparts, if not better;

Examples of natural rust removers are apple cider vinegar, baking soda, salt and lemon, and potato, all of which are usually available at home.

Your choice of rust cleaner depends on your personal circumstances, although a strong recommendation in this regard pertains to showing proclivity towards organic and eco friendly products as opposed to chemical-based cleaners. What you can do is first use the supplies that are available at home to remove rust from tools. Only when the results are not satisfactory should you venture to a shop and pick natural rust cleaner. Chemical based cleaners are best avoided as far as possible.

Using the Rust Cleaner

Now that you are armed with a rust cleaner of your choice, the next step entails following the step-by-step instructions of using it to remove rust from your tools. Irrespective of their origin, most products entail being applied to the rust-ridden surface for a stipulated duration and then being wiped off. Of course, this method varies from one product to another, and depends on factors such as the individual components and the concentration.

Oxalic Acid

Strong that it is, oxalic acid is truly effective in clearing away rust from tools. Moreover, what renders this chemical an attractive option is its ready availability in hardware stores, not to mention its cost effectiveness. When you use oxalic acid for removing rust, following are the steps that you need to follow:

  • Equip yourself with adequate protection in form of goggles to cover your eyes and rubber gloves for your hands;
  • Clean the tools with detergent and water and ensure that they are totally dry before applying the cleaning agent;
  • Despite being mild, oxalic acid does emit fumes, and to avoid inhaling them you must ensure that the working area is well ventilated to the point of being breezy;
  • Prior to being applied to tools, oxalic acid needs to be diluted in water, the ideal ratio being 3 tablespoons of acid in 1 gallon of water;
  • Submerge your rusty tools in the solution and leave them for 20 minutes;
  • After the rust dissolves completely, rinse the tools in water, dry them and they are as good as before;

Natural Rust Cleaners

Discussed as follows are some natural rust cleaners which you can use on your tools:

  • Vinegar – Acetic acid which is present in vinegar has been found to be extremely effective against rust and that is why vinegar is a good and economical option for removing rust from tools. All you need to do is create a solution of vinegar and water and submerge your tools in it for the next 24 hours. When you rinse them the next morning, they will have been free from rust.
  • Lemon – Citric acid present in the lemon acts against the rust on the tools, particularly if it is scrubbed on the surface with salt. Let this mixture stay on the tool for a couple of hours and then see th difference.
  • Baking soda – If you apply a paste of baking soda to the rusted area and remove it after a few hours, chances are that all the rust will have gone away with the paste.

Store the Tools

Once you have removed the rust it is important to ensure that the tools do not get rusted again. This is best achieved by drying them thoroughly and storing them in an airtight tool chest. You can even coat them with a layer of protective oil that would preserve the tools despite humid conditions.

Final Thoughts

Coca Cola is another rust removing agent although its abilities are yet to be clearly established. On your part you may be storing the tools in a cool dry place only to discover them covered in a layer of rust one day. Humidity level in the atmosphere is something which is beyond your control, but what you can do is ensure that it does not cross certain limit in your home or in the garage where the tools are usually stored. For this you can use silica gel packs or a dehumidifier, both of which would limit the moisture content and protect your tools form rusting.

Ultimately, use your tools every once in a while to ensure that they remain as efficient as ever. Most importantly, after having finished with them, clean them, dry them and store them where they would remain protected from both dust and rust.

Sources:

  1. How to Remove Rust from Metal – wikiHow
  2. How To Remove Rust from Metal – family handyman

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