The 10 Best Rust Removers
Rust: The Silent Killer
Driveways and parking lots often develop rust stains thanks to leaks from cars, and the right chemical can get rid of those blemishes.
Simple hand tools can become unusable if they're caked and flaking.
It doesn't happen overnight. There's no sudden turning point when rust becomes a problem. It creeps into your life over many nights, slowly, as oxygen and moisture circulate through the air and rest on steel surfaces. Without a sound, the metal reacts with the atmosphere and begins to corrode. Rust can sneak into any garage or toolbox given time and inactivity. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but when corrosion gets intense and metal starts to flake, it can cause a lot of problems.
Simple hand tools can become unusable if they're caked and flaking. Disfigured nuts and bolts marred by red-orange deposits can see use again, but they'll need some help. Saw blades, knives, scissors, and pliers all need to be rust-free to work properly.
Home and property owners will find a lot of uses for a quality rust remover. Bathrooms, of course, are notorious for corrosion due to all the moisture. Plumbing fixtures, faucets, and even toilet bowls are in danger of discoloration or damage, especially in the presence of hard water. Major appliances, whether in the kitchen, outdoors, or in the basement, are subject to constant use and extreme conditions. Driveways and parking lots often develop rust stains thanks to leaks from cars, and the right chemical can get rid of those blemishes. Outdoor fixtures like furniture and fences, often made from wrought iron, can easily oxidize in humid climates.
Cars can benefit from proper treatment in a few ways. Rust attacks vehicles in three main places: the engine bay, the undercarriage, and the body. Keeping corrosion out of your engine bay will extend the life of your car's most sensitive components. A rust-free underbody ensures that important parts like brakes, steering, and suspension stay in working order, keeping your driving experience safe. And body panels with no holes eaten out of them keep your car looking good while helping to prevent those internal oxidation infections.
Rust removers even have utility for collectors and artists. Antiques, especially guns, can suffer from discoloration and damage because of the older types of metal used in their construction. And there's nothing quite like a truly old piece of antique jewelry that's been restored to its former beauty.
Rust is so common, it might even cause you to wonder: what exactly am I removing?
What Is Rust, Anyway?
Time for a little science. Rust is a slow-acting reduction-oxidation reaction, also known as a redox. A redox is a chemical reaction where the involved particles alter their electron states. When two substances swap electrons, heat is released and one or more chemical products are formed. These reactions represent phenomena as simple as the formation of carbon dioxide and as complex as our body breaking down nutrients into raw cellular fuel.
Rather than converting the fuel to an oxide slowly over time, fire does so with the help of intense heat to get it started.
Iron, the main component of steel, provides a good example of this process. As the iron is exposed to oxygen in the air, it slowly loses electrons, known as oxidizing. If there's water (liquid or vapor) in contact with the iron, the increase in available oxygen speeds up the process. The oxygen molecule gains those electrons in a step called reduction, and two products are created: heat and iron oxide. Iron oxide, of course, is none other than rust, the red devil itself.
Interestingly, another common example of a redox is fire. While rust is a slow reaction, fire is a very fast one. Rather than converting the fuel to an oxide slowly over time, fire does so with the help of intense heat to get it started. Once this happens, electrons are ripped from the fuel source so quickly that the process propagates itself, as the heat from the highly exothermic redox greatly increases the availability of free oxygen molecules in the air that serve as the reaction's oxidant.
This is very similar to the reaction that causes your car's body panels to turn reddish-brown, even if it's got a little more spark behind it. Indeed, cellular respiration, the rusting of an antique, and the burning of a campfire are all chemically similar, which is why rust is often called the slow fire.
What To Look For In A Chemical
Metal is usually pretty strong stuff, and rust is awfully difficult to physically remove from any specimen. It takes a lot of sanding and grinding to scrape a serious rust infestation off an old body panel, if it's possible at all. Nobody will blame you if you'd rather not spend an extra half-hour scrubbing the red stuff off all the specialized nuts and bolts needed to put your car back together once it's repaired.
If and when rust does invade your tools, cars, or house, there's a rust remover out there that will surely make your life easier.
There's no shortage of products on the market to replace that elbow grease. In fact, there are quite a few, and different types can serve different purposes. Some compounds as simple as vinegar work to remove rust, but might not be as effective as more powerful chemicals. Lubricating solvents similar to the household WD-40 do a decent job of removing rust.
While some products are designed for soaking the afflicted parts, others come in spray bottles and attack surface corrosion and discoloration. Some of these spray-on options include solvents effective against a range of chemicals that form deposits, making them perfect for kitchens and bathrooms.
Pay close attention to two important issues: any health hazards created by your chemical of choice, as well as its environmental toxicity. Especially if the runoff from your cleaning process will come anywhere near your lawn, garden, greywater tank, or groundwater source, it's imperative to find a non-toxic offering. Similarly, some chemicals absolutely require good ventilation, otherwise eye, throat, and lung damage could occur before you've even finished the project.
Remember to keep everything properly oiled and protected from the elements to minimize contact between metal and oxygen. If and when rust does invade your tools, cars, or house, there's a rust remover out there that will surely make your life easier.