Monday, March 17, 2014

Remove Rust from Tools with Ordinary Vinegar

Unless you keep all your tools in a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment or keep them protected with a light coating of oil at all times, you're likely to find an occasional rust spot on your babies. If you have kids who borrow your tools to fix bikes or build treehouses, it's even more likely. And finally, if you have a habit of collecting tools from along the roadside while walking or cycling (my hobby, if you must know) then you've seen enough rust to coat the Brooklyn Bridge.

Did you know you can remove that rust with a common household chemical, one that you probably have sitting in the kitchen right now? Yep - vinegar isn't just good for salad dressing, pickles and cleaning the coffee pot, it also removes rust. No kidding: and it's easy!

Here's what you need:

• A jug of white vinegar, the kind that's been diluted to 5-8% vinegar
• A glass or plastic tray or other container large enough to hold the tool
• Paper towels
• A kitchen scrubber or some steel wool

And here's how you clean tools with vinegar:

1: Brush off any loose dirt or corrosion with a stiff-bristle brush
2: Pour clean vinegar into your container
3: Submerge the tool and leave it for 8-12 hours
4: Remove from the vinegar bath and wipe off the black gunk. Rinse if necessary
5: Scrub with clean water and a kitchen scrubber
6: Lightly buff with steel wool

Before and After

Here are a couple of examples, both tools I've found lying in the street. The first is a super-cheap adjustable wrench, which I dunked partway in the vinegar so I could see the difference.

Before cleaning: note the rust
in the gear
Wrench in the vinegar bath
(a plastic yogurt carton).
Note cheap jug of vinegar.
After soaking overnight. You
can see the line marking the
depth of the vinegar quite
After buffing with steel wool.
There's still a little rust in the
gears, and the pitting is also
easy to see.

If the tool, like this dollar bin special, is made of low-quality steel you're likely to see pitting where the rust had penetrated most deeply. I have a black oxide allen wrench that was treated this way; it looks like it has serious acne scars (but it doesn't have rust).

Higher-quality metal is more forgiving. Here's a chromed Craftsman socket, also found in the street that had a light sheen of rust where it had apparently been lying in a puddle. The vinegar took that rust right off. There are a few places on the reeding (immediately below the "C," for instance) where the chrome plating has been penetrated.

Before treatment in vinegar bath
After treatment and steel wool

A word on chrome plating: if the item is just painted with silver paint instead of plated, the vinegar is likely to remove the paint as well - especially if left overnight.


First, this relies on a chemical reaction that neutralizes the acid in the vinegar. That means you'll have to replace the vinegar in your bath regularly. Second, don't try sandpaper instead of the plastic scubbie and steel wool. The grit is harder than the metal tools and can easily scratch it badly.

My garage smells like a pickle factory today: so can yours!

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