Auto Parts

10 Ways to Remove Rust from Car Parts and Tools

There are several ways to remove rust from car parts. Sometimes I've used steel wool to scrub off some bits of rust on a tool or car part. But sometime it takes a long time to get rust off. What are some good ways to help get the rust off without taking all of your time.

To remove rust from tools and car parts you need to decide on the method that will work best for you. Fast removal of a small amount of rust might call for a grinder or sandpaper. While those willing to wait a while can use chemical baths or electrolysis to remove rust in a day or two.

I have effectively remove rust spots on tools and parts, but usually just did small sections that involved a bit or consistent work. Weather your restoring some old tools or working on your car, you can remove the rust that is preventing your from seeing its true value and purpose. 

Before You Start

The best result come from those who take their time and use the correct tools for the job they are trying to do. When you take into consideration the time and money you'll need to take to remove the rust, some people opt to get a new part or tool because it cost less.

Consider safety when using chemicals or electronics and how you will clean up safely when finished. If you are preparing a part to be painted your process might be different than just removing rust. Decide on a process that will be best for your tool or part before you begin. 

1. Use a Brillo Pad / Steel Wool

Be careful about which steel wool you get. Some are thicker and some are look like steel wool but are make of plastic. The kind pictured above may work a bit or use the one label steel wool will work well, although it does tends to break apart easily. 

This works like sandpaper to scrub off rust and help parts get back to their natural state. Wearing gloves is a good it, as sharp bit of metal may enter skin. 

You can find steel wool at the dollar store.

Steel Wool

  • Scrub the affected area with steel wool. (Not the kind with soap in it)
  • Dust will accumulate, so a well ventilated area will help and a rag or brush to remove dust.
  • If using with water, keep out of the sink when scrubbing tough rust spots. Part of the pad may go into the drain causing it to clog or jam the disposal.
  • Using this for small jobs usually works well. Remember there are different grades of steel wool from Super fine to coarse. Coarse would be good for scrubbing and fine would help with polishing and lighter scrubbing.

2. Try Some Sand Paper 

Weather your doing a large or small job, most people use sand paper to sand down the body of the car before it is painted. Much like steel wool, sandpaper can remove rust and it comes in different levels of coarseness.

While it may not fit into hard to reach areas, it is very versatile, making it great for removing rust in different ways. There's wet/dry sanding, sanding machines of various types (Dremels, orbital sanders, belt sanders, and disc sanders) sanding sponges, sanding blocks, and sanding pens / detailers.

  • Use the sanding tool of your choice. A power sanding wool may speed things along. 
  • Dust and metal bit will accumulate and might fly off, so having a well ventilated area, gloves and safety glasses will help to keep you safe. 
  • Using different grades of sandpaper will be needed if painting a surface is require.
  • Sanding can work for small to large jobs. Power tools and sanding by hand is usually what will be needed to effectively remove rust and leave the surface smooth. 

3. Use a Pumice Stone

Not only for rough feet or scrubbing your toilet, a pumice stone can also help remove rust. One nice property of pumice is it will conform to the shape of the object being scrubbed. 

You can remove rust from tools and parts well fairly well, although pumice will not last long, so this may only be effective for smaller jobs. It can come in different levels of density and many bathroom stone will come with a handle.

If you are looking for a cheap way to do a small rust removal project, try pumice. It's good for other applications, so you can feel good about getting some for more than just rust, such as the BBQ and pool tiles. Getting a higher density stone should help it last longer. 

  • Use the stone just like sand paper, to scrub off rust. If you use the same pattern of scrubbing, the pumice will eventually conform to different shaped metal pieces that are being scrubbed.
  • Bits of stone will fall off as you scrub. You can use water if that help make scrubbing easier and rise off the particles. Just remember not to get water into the crevices of metal parts, as this moisture will be hard to get ride of.  
  • Pumice is light weight and easy to hold, so this makes scrubbing a bit easier.
  • If you go to the dollar store you should be able to buy some pumice and try it out and see if you like it. 

4. Soak Your Rusty Parts in Vinegar

Vinegar is not only only good in salad dressing, but because it is acidic it can clean off rust from parts. This may take a while, since most white vinegar has only 5% acidity. Expect lite rust removal. 

You can feel good about buying this item for multiple purposes as well, such as cleaning brass and copper dinnerware, for the laundry, eliminate odor on your hands, and to clean windows.

You usually will soak the tool a container of vinegar or you can wet or spray a paper towel and cover the rusted parts. Make sure it stays wet the entire time. Using a lid can help prevent the vinegar form evaporating. 

This in another cheap way to remove a light layer of rust from parts or tools. 

  • Soak or spray the vinegar as described above. Let sit for about 24 hours. Scrub off any remaining rust with a toothbrush or other cleaning device you don't mind getting dirty.
  • Bits of rust should fall off or cloud the vinegar. You can wipe any remaining vinegar and soak the tools or part in baking soda and water to neutralize the acid.  Thoroughly rinse and dry all parts, so no moisture is left.   
  • A second treatment can be used if needed. If you have time and patience, this is a helpful and easy solution.
  • Here's another product you should be able to find at a dollar store. When you try vinegar you may have to wait for it to do it's job, but it requires very little hands on time when getting the rust off. 

5. Baking Soda and Lemon Juice Paste

Baking soda paste with lemon juice will act as a rust dissolver of sorts. With this method you don't necessarily need to do any scrubbing, but it might help. 

This is a simple and cheap way to solve your problem with a bit of time. Both lemon juice and baking soda also can be used for multiple purposes as well, baking or house hold cleaning. You can find these at the dollar store

You usually will mix the two ingredient until it has a toothpaste like consistency. That way you can easily spread in onto parts without it falling off. Make sure it's not too dry or too wet or it wont stick to the item it's applied to. 

Lemon has about 5% acidity just like white vinegar, so you can use it by itself as a rust remover as well. The same applies to the baking soda. Just apply a paste of baking soda and water to a rusted item and scrub to remove lite rust. 

  • Once you've made the lemon juice and baking soda paste, apply it with a brush or other tool to all the rusted surfaces of the object.
  • Let it sit for 30 minute or more. If the paste is drying out, you may want to keep the object in a container with a lid or spray the paste with more lemon juice or water. 
  • Scrubbing off the paste with a toothbrush may help remove more rust after you've done waiting.
  • Rinse the part off with water and repeat the process for more rust removal.  

6. Chemical Bath

These products can do a good job at removing rust and with little or no scrubbing time involved. If you look at the video below you can see how well some of them perform. 

A chemical solution may require the use of gloves and safety precautions, especially around animals and children. Try to find the best container that will not tip over and cover the area your using in case of spills.

Once you've filled your container with the product of your choice, make sure it covers the item completely so it can remove all of the rust.  

An alternative method for large part that can't be submerged in the chemicals is to place the part in a plastic bin that has a cover and then place paper towels over the part and saturate the towels with the chemical product.

Make sure the lid is on to prevent evaporation. This wont be as effective as a bath but can still help cover large areas.

  • Prepare the area for using your product and using gloves if needed submerge the part or tool completely in the liquid or gel.
  • Let it sit for up to 10 hours more depending on the product. Checking on the object after a couple hours will help you better estimate how long it should be left in the solution. Be careful because so products like muriatic acid will start to dissolve the metal as well, if left in to long.  
  • Scrubbing off the rust will likely not be necessary, just place the object back in the solution unless metal is being dissolved.
  • Rinse the part or tool with water and let dry when finished.  

6. Electrolysis

If you decide to use electrolysis to remove rust you'll be using an electric current to drive a chemical reaction. As shown in the video below, you can do this yourself fairly easily with a few parts, but it may not be the best solution for all part and tools.

Electrolysis requires the use of gloves and safety precautions as well. Be sure to keep animals and children away from the area being used and make sure it is a well ventilated area. 

The items that you will need are: a plastic bin, 4 steel rebar pieces, copper wire, wire nuts, washing soda, water, a wood board, steel wire, and a car battery charger.  (Don't use stainless steel or copper in the water solution!

There are some alternative methods, but most are very similar to this process. When attaching the copper wire to the  rebar, you'll likely need a drill to make holes in the container. Drill holes just big enough for the wires to get through. 

Make sure the container is far enough away form the battery charger, to prevent any problems if water should somehow spill out. 

  • After the container is wired up with the rebar and copper wire, prepare the container for use by adding the water and one table spoon of washing soda per gallon of water. 
  • Mix the solution thoroughly. Place the part into the solution using the steel wire and board. 
  • Then place the negative battery charger clamp on the steel wire that's attacked to the part. Next, place the positive clamp on one of the rebar pieces. .
  • You'll see bubbles rising if your connections are good. Let it sit for a couple hours or more if needed and unplug the battery charger. Now you can remove the clamps and check the part. 
  • If it looks rust free, the last step would be to remove any sludge left over by scrubbing the part and rinsing it off.

7. Vinegar and Salt

While using vinegar can help remove rust, adding salt can speed up the process. Salt seems to act as a catalyst to speed up things. 

While using vinegar and salt don't expect quick results on rusted parts. Keeping your parts in the solution for several days may be necessary.

As seen in the video you'll need: vinegar, salt, a container, a plastic bag or a container top to keep moisture in, paper towels if needed, and a steel brush.  You can find vinegar and salt at the dollar store

It may be a good idea to use gloves as you clean off the part(s) to keep your hands from drying or cracking.  

Make sure the container is far enough away form the battery charger, to prevent any problems if water should somehow spill out. 

  • Prepare a solution of vinegar and salt for the part to be submerged in, if possible. I would probably add 4 table spoons per 16 oz of vinegar.
  • Mix the solution thoroughly. Place the part into the solution in a container with a lid or plastic bag. 
  • Let the part sit for at least 24 hours and check on it progress. You may want to scrub a bit with a steel brush to see if the rust will come off or need more time in the solution.
  • After a day or more, clean off the part with a steel brush and after all the rust is gone, rise the part off with water. If the part has hard to reach areas, dipping the part in a solution of baking soda and water will help neutralize any acid remaining on the part. Use some oil on the part or tool to help prevent rust.

8. Rust Converter / Neutralizer / Reformer / Primer

It may be called different names but they do the same thing, convert rust into ferric phosphate, which creates an inert black surface. This type of compound can be sprayed over a large surface that might be impossible to do with a rust remover. 

You can then paint the surface of the object because the rust is no longer exposed and it will help stop the spreading of rust into the paint. Watch this video to see a comparison of two products used.  

When using rust converts, use it only on rusted areas, since it may prevent paint from adhering well to non rusted areas. 

As seen in the video you'll need: vinegar, salt, a container, a plastic bag or a container top to keep moisture in, paper towels if needed, and a steel brush.  

It may be a good idea to use gloves as you clean off the part(s) to keep your hands from drying or cracking.  

Make sure the container is far enough away form the battery charger, to prevent any problems if water should somehow spill out. 

  • Make sure to prep the area to be painted if you expect the paint and rust converter to do a good job adhering and preventing rust from reappearing. 
  • When applying the rust converter you may need to spray or brush on several coats. You'll need to wait about an hour between coats depending on the product.
  • Then you'll need to wait 24 to 48 hours to let the converter cure before painting. 
  • After painting a car or other metal object with rust, remember that rust can come back. The number of coat of rust converter and paint will determine how long your paint job will last. 

9. Citric Acid

Citric acid can be used to remove rust from metal tools and metal car parts. You can decide if you want to just add a couple of table spoons of citric acid to your container of water and that's it or if you will add some heat to with a fish tank thermometer to help speed up the process.  

Citric acid is found naturally in fruits such as lemons and oranges, and you can buy it to use for canning, cooking, and for bath bombs. 

When using citric acid for rust removal don't expect any fast results, unless there is a minimal amount of rust. 

To remove rust you'll need: a container, citric acid, and water.  

Gloves aren't necessary but can be helpful especially if you have a cut. Gloves can help your skin stay less prone to drying out or cracking.  

Make sure the container is in a safe place and if you use a fish tank heater help prevent any problems by keeping it out of the reach of pet or children.  

  • Use a container and add 1-2 table spoons of citric acid per 16 oz of water. More citric acid may be used to help speed up the process.   
  • When cleaning lightly rusted tools wait about 2-3 hours before taking them out to clean up with a scrub brush. You may need to wait 24 to 72 hours to let heavier rusted tools become rust free. 
  • After removing the tools or parts make sure to scrub off any remaining rust/sludge and rinse them in water or water and baking soda to help counteract the acid. 

10. Ketchup

Just like citric acid, ketchup has acid that can help remove rust. It has acetic acid and may be about as effective as lemon juice.   

Ketchup is readily available in most kitchens, so you might want to try an experiment for yourself on a rusty utensil before using it on garage tools or car parts. 

When using ketchup for rust removal don't expect any fast results, unless there is a minimal amount of rust. 

To remove rust you'll need: a container and ketchup.  You can find this at the dollar store

This unconventional way of removing rust is probably not something you want to use for heavy cleaning or for multiply tools, but it can be fun to try it a time or two when you don't have anything else readily available.  

Ketchup is wont cause any damage to anything but may stain clothing, so caution is needed when dispensing.  

  • Thoroughly cover the object with ketchup and cover the container or use a plastic bag.
  • Let the ketchup for sit for 2 - 24 hours depending on the rust level.
  • After removing the tools or parts make sure to scrub off any remaining rust/ketchup and rinse them in water or water and baking soda to help counteract any acid. 

Conclusion

The interesting thing about removing rust is you don't necessarily need to spend a lot of money on a cleaning solutions. For a few dollar and some patience you have a brand new looking tool or car part.

If you need some serious help try a professional rust removal product. I recommend either muriatic acid or Krud Kutter if you want to get a good clean tools or part fairly quickly with little work on your part.

Be sure to watch videos and read reviews about any product you want to buy to be sure it will work the way you need it to. I hope this article has been helpful and if you are looking for more information about rust removal try these articles:

How to Repair Rust on Your Car without Welding: An Easy Fix Anyone Can Do

Best Rust Remover: Here’s What You Should Know Before Buying