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How to Remove Rust from Tools

Treat and prevent rust from your tools by following a few simple steps.

Rusty Tools iStock

Your tools will last a lifetime if you take care of them, but one of the biggest enemies of metal tools is rust, which can be prevented if the right precautions are taken.

What is Rust?

Rust is the product of metal corrosion, where a chemical reaction creates an “oxide” that’s expressed as the well-known red- or rust-colored powder.

This oxidation process breaks down of the underlying material and should be controlled or eliminated as it will significantly weaken the metal over time. There are several ways you can prevent corrosion in the first place, as well as steps to take to remove rust from tools that have undergone oxidation.

How to Remove Rust

Tool owners should have on hand a multi-purpose oil designed to clean, lubricate, and protect. To remove light rust from tools simply apply oil to a rag and wipe the metal thoroughly. If the articulating parts are rusted, working oil into rusted joints multiple times is usually effective.


  • Drop some oil into the joint and manipulate the tool back and forth, open and closed, grinding the rust and lubricant into a slurry.
  • Taking a clean side of the rag, wipe up the slurry from the joint and, to make the tool usable again
  • Repeat the oil application and manipulate the tool until you’re no longer getting a mixture of rust and oil on the rag.

If the rust problem is on the surface of the tool, and not inside the joints, you can scrub the oxidation off.

  • Use a wire brush, sandpaper, or steel wool to remove all traces of rust.
  • Pockmarks and scaling are particularly hard to remove, so power tools like a drill with a wire wheel attachment or a bench grinder with a metal wire buffer wheel can make short work of deeply rusted tool surfaces.
  • Once the tool is thoroughly stripped of rust, a deep lubrication of the entire tool surface with a non-oxidizing oil like mineral oil and a wipe down with a rag, will finalize the rust removal process.

Rust Prevention

Moisture control is paramount in rust prevention. Storing your tools in a dry place is crucial. A sub-grade basement in an environment with a high water table will keep humidity levels high, promoting the formation of rust. Not a good spot for tool storage.

While the hinges on a wrench are an obvious place for rust to occur, tool owners often don’t often think about the delicate motors and electric brushes inside of power tools, which are made out of copper and other corrosion-prone metals. Keep all your tools above ground—and inside—if possible, or install a dehumidifier in your tool storage area if it’s humid but it’s your only storage solution.

Regular lubrication and cleaning of hand tools with a petroleum product are the most basic steps an owner can take to extend the longevity of a tool. Sometimes a single drop of multi-purpose oil in an articulating joint or gear will ensure a lifetime of use, and a multi-purpose oil-soaked rag wiped over the surface of any metal parts spreads a thin layer of protection against the elements that cause rust.

Painting and sealing up metal parts that are exposed to the elements are also great methods to prevent corrosion and rust. While most manufacturers provide a layer of chrome or powder-coating paint, many old tools do not have this protective coating. Good prep work is important for ensuring a quality bond, but a sealant like paint or rubber can extend the life of old tools and provide a new gripping surface for a fairly low cost.