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We have been using metals for more than 5,000 years, and as long as we have been using metals we have been fighting against rust. With most metals, rust is something that we have all come to accept over time as a natural by-product of their use. We have also found various ways of getting around rusting and even preventing it from forming in the first place. This being said, there are loads of rust-removal substances out there including (strangely) vinegar! Does vinegar remove rust though? Let’s have a look at a few methods, including using white vinegar to remove rust, as well as some rust removal techniques that you can use to get rid of surface rust on all your metal workpieces in the future.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Rust?
- 2 Can Rust Be Removed and/or Treated?
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Rust?
Rust is essentially a substance that forms as a result of the corrosion of metal surfaces. When exposed metal interacts with oxygen and moisture, a process known as oxidization occurs. This process acts as a catalyst for the corrosion of the metal surface, resulting in what all know as rust. The less moisture, oxygen, and heat a metal surface is exposed to, the lesser the chance of it oxidizing.
If you’re wondering whether rust forms on all metals – it doesn’t.
Rust forms on metals that have a high concentration of iron in the molecular structure, metals which have come to be known as “ferrous metals”. Ferrous metals contain bits of iron in them, and when these bits of iron are exposed to moisture and oxygen they will begin to oxidize over time, resulting in what is known as “spot rust”.
There are metals that have been refined to such a degree of purity that they contain no iron. These metals are incapable of rusting and are often used in applications where moisture, heat, and oxygen are abundant, but a strong metal is needed. These types of metals are known as “non-ferrous” metals, and some of the most popular variations of these are aluminum, copper, zinc, bronze, and titanium.
Some of these metals form naturally while others need to be put through a refinement process to make them pure. These metals tend to be more expensive than ferrous metals due to their properties. Being non-magnetic and completely resistant to the effects of oxidation means that these metals are extremely popular, and thanks to how the law of supply and demand works, they can fetch a pretty penny.
Rust is not a desirable characteristic for a ferrous metal to have because it’s capable of spreading and corroding the entire piece. Additionally, rust poses a potential hazard, as even though it poses no harm to you if you touch it, getting cut by a rusty piece of rusty metal means that you could potentially contract tetanus, which can cause serious discomfort if left untreated.
If a metal workpiece is allowed to rust continually, it could result in it being completely corroded, resulting in the eventual disintegration of the workpiece. If you’ve ever seen an old car that’s been left outside for a few years, you’ve likely gotten a pretty clear picture of just how persistent and devastating rust can be if ignored.
Can Rust Be Removed and/or Treated?
You might find yourself in a situation where an object has begun to rust or already has a decent amount of surface rust, and you would like to remove it. Back in the day, one of the options would be to soak it in motor oil and hope for the best. Thankfully, we live in the age of information, and we’ve prepared a short list of rust removal techniques for you to try out, including using something as simple as vinegar! Does vinegar remove rust? Let’s have a look!
Scrubbing Your Metal Workpiece
As human beings, we tend to like taking the simplest approach to problem-solving, even if we expend more time and energy. After all, doing some mindless labor tends to be easier than meticulously planning out something before doing it, right? Well, if you abide by this philosophy, we think that this rust removal method is right up your alley. Simply scrubbing or scraping rust off the surface of a metal workpiece is the most bare-bones approach to rust removal there is, and in some instances, it could be your only option. There isn’t much to it, all that you need to do is get your hands on some steel wool or a scraper and get to putting in that elbow grease.
This method can be labor-intensive and tiring, which will likely result in you changing your scraping arm more than once if your workpiece is particularly large.
It is quite effective though, and if you’d like a more thorough solution, you can use this method in conjunction with some of the others we’ll mention below to get rid of rust quickly and permanently. Keep in mind that this method will only work on surface rust. Surfaces that have been extensively corroded should be treated with specialized products, provided they don’t need to be replaced entirely. Checking the extent of the corrosion on a given workpiece should be done first before attempting to get rid of the rust in question.
Using Baking Soda on Your Metal Workpiece
If you’re not in the mood for quite that much manual labor, you could try using some baking soda solution. Baking soda has been used for many years in applications other than baking, and it’s actually quite a versatile substance if you explore its uses. While it can be used to ensure your baked goods rise as intended, it can also be used for general cleaning purposes and to disperse foul smells.
When it comes to the removal of rust, baking soda is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your surface rust is removed effectively. How does it work? Well, basically when baking soda is combined with water and applied to a rusted surface, it creates an alkaline solution that dissolves the resulting oxidized metal, which can then be removed from the surface.
The rust can be wiped away with a cloth or you can use a scraper or some steel wool. Regardless of which you choose, the rust should come off with relative ease once it’s had a chance to set in. If you’re wondering how to use baking soda to remove your rust, all that you need to do is mix your baking soda with some water and apply it directly to your surface. Once applied, simply allow the baking soda to set into the rusted surface for a while. You should see the baking soda mixture begin to foam lightly once it begins to interact with the rusted metal, and once it stops the surface rust can be easily removed.
When using this technique, be sure to check that you have enough baking soda solution for your entire workpiece.
Using White Vinegar on Your Metal Workpiece
Using white vinegar to remove rust is actually a common practice all over the world. While dedicated chemicals for rust removal are great, using white vinegar can work in a pinch, especially if circumstances won’t allow you to use a substance that emits potentially harmful fumes. Vinegar is actually a mild acid, and it is pretty safe to use considering that it’s used for cooking pretty regularly. Does white vinegar remove rust the same way that baking soda does? Well, not really, even though both methods are functionally similar. Unlike baking soda, which forms an alkaline solution when interacting with rusted metal, white vinegar is naturally an acetic acid that is capable of dissolving the bond between the oxidized surface and the metal workpiece beneath.
Wondering how to remove rust with vinegar? It’s actually a lot easier than some of the other methods we have mentioned.
All that you need to do is apply your white vinegar directly to the affected surface and allow it to set in. You should be able to see the rust particles lift away from your metal surface within a few minutes, at which point they can be removed along with any excess vinegar using a clean cloth. Once the rust pieces and excess vinegar have been removed, you should ensure that you neutralize any residual vinegar left on the surface by washing it with some soap and water. Failing to do so could result in damage to your workpiece, and the stench of white vinegar likely to linger in the area for some time.
Using Potatoes on Your Metal Surface
While it might seem a bit silly, potatoes are actually really good at removing rust from metal surfaces. Why are they so good at removing rust? Well, potatoes contain a chemical called oxalic acid, a naturally occurring substance that just so happens to be able to break down rust, be it to a lesser degree than dedicated substances.
Potatoes can actually be used to clean a number of surfaces thanks to how the acids contain a slightly corrosive element to them. It’s actually these acids that make potatoes break down when they become rotten, and this same acid can be used to clean countertops, brass, the blades of knives, and even cookware like pots and pans.
If you’re wondering how exactly to use a potato to clean these metal surfaces, all that you need to do is cut the potato in half, spread some baking soda over the exposed section, and give the surface in question a thorough rub with the potato. Once you’ve given it a good rub, allow the acid to do its thing and rinse the surface under running water. While the acid produced by the potato isn’t powerful enough to corrode even an exposed metal surface, it can leave a nasty feeling residue on the surface of your workpiece.
On the plus side, removing rust using this method means that your workpiece is left with a rather pleasant, fruity odor that’s sure to put a smile on your face.
Using Lemon Juice on Your Metal Surface
This is a bit of a lesser-known trick for getting rid of rust. While most of us consider lemon juice a nice addition to a bowl of guacamole, it’s also an effective acidic solution for a number of applications outside of the kitchen. Lemon juice is one of many fruits that contain citric acid, be it in a higher concentration compared to fruits like oranges. This concentration of acid is what makes lemon juice so sour, in addition to some other elements in its composition. This makes it one of the best solutions to removing rust aside from dedicated rust removal agents.
If you’d like your lemon juice to be a bit more potent, you can mix it with additional mild acids like white vinegar.
Wondering how to use lemon juice to remove rust from a mental surface? All that you need to do is place some coarse salt on the surface of your workpiece (available at virtually any grocery store) and then add the lemon juice on top of it. Allow the mixture to sit on the surface for a little bit and then wipe off the remnants. What you want to avoid when using lemon juice to remove rust is leaving it on for too long. Depending on the severity of the rust you are trying to remove, you might need to leave it on for more than a few minutes, but don’t leave it on for too long or it could end up damaging your mental surface, causing it to rust over again.
Using Cola on Your Metal Surface
You’ve probably heard the story of someone cleaning old coins by submerging them in cola for a few minutes, but does cola really remove rust? Well, sort of. Cola consists of a number of substances, including carbonated water, colorant, sugar, and the active ingredient in most popular sodas, phosphoric acid. The latter is commonly used in most products produced specifically for rust removal, which is why cola is so effective at removing surface rust. This being said, drinking too much soda isn’t great for your stomach lining as it will quite literally eat away at it. It’s great for rust removal though, and all you really need to do is pour some on the surface of your workpiece or submerge it in said cola.
Just as if you were using pure phosphoric acid, you shouldn’t leave it on your workpiece for too long or it could start corroding the surface. As with some of the other methods we mentioned previously, all that you need to do once you’re happy with the removal of your rust is pour some water over the surface to neutralize the acid and remove the sticky residue.
Now that you know what rust is, how it forms, and a few less conventional ways of getting rid of rust, it’s time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember to always neutralize acidic substances on your metal surface once the rust has been removed no matter how mild they might seem.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Vinegar Remove Rust?
Wondering how to remove rust with vinegar? Vinegar contains a mild acid that allows it to eat away surface rust on metal surfaces, even if it does make them smell a bit funny. All that you need to do is apply vinegar to the surface of your workpiece and neutralize it with water once the rust has been removed.
What Quickly Removes Rust?
One of the best ways to remove surface rust from a metal workpiece is by using vinegar. Vinegar contains mild acids that allow it to remove oxidized particles from the surface of the workpiece, after which they can simply be wiped away.
What Is the Best Way to Remove Rust?
Although dangerous in high concentrations, phosphoric acid is the best way to remove rust from metal surfaces. There are a number of over-the-counter substances that contain phosphoric acids in sufficient amounts to allow for the removal of rust.