Rust is a natural process caused by the exposure of metal to moisture. It turns surfaces brown or orange over time, detracting from their original shiny or matte silver metal finish. Direct contact with water isn’t even necessary a lot of the time, as the moisture in the air is often enough to trigger it.
Although rust is unsightly, it can be removed so your items or surfaces are restored to their original glory. And whether it’s rust stains in your apartment bathtub or sinks, on old baking pans or furniture parts such as hinges and supports, or even a discarded filing cabinet picked up at a garage sale, you can easily refurbish these items with common non-toxic household ingredients and vigorous cleaning.
Without further ado, we give you our favorite ways to remove rust in and around the apartment:
Salt and Lemon/Lime
This method is ideal for rust-spotted kitchen knives and large tools like spatulas. Start by lightly sprinkling salt on the offending stain, covering it completely but not too thickly. Then saturate the salt with lemon or lime juice, being careful not to wash the salt away as you do. Hang on to the peels when you’re finished, and let the solution sit for two to three hours.
Now use the rinds to wipe away the salt. If the rust stains persist, repeat the process as necessary, using a soft brush to further scrub away. When you’re all done, rinse the item or area and thoroughly dry with a soft cloth or paper towels.
Don’t worry, this rust removal method isn’t nearly as dramatic as it sounds. Citric acid is widely available at most health food/vitamin stores, as well as online. Just add two to three tablespoons of it to a bowl of hot water large enough to totally submerge the rusty item. Then leave it to rest overnight. In the morning, use a wire brush or steel wool to remove any clingy rust spots and dry with towels.
Keep in mind that this is only a great rust-removal solution for tools that don’t have delicate surfaces or paint on them, both of which can easily be damaged by citric acid.
If you don’t want to invest in citric acid, white vinegar may be a good substitute (apple cider vinegar is not acidic enough to remove rust). Just immerse the rusty item in straight vinegar (no water added) and let sit for 24 hours. If the stain is on a surface that’s not submersible, try saturating cotton cloths with vinegar, wrapping them to the stain, and leaving it untouched for the same period of time. Seriously, don’t skimp on the soaking time here. When you’re all done, use a brush to remove any leftover flakes.
Note that some super rusty stains may need a boost to be completely eradicated. Luckily, you can add a punch to the vinegar by mixing it with baking soda to form a paste. Generously cover every inch of the spot with it and let sit for at least 24 hours. Thoroughly rinse it under running water afterwards, brushing away rusty debris as you go. Repeat the process as necessary.
Most people have hydrogen peroxide on hand in their first aid kits to help disinfect scrapes and cuts. It’s also a great rust remover. To add extra oomph to it, mix it with cream of tartar (available in the supermarket spice aisle) to make a paste. The apply it to the rusty area and let sit for 24 hours before rinsing. You can also sprinkle rusty flat surfaces with cream of tartar and moisten it with the hydrogen peroxide instead of making a paste. Just remember to be very careful with the peroxide, as it will bleach any and all clothing or fabrics it comes in contact with.
Potato and Dishwashing Soap/Baking Soda
This method may sound like an urban legend or something a crazy aunt swears by, but believe us when we say it works. It’s an especially good option if you need to remove light rust from a delicate metal or painted item or surface with no challenging nooks and crannies. Simply cut a russet or Idaho potato in half crosswise (not end-to-end like a baked potato), and dip the cut ends into a saucer of liquid dish detergent or baking soda. Then use them to rub the rusty surface vigorously. Repeat as necessary, cutting off the used parts over time to give yourself a fresh scrubbing surface.
A Few Words of Caution
Many of these procedures can be messy, so do your best to only work over a large sink or cover the surfaces under the stain with newspaper to catch spills and make clean-up easier.
Steel wool and abrasive brushes are fine cleaning tools on bare, unpainted surfaces that can’t be scratched, but using a stiff bristle brush such as a toothbrush or vegetable scrubber on more delicate surfaces will actually only work to promote new rust formation. Using more ingredients or repeating the process is better than overly harsh scrubbing for softer items and exteriors.
Once you’ve removed all the rust from an item, take care to store it in a cool, dry place. If you live in a humid climate, wrap the item in paper when not in use. To avoid rust forming in sinks and tubs, quickly dry them with a towel after each use.