This is a relatively simple, safe and cheap way to remove light or heavy rust from any ferrous object. I used this process to restore an old wood plane that I bought for $1 (it looked totally un-usable because of the rust). As opposed to grinding, heavy wire brushing and acid bath processes, this method removes none of the original steel and is not noisy or caustic.

How this works:

Several other sites do a better job of explaining the chemistry of this - but basically you set up a conductive solution and insert some sacrificial anodes. You hang your rusted tool in the solution and attach it to the negative end of the power supply. You attach the positive end to the anode and turn on the power. The current travels through the solution and in the process flakes off the rust - the flaking/softening occurs because of the reaction at the surface of the good steel that pushes the rust off.

See this site
for more info on the chemistry of it all. (now linked to a waybackmachine archive of the site - modern suggestions for this background are welcome).

Step 1: Gather supplies

You will need:

This project cost me about $40 because I did not have access to a small battery charger. If you have a charger, then most folks with a decent shop full of crap can do it for almost nothing.

- Clean 5 gallon spackle bucket or other plastic container to meet your size needs
- 5 sections of 18” long 1/2” steel rebar ($5 at Home Depot –
buy in longer sections as needed) (DO NOT USE STAINLESS STEEL)
- 5 feet 12 awg (or so) insulated copper wire in two colors
- 5 yellow wire nuts
- several red wire nuts
- 5 feet pliable tie wire (non insulated) SEE UPDATE on Step 2 - the tie wire rusts out after about a year - you may want to use something more substantial or resistant to rusting.
- Box of washing soda NOT baking soda
- Anti-oxidant goo (IE Noalox – This is not necessary
but helps I think.
- Small battery charger or home made power supply ($20-$50 at AutoZone etc) - Its best if the charger
has a 6v option and an internal "trouble" switch that stops charging if something shorts out.
- Variety pack of alligator clips from RadioShack (unless charger comes with decent ones…)
- Outside outlet or extension cord
- GFCI protected outlet (this is a must in my opinion - working around power and water is stupid unless
you have GFCI protection
- 5 gal water
- misc clamps/small boards
- drill with 1/4 bit
- wire cutting and twisting pliars (linemans tools are best
- wire brush (better if on a grinder or dremel tool)
- anti rust spray or light oil
<p>Do you see any problems using copper wire for conductivity instead of steel?, I mean in the solution.</p>
<p>If you heat baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in the oven it turns into sodium carbonate (washing soda). At least that is what I've read. I got the A&amp;H washing soda, fairly recently, in Walmart. That should help those looking for it. Almost everybody has a Wally World near by.</p>
<p>My local Walmart does not carry it, I have yet to find a store in our small city that does. I can buy it from our local pool supply company dirt cheap but I have to buy a 50 lb sac. I opted for the &quot;make Baking soda into washing soda&quot; Sodium bicorbonaet to sodium carbonate method. Works fine.</p>
<p>go to any pool supply store and ask for Soda Ash. Same thing, Sodium Carbonate.</p>
I'm glad you were able to make it. Another source is Ace hardware. It is listed on their Web site. That means your local Ace hardware store can have it for you in a day or two if it is not in stock.
<p>I just did this recently and here are two issues I ran into and how I solved them:</p><p>1. Washing Soda: In Northern California it must be banned or something however it is easy to make. Take Baking Soda and spread it out on a cookie sheet or put it into a bowl. Pop it into a 400 degree oven for 40 or so minutes until you have the juiciest pot roast ever seen. If a pot roast has not appeared then you will have Washing Soda. Store in lightproof container.</p><p>2. Battery Charger (IMPORTANT): Automatic battery chargers will NOT work. The electrical flow is not a battery load as it expects and will fault. It will be as if it was broken. I tried two and both behaved the same. Beware of Sears. Online they show a manual charger however it is the SKU of an automatic. This may be another Northern California Space Time issue. Also ordering from Amazon, for all addresses I had it threw an unshippable addresses error. I can buy explosives just fine. I found that eBay has variable power supplies for about the same price as a automobile battery charger and the one I got works great. It is a 0-30V, 0-5A and it costs about $45. There are models with lower voltage/amperage that are in the $20s. Obviously no problem shipping to my address.</p><p>Hope this was helpful.</p>
<p>You can use some automatic (smart) chargers, as you said, they might not start because they have a battery/charge detection, but you can kick start them by connecting a 1.5v battery to its leads for 1-2 seconds with some wire. After that charger kicks in and remains on. You can also reconnect without battery later on, I am guessing that solution/metal ions hold a residual charge if it ran for a little while. Just in case someone runs into the same problem.</p>
<p>How does this process compare, with the very simple process of immersing the object in a tub of 20% molasses and 80% water. Admittedly you may have to leave the object in the tub for a week or two, and it may smell a bit, but it seems to work ....any thoughts ????</p>
<p>Molasses works through a process called chelation. A popular commercial product that works that way, is a lot faster but a lot more expensive is Evapo Rust. </p>
<p>In doing both, this is cleaner and yes faster, but the molasses works GREAT too! It depends on what you have, and if this is something you can do. If you have a very thin item, or one with lots of lettering this is better, but I have gotten frozen channel locks and pipe wrenches clean and working with Molasses, but it takes time and wire brushing (a lot). </p>
<p>Great article and very well design setup!</p><p>Instead of a car charger you could use an old PC Power supply. You can use the 12v rails.They offer plenty of amperage plus OVP and OCP even if they are cheap.</p><p>Thats what i will be using anyway!</p><p>Cheers!</p>
Question: Could i line the inside of the bucket with half inch net wire or aluminum flashing for better electrode coverage?
<p>Steel sure but it will &quot;go away&quot; pretty ast.</p>
<p>Electrolysis and electroplating use the same molecular chemical forces but in directly opposite directions. In electrolysis, the surface molecules of the negative connection metal (the rusted tool or part) emigrate to the positive connection steel. In electrolysis, the rust and gunk 'transplanted' from the negatively-charged rusty tool or part will build up on the positively-charged steel (heavy buildup can be removed with a wire brush). The flow of molecules in electrolysis is from negative to positive, so always mark your electrolysis connections with &quot;+&quot; and &quot;-&quot; signs. </p><p>In electroplating, the molecules flow in the opposite direction. If you get your electrolysis connections backwards, you will electroplate a thin layer of new steel on top of the rust on the tool.</p>
<p>I could not find washing soda so i made my own. http://www.drkarenslee.com/make-your-own-homemade-washing-soda/ . All you have to do is get baking soda to 400 degrees F. I have tons of old AC adapter chargers for old electronics. I found one that was 6V 1.5A and used that as my power supply. So far its working like a charm.</p>
<p>You also forgot to say that you CAN NOT IN ANY WAY USE SALT, instead of baking or washing soda, if you use salt it will create chlorine gas that is really toxic.</p>
<p>Pratt. Go Pro.. oh yes and pay dollars! SAY before milking me of my email address dingbat. Godd job I gave you a Micky Mosuse address Dorh,,,,</p>
<p>Someone mentioned that they thought washing soda might not be available anymore in Northerm California. It is available but not widely. Try the raley's, Belair, Nob Hill stores. I get it there. I believe I also saw it in Target under a different name, something like washing crystals. My wife and a friend heard about this method and asked me about it. I had already gathered the things needed to start but hadn't gone any further. I showed them how I planned to do it. They made the necessary woman changes to the process and now we are overrun with shiny tools that we had gathered over the last 30 or 40 years as rust lumps. They cleaned tools with plastic handle covers, plastic handled screwdrivers and myriad other things. You wouldn't believe how those things sell at a garage sale or flea market..... They prefer pieces of old lawn mower blades as anodes although horseshoes work great too.</p>
<p>I 1st came across this instructable: <a href="http://www.instructables.com/id/Electrolysis-Rust-Removal-DIY-Tutorial/" rel="nofollow"> http://www.instructables.com/id/Electrolysis-Rust...</a> </p><p> And the suggestion box on the side led me to this one. While I dont know if there is a difference in quality in using salt vs baking soda, I liked yours better, being on a larger scale. </p><p>Although I wont be doing this project right away since I'm out of work, and get the the material for free, Some things I would different are:</p><p>- Instead of using rebar, I would use copper ground rods.</p><p>- 1/3 of the way down, and 2/3 of the way down, I would use #8 or #6 solid, bare copper, going from 1 rebar / ground rod to the other, kind of like a cage.</p><p>- At the top where you have them all tied together, I would also a use bigger gauge wire. </p><p>- Lastly, instead of using a 5 gallong bucket, I would a bucket a little taller (to be able to put long items in it.) I used to have that chlorine tablets came in. </p><p>-Optional - if you have 2 12volt car batteries, wire them in series (as seen <a rel="nofollow">here</a>) </p><p> to give yourself 24volts DC</p><p>Just thinking about maximum conductivity, and to have it work faster. </p><p>Cant wait to get back to work to get the materials, so I can built and try it out!</p>
Do not use copper rods. The copper will break down and produce some nasty chemicals.
Thanks for the tip. I was trying to think of maximum electrical conductivity. Also, I was looking for an alternative since I believe someone questioned using rebar since it itself rusts. What would you think about using galvanized ground rods? http://m.homedepot.com/p/ERITECH-5-8-in-x-8-ft-Galvanized-Ground-Rod-815880UPC/202195736/
<p>I have read that you should NEVER use copper, stainless steel, or galvanized in this process due to the mess that copper makes and the noxious substances that come off of the stianless and galvanized.</p>
<p>From my scant bit of research, I've also seen warnings that using copper and/or galvanized steel anodes will result in copper and zinc being electroplated to the item you're attempting to remove rust from.</p>
<p>Read this</p><p>http://www.metaldetectingworld.com/electrolysis_rust_removal.shtml</p>
<p>if your still wondering, I've heard it is a bad idea to use galvanized metals, the zink spilts off and does stuff, I don't think zink on it's own is dangerous, however depending on what you use as a electrolite, instructable author uses washing soda, it may form chemical bonds and produce something toxic. </p>
<p>I you use copper as it contaminates your piece. What you are doing is &quot;electroplating&quot; the piece but it will not be pretty. Using salt will release chlorine gas. Act accordingly. Chlorine is highly reactive, deadly and heavier than air. Plus salt water is corrosive to iron. (See: sunken ships) </p><p>You must remember there is all sorts o complex things happening in that bucket. or instance using stainless steel will produce hexavalent chromium.</p><p>&quot;HEXAVALENT CHROMIUM is a highly controlled environmental pollutant!... To avoid both environmental and <br>personal health damage, stainless steel anodes ...&quot;<br>This is a very informative read:</p><p>http://www.metaldetectingworld.com/electrolysis_rust_removal.shtml</p>
<p>A few weeks ago I used my battery charger to remove rust from an old rusty block plane. I used a 5 gal bucket, 1 table spoon of Arm &amp; Hammer washing soda per each gallon of water and one 18 inch piece of rebar as a sacrificial piece. The end result was great. I have several old hand saws that havn't been used in several years and are very rusty. I bought 5 pieces of rebar and stripped down some 12-2 housing wire that I had on hand and constructed the same apparatus shown in this blog. I connected the positive to the 5 rebars and the negative to the hand saw, but for some reason it will not work. The charger has 3 indicator lights, one which comes on when charging, one which shows that charging is complete and one which comes on when the battery will nor take a charge. For some reason there is not charging process taking place. The &quot;Check Battery&quot; indicator light is the only thing that comes on. What am I doing wrong?</p>
<p>Your charger is too *smart* for this purpose. It is checking whether there is battery voltage present and perhaps rising so it won't work for this application. You need a dumb charger that just produces current then shuts off to trickle if at all around 14.something volts.</p><p>Note that you don't really need a &quot;battery charger&quot;. A standard DC power supply is all that is called for. For example a notebook power supply should work, though depending on the electrolyte type and amount used, the power supply you choose may need to have a particular current production capability.</p>
<p>First you need to verify that your charger will still work to charge a battery (verify that it is not broken ). If it appears to work normally on a regular battery charge, your water may be too pure to cause an ion exchange between the metal bits. You can try adding more arm and hammer to the bucket or try to add some regular table salt ( keeping in mind that Table Salt will give off a small amount of Chlorine gas so work outside with the bucket for safety). For removing rust the best type of battery charger to use is the cheapest NON Computerized chargers with an output of an amp or so. (by the way do not use battery chargers for any other electrolosis than rust removal - most other metal exchanges require more amperage than modern chargers can provide )</p>
Will this rust removal hurt carbide blades? Will it breakdown the carbide tip adhesion to steel blades?
<p>Waht if you pulsed the current, better or lesser results?</p>
Would this work for drill bits or would soaking in molasses be a better option? I made a bit of a mistake and soaked mine in iron out and now all the bits are black i thought it would take the rust off but nope they are all black and gross, now what?
What exactly is washing soda, i'm from Argentina and I think that doesn't exist here, so, if you give the components, i'll make it
<p> Washing soda es bicarbonato de sodio en Argentina.</p>
<p>*carbonato </p><p>bicarbonato de sodio = &quot;baking soda&quot;</p><p>carbonato de sodio = &quot;washing soda&quot;</p>
<p>Do you have 20 Mule Team Borax in Argentina? It's the same thing. I use washing soda to make my own laundry detergent. Go to Wikipedia and type in Washing soda and it'll give you a better idea of what it is and some manufacturers. It is also known as soda ash or soda crystals.</p>
<p>It is so not the same thing. Washing soda is sodium carbonate. Borax is sodium tetraborate. The first is Na<sub style="">2</sub>CO<sub style="">3</sub>, the second is Na<sub style="">2</sub>B<sub style="">4</sub>O<sub style="">7.</sub></p>
<p>Thank you for the correction. After reading your comment I did some further research and noticed the differences between the two. But... can't Borax still be used in this process if you can't get washing soda? Just a thought. I realize that Borax doesn't have the same sodium molecules as washing soda but does it have enough to aid the process of removing rust? </p>
<p>The problem is what the sodium is attached to, which in this case is the Borate ion. When you run a current through sodium carbonate, you split water in to hydrogen and oxygen, but the sodium carbonate is largely unaffected. This is because it is more difficult to pry (electrically) the carbon off the oxygen, than it is to pry the hydrogen off the oxygen. With Borax, that's not the case. You'll end up actually changing the borax into something else, most likely sodium hydroxide and boric acid. The sodium hydroxide probably won't have much effect on the process, but the boric acid might. It's commonly used as a flux in welding. I suspect it would end up covering the piece in a difficult-to-remove coating, but that's just a guess.</p>
<p>we studied galvanic cells in chem 2, my understanding is that this can be done with any strong electrolite as the purpose of the electrolite is just to allow the flow of electricity in the solution. </p>
Love great ideas for the handyman..and doesn't cost much..but i was wondering...can a float charger be use..again thanks for putting your Instructions in layman's terms
<p>you can also remove rust by steeping in water with Molasses added, no electricity needed. :)</p>
<p>How funny this came up today! I love old tools and found an old pair of scissors buried in the dirt at a construction site last week, have all this stuff around my shop except the washing powder and will definitely be setting this rig up tonight. Is there any particular brand of washing powder that works best or will any do?</p>
<p>how much washing soda do you use?</p>
<p>Is it possible to use this process to clean steel from flux after gas soldering with brass?</p>
<p>I had a old set of cast iron skillets that were all rusted. A simple soak in white vinegar overnight works well. Couldn't tell you about tool steel, I know vinegar and salt can be used to etch steel using a battery charger. (I etch designs in steel knife blades this way.) Point being, I think this a great method for steels. But for cast iron, just soak in vinegar. Great instructible, by the way!!!</p>
<p>great idea, you can also use water saturated with copper sulfate and your battery charger to etch copper and brass too</p>
<p>Hi,</p><p>I am cleaning up an old British Burmos brass blow torch / lamp made of brass and steel to use as a display piece. The problem is that the steel screws connecting the steel handle to the brass tank are rusted and will not come undone. If I was to place the steel handle submerged in my electrolytic conversion tank still attached to the partly submerged brass tank would there be any adverse effects to each of the two different metal parts?</p><p>Thank you in advance for any answers / advice.</p>
<p>WD-40 Blue torch Penetrating spray.</p>