This instructable will show you a fast, safe method, using common household chemicals that you probably already have, to produce a rich rust patina on iron and steel to give it a weathered, aged appearance.


I've had this Maine 'buoy bell' wind chime for about eight years now. I really like it. It has the haunting melancholy sound of a bell buoy at sea being tossed by wind and waves. It is made of COR-TEN steel which is designed to rust on the surface to create a protective barrier against further rusting. It came painted black on the outside and was supposed to develop this rich rust patina naturally over time. Well, the unpainted inside did rust completely after about a year, but the outside only rusted slightly, near the bottom, even after exposure to the sun, rain, and snow of the northeast for eight years. I wanted it to have a nice rust patina that looked like it had been hanging on the eaves of a lobster shack, at the end of a pier, for many a year, being splashed and buffeted by nor'easters and sudden gales. Seeing it was taking so long, I decided to take things into my own hands and, ah, "help" mother nature along and accelerate the process. I searched the net and found mostly dangerous methods to induce rust on steel using highly caustic or acidic chemical solutions. However I finally did find a simple safe method, using on-hand household chemicals, buried deep within a thread on the subject at a metalworking forum. I got spectacular results which have not only withstood the wind and rain of the southwest but have actually improved with the help of mother nature. I like the results so much, and there is so little practical information on the subject that is accessible to the general public, I thought I'd share this simple method with the instructables community.

Judging by the number of posts on forums asking how to do this, I see I am not the only one who wants to actually promote, rather than prevent, rust on iron and steel objects. I found out the basic information for doing this at the very cool ArtMetal forum: http://www.artmetal.com/blog/bob_turan/2009/04/rust_promoter . I'm guessing that there are more than a few instructables members who have a similar desire to prematurely age some iron/steel artifact, so I encourage people to post pictures of their resuls in the comments and add tips on how they did it so we can all learn. This method is not set in stone. Posts about useful variations on the method are always welcome.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

You will need the following:

Household Chemicals:

  • White vinegar (any brand)
  • Hydrogen Peroxide (3% -- use a fresh bottle)
  • Table salt (any kind will do, doesn't have to be sea salt)
  • Degreaser (any brand)


  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Spray bottle
I masked off a portion of a piece of cold rolled sheet steel and followed the directions step by step. I then sealed with a satin polyurethane.
<p>This looks great! How did you mask off the portions, and did you do so in the vinegar step or in the accelerator step?</p>
<p>I just tried it with sheet metal, it's not working. I followed the directions. You can see the result. Maybe it doesn't work with sheet metal??? Any suggestions?</p>
This method is for raw iron or steel. It looks like your sheet metal may have a light galvanized (zinc) coating on it specifically intended to prevent rust, many steel-based sheet metals do (that's assuming it's not stainless steel or aluminum sheet!)
thank you! I ended up first putting the boxes in muriatic acid, rinsing them off and then using the formula. Had to get rid of the zinc first.
<p>Hello, I am using this formula ( mostly, maybe a bit stronger H202) and am loving the results so far. Will post first photo and when done will post another. I started with a sandblasted fire pit and then added coats.</p>
<p>I have placed it and am hoping it will age gracefully, without being disturbed too much until it set's up. Will probably have a few camp fires in the meantime. Thanks for all of the great info that helped get me hear..</p>
<p>I am from India and Corten is now becoming popular here. There is one doubt and personal experience that in Rains the Rust flows along with water which spoils the aesthetics of the surrounding areas turning everything into red/brown color. Is there a chemical treatment by which the flowing of the rust can be prevented.</p><p>Hope you find the above in order.</p>
<p>In doing some research on that, I found &quot;Flood Penetrol&quot; which is a rust preventive, I found one person that was using Laral's formula to create the Rust Patina and then would add a couple of coats of Penetrol to &quot;Lock it in&quot;. It does seem to darken the color and not sure if you would want to apply it to an entire roof system..?? hope that helps. PS I have not yet tried Penetrol, but plan on doing so once my rust has set well.</p>
<p>Thanks for the input.</p>
<p>I suppose you could seal it with a clear coat but I like the natural appearance of the rain streaks.</p>
<p>Ohhh, it is separate from the main vessel&hellip; Then you can still have fires while you wait for it to weather.</p>
<p>OK, here is the second coat and I am inclined to leave it with this one. I will set the fire pit and let Mother Nature do the rest.</p>
<p>That looks really good.</p>
<p>Thank You, I will post another photo next year after some good use..</p>
<p>I hope it won't take that long.</p>
<p>What's the best way to dispose of any excess fluid? I made a little more than I can use and don't feel comfortable pouring it down the drain. (By the way, the method worked incredibly well!)</p>
<p>I don't know. I think such a dilute solution flushed down the toilet with a much larger volume of water would cause no harm to the plumbing or the environment. You wouldn't hesitate to flush any of the very mild ingredients individually would you, so why worry about them in combination?</p><p>I'm glad you had such success with the formula.</p>
My only concern is that it's mildly corrosive so I would hate to ruin any of the metal pipes in my home. Sounds like attempting to dilute it is the best plan.<br><br>I should add that overnight the rust on my planter bloomed into a wonderful result, even better than when I posted my question.
<p>Hello,<br>I paint signs. I have a customer who would like a rusted steel sign, and I was thinking of preserving the lettering as shiny steel while rusting the background. This means I would need to mask off the letters so the muriatic acid doesn't eat through the mask. Does anybody know what I would use to coat out or mask the letters to keep them from rusting? </p>
Do the opposite, rust the whole sign and then grind the raised letters back shiny?
<p>Bee's wax...Ever heard of a copper plate or steel plate engraving? What they would do is coat a plate of metal in bee's wax. Then they would scratch their design out and apply the acid. When it ate away enough of the metal they would neutralize the acid and peel the wax off. The acid would only eat what the wax was not covering. These finished plate where then patted with ink and hard pressed into paper. It was used to make impressed images like this (a copper plate engraving of people making copper plate engravings...engrave-ception): https://topicsofcapricorn.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/copperplate-press-21.jpg</p>
<p>That might just work but the acid could creep under the wax at the edges of the design. Some type of paint might be more resistant.</p>
<p>No it won't. You melt the wax on. So the seal is very close. It conforms around the smallest changes in height. If it were Paraffin wax then yeah. But we're talking about bee's wax, it's a different beast. Just make sure what you re-expose for etching or aging is clean. even a thin film of left behind wax can prevent the acid from doing it's job.</p>
<p>Why is paraffin different? I think wax would melt in this case from the heat generated by a large surface area surrounding a smaller area. It would be different for thin lines.</p>
<p>Most beeswax has a higher ignition point (147F&deg;). While some paraffin wax might burn at 157F&deg; most of it is closer to 120F&deg;. And you just never know unless you know the source of your wax and can email the manufacturer (it's wildly different between manufacturers). So you get a higher on average known ignition point for starters.Another thing is that paraffin has much lower friction surface due to it's additives. This means it tends to be slicker and so it doesn't bind as well or as closely, to as many surfaces. It also tends to be more crumbly or flakey then beeswax. Lastly you cannot know how all paraffin wax may react with an acid. There are so many additives from so many brands that this isn't something that you can really predict.</p><p>The reasons we use mostly Paraffin wax today is that it is relatively cheap and easy to make in large quantities (it's a petroleum by-product). we can dye it easier (bee's wax begins as a light amber color and can get darker from there so you can really only go darker then the base color). And because it is smokeless. This makes it nice for candles. But beeswax is still the choice of craftsman who have a use for wax.</p><p>If your concerned about it melting under the heat generated by the metal reacting to the acid. You could invest the top layer of wax with a good amount of baking soda. This should raise it's ignition point and naturalize fumes that come in contact with it and most acid that touches it directly.<br></p>
<p>OK. Thanks.</p>
<p>Your welcome.</p>
Vaseline works for paint. You can rub it on the area you do not want paint to stick to and rub it off after painting, so it may work for rusting as well.
Hi, did you ever try this? Can you remember how you did it in the end. I want to do something similar with some signage at work and am looking for any advice. Thanks in advance :)
I know this sounds crazy but use finger nail polish to protect the lettering then use finger nail polish remover when finished
<p>I don't know about muriatic acid. You'd need something impervious to acids, like a plastic-based paint, acrylic, epoxy, but then you need to remove the paint without damaging the rust. Difficult. I see a lot of rusted metal signs that have laser-cut lettering. That'd be the way to go.</p>
<p>so I did the steps to some parts on a guitar I'm relicing. All turned out great but they are just hanging outside, I just finished them yesterday. Can I just leave them outside and they'll cure on their own? </p>
<p>Absolutely. That's exactly what I have done with the bell. The patina gets darker and deeper into the metal.</p>
<p>I don't want to do anymore to the parts of I don't have to. </p>
<p>Can you use Brakleen as a de-greaser prior to pickling? </p>
<p>I suppose you could but it is highly toxic, probably expensive, and there are much safer degreasers on the market.</p>
<p>Haw much af stof? Hydrogen Peroxide - haw much? i like get some 1 l... thanks</p>
<p>bottle caps? I want to rust them. Are they coated with something that prevents rusting? How long would they take to rust with this method? Thank you</p>
<p>I don't know. Are they painted? If so you have to strip the paint off and treat the bare metal with vinegar or other acid first. That should work no problem.</p>
<p>We are wanting to do this for a bar top...what would you use as a cover or finish on this type of thing?</p>
<p>I don't know. A matte powder coat would be ideal if possible. Very durable. Otherwise acrylic or polyurethane spray--many thin layers. Try a small area first.</p>
<p>How long does the item need to dry/cure before it can be exposed to the rain. I don't want the rain to wash off the top finish.</p>
<p>I put my bell out immediately. The patina only got a deeper color.</p>
<p>Hi Laral, </p><p>Thank you for the great article, very imformative :) I am just wondering can you safely add a clear preservative finish to this that will not destroy the rust and obviously stop any further rust from occurring?</p>
<p>Thanks for your appreciation. You can spray the final result, lightly, with clear acrylic to preserve the finish. Several people, in the comments, have applied a clearcoat powder coat.</p>
Hi Laral!<br>Thank you for this instruct able method. I have been searching forums and videos and Knife etching sites etc etc forever for something I could apply to my scrap metal sculptures that was in my kitchen pantry &amp; home. Your method is the best I've found! I saved it to my notes a few years ago and finally got to try it. Here are the results. First 2 are pics of the mild steel cut out &amp; welded piece. First step, I ground off scale and oxidation. Then I actually used just a few oz white vinegar to pickle the piece, then added half a tablespoon of salt, few more oz of vinegar and because I couldn't open the spray bottle of Hyde Perox I sprayed about 2 oz into that mixture in a glass measuring cup. Then poured that into the pickling spray can and commenced to see if it would work anyway. It did!!! See the last pic. One interesting thing is that I actually was able to get color from just spraying on the Hydrogen Peroxide after the first mixture was depleted and that seemed to have an even stronger effect. As you can see, I didn't want a uniform rust effect. I played around with dripping it and spraying in different patterns and even using my rubber gloved finger to smear it around. Now I will finish it with matte clear coat Rustileum to seal it. Thanks again!!!
<p>Thank you for your appreciation and for the feedback. Very interesting about using peroxide only, and varying the degree of rusting that way. The final results look great.</p>
Hello, the company I work for is hanging 7x5' Corten Steel panels on a 200' long wall. The patina on the steel panels is darker than we'd like. We're trying this formula to make it more orange. How long does it take after we spray it 4-7 times? Also how long do we need to wait before we seal it once we get the colour we want?
<p>It sounds like they already have a deep patina which you'd get after leaving them outside for a while or if the patina was created using strong acid. Did you try a patch to see if you can still create an orange patina on top of the old one? It's impossible to say how long it would take, but on bare clean metal the results are instant. It should be bone dry before sealing it. A heat gun would accelerate the drying.</p>

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