Produce a Rich Rust Patina on Iron and Steel, Safely and Quickly, Using Common Household Chemicals

Picture of Produce a Rich Rust Patina on Iron and Steel, Safely and Quickly, Using Common Household Chemicals
  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: . 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.
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up
1-40 of 106Next »
So Cal Urb made it!7 days ago
Here are my results so far... i had already stripped and sanded down this fender to bare metal... then rinsed with water, sprayed with white vinegar, then with the mix of vinegar/hydrogen peroxide /salt. .. so far i think 3 times ive done the treatment... thank you for this post - I plan on making this into a mailbox! I'll update the progress.
Laral (author)  So Cal Urb 7 days ago
Well, it looks like it is rusting nicely. Please do post the final result.

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?

I know this sounds crazy but use finger nail polish to protect the lettering then use finger nail polish remover when finished
Laral (author)  kimberley.edwards.9421 month ago

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.

DavidG84 months ago

Hi Laral, I recently applied your treat formula on some corten steel planters. About 12 hours after I applied the treatment, it rained non-stop for two days. The steel is orange in color and has not darkened. What do I need to do to darken it? Is there anyway to get the two planters to match quicker (doesnt have to be perfect but somewhat better than now).

BTW, I applied your treatment to the other planters about 5 months ago.

coyles1 DavidG83 months ago

Hi David,

Note if this is made from Corten then it will stay a lot lighter then raw steel.

Corten has an Orange colour to it, as you can see in Image attached.
The fresh bit was installed today.

Kind Regards,


Laral (author)  coyles13 months ago
That's really orange. What did you use to rust it?

Note that my wind bell is cor-ten but is a lot browner than this.
Laral (author)  DavidG84 months ago
Only time and the elements will darken it really. The treatment only produces thin surface rust. Those planters look like they have a nice dark patina.
LucyBW3 months ago

Hi Laral,

Thanks so much for posting this rusting process!

I’m trying it out on a steel fire pit .. as we ‘speak’…

Here’s a question: I’m looking for a way to seal the rust finish,
which won’t result in toxic fumes if it
is heated by fire.

I want the rust finish but not quite so dirty to handle. I
am not expecting to find a sealant which will hold up over time and weathering
and fire. Its ok if the sealant breaks down when it is in direct contact with
fire but I’m not ok with toxic fumes.

Any suggestions?


Laral (author)  LucyBW3 months ago
That's a tough one. I have no knowledge of a non-toxic sealer that won't emit toxic fumes near fire. An idea would be to try using just egg yolks and water. See for the general idea and for details. "Tempera paint is insoluble to the extent of not being picked up by over painting and when completely dry is relatively water resistant. However, the paint is not absolutely water proof and can be disturbed by the application of water."
LucyBW Laral3 months ago

Wow - That's an interesting idea. I'll have to experiment a bit with this one. I want a clear sealer. It'll be interesting to see if egg yolks without pigment results in a clear coat.

Thanks for responding

Laral (author)  LucyBW3 months ago

Oh I think the thin coat will be clear, especially if you dilute it with water or vinegar. A little yellowing probably wouldn't be noticeable either.

alex.hunt.1275 months ago
Im currently building a rat rod out of my pick up, and im thinking of using this process for the body. I was curious if you think it would work well on a large surface and also if there are any concerns I should consider before proceeding. Thank you.
Laral (author)  alex.hunt.1275 months ago
I don't know for sure since I never tried this on anything that large but I don't see why not. Who would know more about that is You could PM him. He does commercial metal work and he did mention using muriatic acid for rusting. That is more dangerous and has to be neutralized with baking soda or some base but it may be more suitable for a project like yours. You could try this method first on a small out-of-the-way area and see how it comes out. The only thing is, the rust is just on the surface in the beginning and is easily brushed off. You'd have to clear coat it to prevent that.
ehall191 year ago
Hi, I know this post is a few years old but I just found it yesterday and tried it out on my box bike frame and it worked great but the rust wipes right off. Will the rust adhere itself to the metal over time and stop doing this, or will it just stay on the surface? Hopefully I hear back from you. And thanks for this post, I used the exact same ratio you posted and it turned out great! Only prob is that at this point it wipes right off.
*bmx bike frame not box bike frame hahaha!
jcapella ehall195 months ago

hey, just thought i'd mention that this will significantly decrease the strength of your bike frame...

Laral (author)  jcapella5 months ago

I doubt it. Rust is only on the surface.

jcapella Laral5 months ago

Rust might begin at the surface, but it does weaken the structural integrity, and will deepen as you mention in this instructable. Unless his bike frame is corten steel...

Laral (author)  ehall191 year ago

If you can avoid touching it for a while, the rust will penetrate deeper and become permanent. Or you can seal it with acrylic or polyurethane spray.

ehall19 Laral1 year ago
Ok awesome! As long as it will eventually adhere to the metal that's fine. Hopefully it won't take that long. Once it does I'm gonna spray it with some matte clear coat(I hoping/assuming that's what you mean by acrylic or polyurethane spray) to seal it. I bought the frame in bare metal(no clear coat) and as soon as I got it(when it was still all nice and shiny) I put some die cut stickers on it so that once it rusted I would peal the stickers off and the logos would be "unrusted" in to the frame while the rest of the frame would have a nice rusted patina. But it was taking forever for it to rust and when it did start to rust it was really uneven. But your formula worked great!! I'd like to post a pic in this comment to show you how it turned out but can't figure out how to do it. Anyway, thanks a bunch!
Laral (author)  ehall191 year ago

It could take some time to develop a thick layer of natural rust. Wet it often and leave it in the weather. You could just clear coat it right after you rusted it but a thicker natural layer of rust would be more resistant to scratches. Please post photos, this sounds really cool. Isn't there an 'Add Images' button below the edit box? You need to enable javascript.

ehall19 Laral1 year ago

finally figured out how to upload the pics hahaha!! I haven't taken the stickers off yet cause I'm waiting for the rust to adhere itself to the metal a little better.

Laral (author)  ehall191 year ago

What's on there, one application of rusting solution? Did you clear coat
it? Why not go all the way and rust the handlebars, clamp, and fork, and maybe the pedal cranks? It would look
great. You'd have to strip the paint to bare metal and sand and degrease
it thoroughly, which I assume you did for the frame.

Rcrawford865 months ago
If you want to preserve the rust look with a coating, a great product is "Flood" Brand "penetrol. It's a clear coating that works great with metal, and keeps the piece from further rusting.

Thank you. I have been looking for a few months now on a way to rust angle iron. I have four pieces and one piece rusted immediately while in the garage. The other 3 have been sitting outside with hardly any rust...even though I've sanded the iron and even used a file to remove any king of coating that may have been on the iron. I'm heading outside right now to apply the mixture!

Laral (author)  bonnie.stolz.736 months ago
OK, be sure to remove all traces of paint. You may need paint stripper.

Can I ask how big this piece is?

Laral (author)  scott.snow.9217 months ago
The bell? It's about 2 ft high.

Is this a one tone or 3? If so, how is it getting different tones? I want to make one, so that's why all the I notice it is welded just at the top. Is that the only thing keeping it solid? Is there bracing inside?

Laral (author)  scott.snow.9217 months ago

Oh, so that's what you're up to. ;-) I had such notions myself before I went and bought one from the original makers:

North Country Wind Bells -- Bell Buoys

It was going to be too much trouble to make one and probably more expensive. They have the proven designs and the economy of scale. The bells are really quite reasonable and of high quality. Mine is at least 15 years old now as far as I can remember. But if you really want to try, it consists of 3 equal isosceles triangles, each of different thicknesses to give 3 tones, welded at the top to a ring bolt, with an attached chain having a thick circular polycarbonate puck for the clapper. The puck is drilled in the center and mounted on a rod so it can slide up and down to adjust the volume from "off" (touching all 3 vanes) to really loud (maximum distance from the vanes). The weight of the thickest vane cants the whole bell to one side, so at rest, the clapper disk is touching that vane. I was told that that creates the most life-like emulation of a real bell buoy. Note that the triangles are separated from each other so they can resonate. Good luck. Be sure to publish an Instructable if you decide to make one. I'd love to see/hear that. :)

Wow thank you! Do you have any idea the thickness of the metals? I am guessing 12, 14 and 16 gauge. The only part I am not understanding is the rod through the center. How can it move up and down? I have the triangle part welded, but that was before I knew they were diff. thicknesses. I thought maybe one was a bit longer then the other.Is the top totally closed in with weld to give the whole thing more strength?


Laral (author)  scott.snow.9217 months ago

What!? You have it already cut and welded? No way! :) And you're talking about powder coating and heat treatment? What, do you have a metal shop or something?

Metal thickness? I don't know, it looks like maybe 1/16", 1/8", and 3/16". As long as they differ in that ratio (1:2:3), I think it will be fine.

I was mistaken about a chain inside, it is a metal rod the whole length. The puck slides up and down the rod. The rod has a loop in each end. The upper loop goes through the loop in the hanging assembly which has another loop at the top. The three triangle apexes (apices? :) ) are welded tight to the looped hanging assembly (rod). There are spaces between the sides of the triangle pieces which are slightly angled outward. I'm sure you'll be able to piece it together from the pictures.

Don't worry about the steel. I think any kind would do. Please don't powder coat it. By patina, you mean rust patina (I hope)? Followed by heat treatment? Wouldn't that ruin the patina? Heat treatment would increase the hardness and improve the resonant qualities I suspect but it should be done BEFORE the patina.

You better publish a detailed Instructable after all this help I'm giving you or I will be very disappointed… ;-)


Lol ...Yes I do own a metal art company. This one I did powdercoat a metallic green. It's hard to say how well it works because we live by a river kind of in a valley surrounded by forest, so hard to get a lot of wind here. I do a lot of copper patina stuff, and lately I have been using a torch to get different colors, followed by a clearcoat like the 3 leaf wall hang. (A very popular piece) When I do a natural rust, I let my pieces soak in muriatic acid overnight.

This one I used a masonry nail on top with 2 holes drilled. I then attached the chain to the bottom hole and welded it all solid to the top. I used 14 gauge metal for the "dinger" at 3" round where I welded a small washer to the top, and one on the bottom and then attached the rest of the chain. I can see why they would use a rod, to get it more like bell type thing.

BTW mine is only 12" x 6"

Check out my website!

Laral (author)  scott.snow.9217 months ago

BTW I like the medallion you made much better than the one that came with my bell. Is there any way I can get one?

Yeah sure! I can get you one for $5 and I will pay shipping...for all your help and pictures. You want it bare metal I would imagine.

Laral (author)  scott.snow.9217 months ago

OK, though I thought it would be free for all the work I had to do. ;)

I can do that. What is your address? Would you rather e-mail it to me?

Laral (author)  scott.snow.9217 months ago

Oh so you DO own a metal company. You are a PRO. The bell looks great as do all your products. In fact it LOOKS better than the original product. Are you going to remake it using the information that I went to all the trouble of gathering for you? The rigid rod is better than a flexible chain because it rings with the slightest breeze. The chain will follow the heaviest triangle a long distance before it separates from it and rings, and it won't ring as loudly. They worked out every detail. The rod also allows for volume adjustment. I would highly recommend a thick non-metallic clapper disk. It gives a deep clanging sound like the real thing. Thin metal is too 'tinny'. Like I said, they worked out every detail. The sound of their bells is really authentic and soothing.

So I hope you will redo this, giving it a nice rust patina, and publish a detailed Instructable of your work with lots of photos! No excuses… ;-)

1-40 of 106Next »