Introduction: Removing Rust or How to Fix a Red Brick

Picture of Removing Rust or How to Fix a Red Brick

I have tried everything when it comes to rust removal. Chemicals make your shop smell funny, and can destroy a concrete floor. Sand blasting turns your workspace into a beach, and is way to harsh on metal for what I do.
Today I will show you how to use a very simple houshold item to bring your "red bricks" back to life.

Step 1:

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We'll start by finding an appropriat brick to be restored. This one as you can see is to fare gone to be restored. Lets try an other one and see how it goes.

Step 2:

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That's better, this one is in much better shape. It still has the general shape of the tool and will clean up nicely. Some of the screws and the adjustment nut are rusted almost solid, but what I have will losen them up and make them usable again.

Step 3:

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If you have the money to go out and buy the bead blasting equipment, or expensive, poisonous chemicals to "profeshonaly" clean this thing maybe you have enough money to make me a lone? No? Well, neither do I. So, make a trip down to the frendly dollar general, or dollar store of your choice and pick up these items:
-rubber gloves
-a pack of brillo pads
-any water tight container big enough to submerce your "red brick" into
Vinegar. Yes vinegar, any type or brand will do, but I've found that apple cider vinegar seems to work best.

Step 4:

One note of caution. Get a container MUCH biger than you think you will need. I garantee you will always need a bigger container than what you think. I restore a lot of hand saws so I needed somthing long and flat to set them into. It still isn't big enough.
You will need enough vinegar to completly submerse your "red brick into" so make sure you buy enough. And its cheap! So buy one extra just to be sure. Vinegare is pretty usful so having a bottle around the house should'nt be a bother.

Step 5:

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Now comes the hard part. Drop the brick in the vinegar and leave it alone. Let it sit for at least four hours, but if you don't mind the wait go ahead and leave it in the dip over night.
WARNING: this process is not to be attempted by cartoon characters of any kind. Exposure to the chemicals found in the vat may lead to total and permanant disintegration.
Humans may disgard previous warning.

Step 6:

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Now for the part thats so simple, a dishwasher can do it. Grab some steel wool, or even better a green brillo pad and go to town on the sucker. It will shine up like a brand new penny in no time. Just be sure that as soon as you are done you get it painted. If you want to keep the metal exposed then get some oil or wax on it "emediatly" or that rust will just crawl back onto it.
Some metals will create a thick black slime on the wrench in question. I think that is litteraly ink. Like the iron oxide ink used in old books and your great grand-dads marine tattoo. I wouldn't use it for that though.
This process doesn't seem to harm anything other than the rust any more than water. Wood tool handles however will absorb the iron from the vat and change the grain funny collors. Looks cool, but remove the handles before putting them in the vat if you want them to stay looking the same.
Also, a word to the wise. As far as I know there is nothing in vinegar that will hurt you. Old tools somtimes used lead based paint, and had zinc plated parts. What that will do to you I can't tell. So, use the gloves. Besides, vinegar in an open wound hurts like a bee sting.

Step 7:

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When you're done this is what it should look like. Its not hard, but it takes some time for the vinegar to do it's job. This isn't the first item I cleaned like this and it won't be the last. I'll post more info, pics, and links to mor info as they come down the pipe.
Thanks for reading, and take care!


ksoem (author)2017-04-19

Wow, I've never seen a pipe wrench with a steel handle on it since I graduated highschool. Nowaday we use aluminum to make such a wrench... That wrench must be a vintage. Thanks for sharing.

the_yellow_ardvark (author)2017-01-12

Can't find a container big enough?

Simple enough to get over.

Mix the vinegar with flour, make it as thick or thin as you need.

Thick enough to cling to the object, but thin enough to slop on.

Leave over night and wash off.

Aspanova (author)2016-03-24


Aspanova (author)2016-03-24

that post is fake vinegar just remove rust but not the corrosion and since it do remove the corrosion then ofc rust will spread again

gareth.hammond.12 (author)2015-03-22

Fantastic work. Vinegar is fantastic and you are very accurate about open wounds. owch.

kris7012 (author)2013-04-17

By the way is the mixture obtained reusable again and again ?

Roninofthewest (author)kris70122013-09-24

Depends on your stomach. I keep my "mix" in a plastic bucket in the corner of my shop. It gets full of dirt and iron. Then turns this dark red color, but hasn't lost any of its potency that I can tell.

kz1 (author)2013-06-23

Much prefer the electrolysis method. No smell and does a great job. The great part is that it doesn't damage the metal to be treated in any way. I have a 300 gallon tank, one of those industrial types on a pallet and encased in a metal frame, a battery charger to supply the low voltage, washing up soda mixed in to the proper ratio, and the rust simply turns black, then rinsed off after soaking for a while. Recently cleaned up a vintage corn sheller for a friend and it looked like a new one when I returned it after treatment. When the part is "cooking" just leave the top open for the scant hydrogen produced to escape into atmosphere. No explosions, no electrical hazards, no smelly vinegar, most importantly NO RUST! When the water level drops, just fill it back up to previous level. No need to add more soda for a year or more.

miamitreasure (author)2013-06-11

Thanks for posting this. I am restoring a 1963 Sailboat and it has many old rusty items.

tatisl (author)2013-05-06

спасибо, очень познавательно.

nickitzi (author)2013-05-05

Next time try boiling the parts in vinegar, I use this technique all the time to restore carburetors, it has a mild etching action. Boiling speeds the process to less than 2 hours.
Place it on a low flame gentle boil and the parts come out looking like new.

rardis (author)2013-04-22

Nice writeup. I've used white vinegar for cleaning heavily tarnished brass parts when restoring Coleman lanterns and it works great, gives the brass a pinkish tint but that comes off easily with a 0000 steel wool wipe-off or light polish job. You're right about dealing with the bare metal quickly, here in the south with our humidity, you can literally watch surface rust appear on bare metal.

Mindmapper1 (author)2013-04-22

Amazing! Yes this works well but beware because it makes your tools shrink (look at the first picture). :)

gakes (author)2013-04-17

Great solution! I hate using strong chemicals that are harmful. I'll give it a go this week. Thanks

Mindmapper1 (author)gakes2013-04-22

actually vinegar is very nasty stuff in the wrong places and in large quanties so be careful cos its acid.

monty324 (author)2013-04-18

adding salt removes the stoge even better

Roninofthewest (author)monty3242013-04-19

Hey thats right, salt helps with oxidization. I try that.

monty324 (author)Roninofthewest2013-04-21

i will test it out on some re-bar and the head for an old club hammer i am assembling into a mini sledgy

monty324 (author)Roninofthewest2013-04-20

i was only guessing it would help with this because it works with coins

liquidhandwash (author)2013-04-17

Thats cool
you have some wax in one of the photos, "Johnson paste wax" (which sounds rude and painful) could you tell me what type of wax that is?

ringai (author)liquidhandwash2013-04-18

Johnson's paste wax is a general purpose finish for wood. You could use just about any wax intended for wood. Myland's, Libreon, Briwax, Harrell's, Dura Seal, Crystal Clear, all make a paste wax for wood. Choose one without coloration ("clear" or "natural"). If you can find "Bowling Alley" wax, that is great, too.

If you plan to use a plastic coating on the handle (like on a pair of electrician's pliers), then don't wax that part or the coating won't adhere properly.

liquidhandwash (author)ringai2013-04-18

thanks for your reply "Johnson's paste wax is a general purpose finish for wood"
pun intended?

ringai (author)liquidhandwash2013-04-21

Well, I guess it could be. I think it's some blend of carnuba and oils.

I'm very partial to using a 50/50 mix of beeswax and mineral oil, followed by several coats of O.B.'s Shine Juice, a mixture of shellac, denatured alcohol (it must not be the tinted sort and must _not_ be "rubbing" alcohol!), and boiled linseed oil (33/33/33).

Denatured alcohol (DNA) is methylated ethanol (drinking alcohol made poisonous). In some areas, DNA is only available with a pink dye that precludes the DNA from being made safe to drink through a chemical process. In those cases, a permit might be obtained from some government agency or other to purchase untinted DNA.

kris7012 (author)2013-04-19

There must probably be something wrong with the way you processed electrolisys. Indeed in ANY case i got spectacular results even with the most rusted tiny objects. This is the reason why i definitely use this method.

This is true this process creates explosive gas but if you work in open areas and if you don't smoke above the electrolisys bath there must be no problem.

Electrocution hazard is limited since i use a low current (12V @5A or 5V @30A) power supply and it works perfectly!

kris7012 (author)2013-04-18

I agree with you ironsmiter,

chemical converters ONLY turn rust mollecules into a kind of black layer but the rust is STILL present. On the other hand electrolysis REALLY destroys the rust into the smaller roughnesses of the surface it's simply AMAZING. BUT this method requires some cautions.

Once the surface of the object is completely free of rust quicly wipe out the black layer with a metallic brush. Then for best result carefully degrease the entiere surface. Finally to avoid the come back of the rust apply a kind of resine (such owatroll) AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Indeed most of the time the rust comes back within the hour, yes the hour! If all the ALL the steps have been processed and followed CAREFULLY treated object (except moving parts) should stay in this state for many years. I will soon post some pictures of detailed steps. Hope it helps.

Note to all: Please forgive my english and be understanding with me as it's not my mother language ;-)

Roninofthewest (author)kris70122013-04-19

I tried electrolysis once, did'nt get good results from it. A: Electricity + water = bad hair day. B: Burning hair + flamable hydrogen gas = big boom.
Big booms tend to upset your neighbors, so this is what works for me.
Also, the oxides created by this method may or may not be dangerous to people depending on their consentration, but they are commonly found in healthy garden soil. So I'm not to woried about the environment.

robbadooz (author)2013-04-19

Nice! Thanks.

fostermoody (author)2013-04-17

You should try a product called Evapo-rust. It uses a process of chelation rather than acid or electrolysis, and binds to the iron oxide, leaving un-rusted iron behind. Just have to soak it overnight, and it really works well, no effort at all.

ironsmiter (author)fostermoody2013-04-18

that works well on regular surfaces, but this is a tool with moving parts. That surface stuff will wear right of the first few times you adjust the wrench :-(

On the other hand, it works great for tools that you want to LOOK old, NOT rusty, and just display(or for hammers and such without moving parts.) Additionally, if you want to preserve the dimensions as closely as possibly, this is your go to tool. Since the rust is CONVERTED instead of removed... OLD tools that you might want to pattern or measure... will give you more accurate results than one that has had the rust removed(potentially reducing dimensions by quite a bit)

I always think of these chemical agents as hard-core primers rather than metal cleaners. Basically they convert iron-oxide(III) into ferric tannate(aka BLACK rust) using tannic acid. Then they use a polymer binder to hold it in place, and act as the base for paint to grab onto.

Viaticus (author)ironsmiter2013-04-18

I have a beautifully crafted wrought-iron rail on my front steps and it has a beautiful layer of surface rust on it. I'd like to clean it up and seal it so that it has a natural look but doesn't leave one's hand rusty after descending the steps. If I use Evapo-rust to "convert" the rust, what could I use to seal it and give it a nice finish?

ironsmiter (author)Viaticus2013-04-19

Paste Wax.


End of argument.

But wait there's more!
So, if your "front step" happens to be OUTSIDE...then your best bet is actually to paint it. Once the rust is neutralized, brush off any loose flakes with a wire brush(welders brush, or even a grill brush would work ok), prime, and paint with a oil based metal paint(black to maintain that "iron look". As a final step, you can rub in a layer of automotive wax, to keep it shiny and soft to the touch.
should last an average of 5 years between maintenance. When the time comes, just sand off any spots of rust(or re-convert/brush), reprime the spot, then re-wax the whole shebang.

Modern "wrought iron" just isn't the same stuff. Most often it is Mild Steel. It takes work to keep it looking good. Even the old stuff needed maintenance, but the old smiths used to use much thicker pieces, so it could afford to rust away for a few decades, and not lose any of its strength, look and feel. Your only hope for a fairly maintenance free iron railing outside is to paint it.

fostermoody (author)Viaticus2013-04-18

You'd have to soak the rail in a bath of the solution, so that might be tricky unless you can take the rail off and lay it down in a large tub. But it would leave the actual bare wrought iron behind, which would rust again pretty much immediately.

When I did restoration work on a few old rock hammers I just sprayed on a few coats of matte rust paint. If you want to keep the look of bare metal you could either use a clear rust paint. I'm sure if you go into any hardware store the staff could help you find the best thing to protect it once the rust is gone.

fostermoody (author)ironsmiter2013-04-18

With this one the rust comes off and binds with the molecules in the solution, rather than just staying as black rust on the metal. So the liquid starts clear and turns black, and the rust lifts off leaving bare grey metal behind. It also works for iron/steel objects with paint or some other coating, since it only effects the rust itself. Works on things with moving parts too, so long as the liquid can get in there.

kris7012 (author)2013-04-17

Congratulations you got a very nice result and a suprising finish thanks this non harmful process but did you ever tried electrolysis method to remove the rust ?

I did it and i can tell you this method is working extremely to deoxidize in depth any kind of metal object ! Therefore this method requires more equipment and requires some cautions especially regarding the mixture obtained after the process. Indeed the mixture is almost eternally reusable BUT is harmful for the environment :-\

But anyway thanks for sharing this trick ;-)

ironsmiter (author)kris70122013-04-18

when it's all clean... do you then switch tanks and polarity to electroplate it in copper for good measure? ;-)

lime3D (author)kris70122013-04-17

I'm with kris7012 on this one. Electrolysis is the way to go. Doesn't require any elbow grease.

ringai (author)2013-04-18

The brick was a joke ;-)

l8nite (author)2013-04-17

it's amazing how many uses there are for vinegar from weed killer to cleaning silver to sterilizing countertops and keeping clothing smelling fresh in humid weather... Nice "ible"

dana-dxb (author)2013-04-17

I've got some rustic stuff and this could be the solution for it thanx for the share

bobzjr (author)2013-04-17

Excellent work - I've got a couple tools that I'm going to marinate right now! Thanks for posting. :)

rimar2000 (author)2013-04-17

Wow, I never tried this, I will do soon. Thanks for sharing.

I use phosphating liquid, it is cheap and very low or no toxicity. But surely vinegar is cheaper.

JmsDwh (author)2013-04-17

Nice Stillson! I have one of those that I think is about 100 years old that I night at a garage sale.

JmsDwh (author)JmsDwh2013-04-17


shteef (author)2013-04-17

Looks easy enough, I'll give it a try!

audreyobscura (author)2013-04-17

Wow! What a transformation! I just inherited a bunch of old hand tools from a barn - thank's for sharing this!

About This Instructable




Bio: Like all 83 of my current projects... I'm a work in progress.
More by Roninofthewest:Prensas para carpinteríaRemoving Rust or How to Fix a Red BrickWoodworking clamps
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