Picture of Rust removal using multiple approaches
I made it at TechShop!

During a recent excursion to a local metal/scrap yard, I found a pair of steel gear/flywheels which looked like they could be re-purposed into 'something'. With my recent experience at TechshopRDU with sandblasting and powdercoating, I figured this would be an excellent opportunity to gain some experience with prepping metal, so they came home with me. Please note that doing prepwork at home prior to coming to TechShop will allow you to use the equipment and your time more efficiently.

The problem: What is a low cost, safe, AND effective method of removing rust?
Solution: Try multiple approaches! I used three and rated them on 1-5 scale in terms of effectiveness.

Before we get further into the instructable, I want to mention that I am entering project into the Hurricane Lasers Contest.  If I win, I would like to continue this project by making parts necessary to turn it into a wall clock. Also, I am entering this into the Fix & Improve It contest because having these skills/knowledge will let you fix and improve any metal you find in a junk yard!

Something to prep [rusty steel gears are good :) ]
1 apron (or clothing you don't mine getting dirty, long sleeves with chemicals, short sleeves with power tools)

Rust Removal
- via Chemical/Mechanical approach (Step 1)
1+ gal White Distilled Vinegar {this depends on the size of your part and the amount of rust}
Container large enough for parts being prepared
Steel wire brush
1 pair chemical-resistant gloves
1 pair goggles
Respirator or dust mask (look for N95 NIOSH rating)

- via Mechanical approach [wire brush] (Step 2)
Respirator or dust mask (look for N95 NIOSH rating)
Steel wire brush
Steel wire brush (with bit for drills)
Power drill (adjustable handles REALLY help out when there is a lot of rust to remove)

- via Mechanical approach [Sandblasting/glass bead] (Step 3)
1 Sandblasting cabinet with power and air
Respirator or dust mask (look for N95 NIOSH rating)
Media (glass bead, aluminum oxide, walnut shells, etc.)

You may need some or all of these materials depending on which method you use to remove the rust.

Safety First:
Using chemicals, power tools, and other equipment requires knowledge and personal protection equipment (PPE) to decrease the risk of injury. If you decide to use this instructable of a guide, I am not responsible for any accidents/injuries that may occur. Be smart, plan ahead and wear your safety gear!

Now, on to get prepped!
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soapmaker729 months ago

There is a much more effective chemical approach. It is safe like vinegar and is relatively low odor. I am talking about citric acid! It is weak enough to be edible yet forms a stable and soluble complex with iron. Works best when heated. If you are working with large awkward pieces, I have heard that neutralizing 1/3 with ammonia will make the citric acid work at room temperature like it does when heated. Apparently, the stable iron/ammonia/citrate complex is more soluble in water than the plain citrate/iron one is.

HasBeen2 years ago
If you don't want to pit the metal surface a good blasting media is baking soda. It's avalible in different grits and for heaver cleaning it is mixed with aluminum oxide.
pfred22 years ago
If you're going to use a wire brush to remove rust use an angle grinder. It goes a lot faster than a drill. Mostly I like cup brushes on angle grinders. 3M makes a pad you can run on a drill that is pretty good at removing surface rust called a rust stripper. You also didn't try electrolytic rust removal which is probably the most thorough method.
mitsubob8404 (author)  pfred22 years ago
Good points! I didn't have an angle grinder at the time I was going through this; however, it would have been one of my first choices. I'm liking the results I've seen from electrolytic methods and will try it sometime.
Electrolytic is pretty neat in a Mr. Wizard sort of a way. I'd brush stuff to get the really loose rust off before I'd dip parts to clean. Depending on the condition electrolytic can take a while. Days. Treated parts can also suffer from hydrogen embrittlement unless you age them, or bake them. As a solution ionizer I've used plain old baking soda. There are articles on this site about the process.
Wesley6662 years ago
Vinegar works really good though for rust on chrome. If you have a chrome piece that has rust on it, the chrome may not be bad. Soak in vinegar over night then wipe off the next day and hose off and it should look like it was just chromed. Used it a million times for chrome, always had great results. Pictured are bike rims, the one at the bottom is untreated, the top one has had a vinegar treatment.
Try 1 part molasses to 10 parts water and soak overnight .

Works like magic on simple rust !!
Datawolf2 years ago
Don't you use electrolysis ? It's an awesome rustm removal technique.
sk moto2 years ago
Great post. I own a motorcycle shop and have gone through many types of rust removal process myself and my latest and currently favorite way is using a chemical called Metal Rescue. It removes everything from light to heavy rust, is non toxic, doesn't require gloves, non flammable, and fairly inexpensive. All you have to do is submerse the part and walk away.
mitsubob8404 (author)  sk moto2 years ago
Thanks sk! I'll have to get a jug of it for a future project.
EEGeek2 years ago
Naval jelly
mitsubob8404 (author)  EEGeek2 years ago
My grandfather actually suggested this. Apparently it works really well; however, there are two varieties - one for aluminum and one for ferrous metals.

I'll have to look at this for a future project. Thank you.
Useful comparison there thank you!

Another option you might want to consider is electrolytic rust removal. As I don't have access to any blasting equipment this has been very effective for me.
mitsubob8404 (author)  SoftySquirrel2 years ago
Good idea! I'll look into it further for a follow up instructable, thank you!
Nice post! You did a great job describing multiple ways to attack the same problem!
mitsubob8404 (author)  audreyobscura2 years ago
Thanks! I'm all for having options when it comes to these things.