Introduction: Cleaning Rust Off of Tools Without Harsh Chemicals

About: Jack-of-all trades, master of some. I would probably be much more modest if it wasn't for these delusions of granduer that I suffer from.

I was given a large collection of tools (happy dance), that can easily be separated into three distinct groups.

Most of the tools are in good condition.

Some of the tools need a little TLC.

The last group requires a tetanus shot just to get close to them.

In the past would have used a sandblast cabinet to clean up these tools, but since I currently do not have access to one I decided to be adventurous and try something new and different ...

cleaning them up using only common household items.

Step 1: The Start of Something Beautiful

what you will need:

A container big enough to hold what you are cleaning



A little bit of patience

After everything is in the container, fill it up with some white vinegar until everything is fully submerged. Measure as you add the vinegar so you know how much salt to add.

Once everything is sitting in its vinegar bath, it's time to add the salt. While vinegar by itself is a mild acid, the salt increases the acidity in the solution and lets it break down the rust even faster.

1/2 oz of salt per cup (8 fl oz) of vinegar

Let it sit for at least 12 hours, but the longer you leave it in there, the more effect it will have. Usually one to three days will have the rust falling off.

I let these tools soak for 3 days.

Step 2: Neutralize the Acid

I mixed a few heaping spoonfuls of baking powder into a large glass of water, enough to cover the tools.

Let the tools soak in a bath of water and baking soda for 10 minutes to neutralize the acid.

Rinse the tools to remove any baking soda residue.

It is not uncommon for there to be some rust left on the tools, a quick scrub with some scotch brite or steel wool will get those last pesky flecks of rust off your tools.

Step 3: Dry and Condition the Tools

I put the oven on warm (170 F) and spread the tools out on a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet to maximize drying.

after about 10 minutes the tools were mostly dry.

I quickly applied WD-40 to all of the tools. Using a rag to make sure oil got into all the nooks and crannies. Making sure to work oil into the moving parts like the pliers joints and the collar of the quick release bit.

**edited 5/31/2016** As many of the commenters have pointed out, WD-40 is great at getting rid of water but a separate oil should be applied to tools to properly protect them.

When this project started, the quick release bit was rusted in place and was useless. Now the collar moves back and forth easily and hold bits securely.

The taps are not pictured here because there was still some rust on them (not really shocking) so I set them up for another soak and I plan on going over them with a stiff wire brush to get any remaining rust out of the grooves. Want to see how they came out? check out the next step.

Step 4: Those Hard to Reach Places

The taps were in really bad shape so I put them back into the vinegar salt solution for another soak. After two day the solution was the color of a weak tea.

I scrubbed each tap with a stiff wire brush to loosen any remaining rust.

I rinsed the taps in the vinegar/salt solution before transferring them to the water/baking soda solution to neutralize the acid.

Once the taps were dried I applied a liberal coating of WD-40.

As you can see from the final picture the taps have some pitting as a result of the rust but the threads are intact.

When I get a chance I will test them on some scrap material with a hand driver (because of the condition these were in, I will not be using these in a powered device like my cordless drill or a drill press until I have tested them)

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