How To Remove Rust From Your Handyman Tools

by Jason Roberts and Dmitri Kara

Metal is bound to rust and that’s how nature works. But first, what is rust exactly?

Rust is not simply exposure of a ferrous metal to moisture... it's much more complicated. We won’t get extremely intense on the subject… we'll just touch on the major factors such as rust being an electrochemical reaction. (Okay... we're going to tease you a bit. There is much more to the subject but we are handymen... not chemical engineers here!!)

At its essence, the process we call "rusting" or "corrosion" is nothing more that iron/steel returning to its "natural state" as iron oxide. "Iiron oxide" is the chemical name for rust. Rusting occurs through process called electrochemical corrosion.

What is electrochemical corrosion of iron?

Electrochemical corrosion can start at the surface of the iron, at a spot where the metal is under heavy stress (at a bend, for example), at a weld or mechanical joint where two pieces of metal are joined, or under a loosely-adhering paint film. When the iron is exposed to moisture, the metal ions break down and release electrons which relocate to another location where they come in contact with a depolarizer. Oxygen is the most well-known depolarizer. The resulting hydroxide ions react with positive iron ions to form the substance of hydrous iron oxides... more popularly known as rust.

Interestingly enough, iron immersed in pure water will not rust!

It takes oxygen plus water for the reaction to occur. Since most water in the "real world" has some oxygen dissolved in it, most people mistakenly think that it is water that causes rust. It is the combination of water and oxygen that allows this electrochemical reaction to occur.

Impurities in water can cause rust to occurs more quickly. The most common rust accellerant is salt, which makes water more conductive to electricity. So any iron exposed to salt water is much more prone to rusting than when exposed to fresh water. But in either case, it is a fact that if iron is unprotected it will rust!

When metal tools are rusty, throwing stuff away and buying replacements isn't always an affordable option.

If you want to kick off the new home maintenance and repairs season with an essential project and get your loyal handyman tools ready for battle, prepare yourself! Tools might be a bit bruised and battered after spending a few months in a musty shed, being exposed to oxygen and moisture. Brace yourself, for hope is not lost in the battle with oxidation. Here we will show how you can restore the working condition of tools back to their former glory and thus get rid of the orange speckling.

Getting Rid of Hand Tool Rust Mechanically

If a bit of a scour, scrape, and sand won't scare you, then busting rust off with abrasion is your thing. You can deal with light to moderate rust issues by using an effective scrubbing material and some elbow grease. For deeper handyman rust problems, you may have to resort to a chemical approach but this physical solution is a good starting point.

What you will a handyman need:

First, soak the rusted handyman tools in a solution of water and detergent to clean any dirt and grease. Rinse them thoroughly and wipe dry.

To remove light rust, use a scouring pad, sandpaper, or steel wool to scrub the surfaces. Work your way through the rust by beginning with the coarsest abrasive which will remove the accumulated rust and pockmarks. As it scours away the rust, the coarsest abrasive will also make some grooves to the metals, so next you will have to use a finer grit to even out the surface. If not all the rust is gone, you will have to take a more heavy-duty approach.

For more serious rust problems, the fantastic handymen use kerosene to coat the tool surface. It acts as a cutting lubricant. Give it a few minutes to work and then, using an electric drill with a wire wheel attached to it, buff away the last remnants of rust. Remove any leftover residue with a fine-grain sandpaper. If after all of this you still see rust, you will have to use a stronger chemical solution.

Removing Rust with Chemicals... soak them in an Oxalic Acid solution

If you don't want to invest time and elbow grease in tackling the rust, you can use oxalic acid to dissolve light to moderate rust problems. You can buy this inexpensive chemical at your local hardware store and use it for all the problem areas, which you can't reach with an abrasive. So, this mild acid could be the best solution for removing rust in tight spaces and hard-to-clean spots.

What you will a handyman need:

Again, remove the grease and dirt from the the tools by soaking them in a dish detergent and water. Grease can block the chemical process, so make sure any build up is removed.

Remember to mind your safety – don't use any chemicals before you've put on goggles and rubber gloves for protection. Make sure the premises where you will be working are well-ventilated and don't inhale the fumes. The solution you have to prepare is: 3 tablespoons of oxalic acid with 4 litres of water. Use a plastic container which is large enough for the tools to completely covered. Make sure the entire tools are submerged.

Let the tools soak for approximately 20 minutes, or until the rust is gone. (You may need more time or less depending on the level of corrosion.) Then, rinse, dry thoroughly, and store the tools once more.

You can slow down the rusting of your valuable tools! What are the general types of rust protection?

The most obvious strategy to stop rust is by protective coating with paint. In many cases, even if you’ve done it, there will still be spots where coating might get breached. This means wherever you have holes or screw threads. A more clever way to protect meta surfaces is to apply a slight negative charge to the metal surface.

Blackboard Chalk

Make sure to always have a few pieces of blackboard chalk for each compartment of your toolbox. Chalk acts as This way you’ll cut moisture before it reaches your tools.


Once you’ve taken care of moisture - coal or charcoal can help you battle oxygen.

Silica Gel Packs

Gel packs are most common for their usage in shoe boxes and purses, as well as any other product that needs protection from moisture. Place a few of those in your toolbox and you’re good to go. Just make sure you dry them every here and there or they might leak, once fully saturated. Drying one will take you no more than 20 minutes under an ordinary light bulb.

Moth Balls or Camphor

Camphor emits a gas that disturbs oxidation and does a great job in protecting tools from rusting. Leave a bit of camphor and a handful of moth balls alongside your tools. Camphor will stop the reaction, while moth balls will battle moisture.


Greasy tools barely suffer from rust and there is a solid reason behind that. A thin layer of oil, i.e. mineral, camellia or even paste wax, would be a robust prevention of rust. Once you oil each and all of your tools, blot the excess and polish till you can barely feel it. Another popular solution is using motor oil, WD-40 and even polish meant for furnishing. Just bare in mind, that you have to repeat the process on a regular basis, whenever you feel it’s your layer of oil has worn off.

Written by: Jason Roberts /Handyman London Please/ and Dmitri Kara /Fantastic Handyman