How to prevent rust on iron nails

Written by benna crawford
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How to prevent rust on iron nails
Prevent rusty nails. (rusty nail image by Yali Shi from

Rust is iron oxide. Oxygen reacts with iron and begins to corrode the appearance and the strength of the iron. If you want to protect the look and endurance of iron nails you have several choices to avoid contact with oxygen. You could buy stainless steel nails and avoid the problem completely, but it is possible to store and use basic iron nails without the mess of rusty stains or the problem of nails that rust and become weak or don't hold.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Iron nails
  • Damp cloth or paper towel
  • Dry cloth or paper towel
  • Petroleum jelly (small jar-optional)
  • WD-40 spray (optional)
  • Clean cloth
  • Oil-based or rust-preventive paint (small can - optional)
  • Small, disposable paint brush (optional)
  • Old newspaper or plastic

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  1. 1

    Keep your iron nails dry. If they are dusty or dirty, wipe quickly with a slightly damp cloth and then immediately dry them. The reason water rusts iron rapidly is that water is part oxygen and the oxygen is what forms iron oxide or rust. If the nails are used or stored inside, be sure to place them away from humidifier mist, kitchen steam or other sources of moisture.

  2. 2

    Prevent rust by coating your iron nails with grease or oil. Spray nails with WD-40 oil, which also has the virtue of helping to loosen rust and clean nails, if they have already begun to corrode. Try petroleum jelly for a simple moisture barrier--dip the nails in it or wipe them with a cloth that has petroleum jelly on it. Wipe off any excess oil or grease once the nails are completely coated. The grease or oil forms a water-resistant barrier on the nail and protects it from contact with oxygen. When coating nails, protect work surfaces with old newspaper or plastic.

    How to prevent rust on iron nails
    Coat nails to prevent rust. (nails image by Witold Krasowski from
  3. 3

    Paint iron nails if grease or oil is too messy or will stain material the nail comes in contact with. Use oil-based paint. Select the paint with care because water-based paint will rust the nails under the paint because of oxygen in the water. Use old newspaper or plastic to protect work space when painting.

Tips and warnings

  • Countersink nails in wooden surfaces to expose as little of the nail head as possible to the air and prevent rust.
  • It's a good idea to make sure your tetanus shots are up-to-date when handling sharp or rusty metal objects.

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