How to clean rust off tools

Updated April 13, 2018

A pegboard filled with gleaming tools is a handyman's dream. As with all dreams, reality intrudes, and the reality of tools is that we use them. Sometimes we lend them to those who leave them outside. Sometimes we buy them at yard sales from people who did not lavish them with care. Don't panic. Cleaning rusty tools is a snap. There are several ways to remove tool rust, so start with the mildest method first. Cleaning rusted tools helps to ensure that they work their best, so you can work your best.

Rub down lightly-rusted tools thoroughly with rust eraser pads, which are available at hardware and home improvement stores. Wipe away any dust with a clean shop cloth before putting them away.

Spray rusted tools with a penetrating lubricant. Make sure that all rust spots are covered. Go over the spots with a plastic scrubber. This technique works well on tools that are just a little too rusted for a rust eraser pad.

Fill a basin or bucket with a liquid chelating solution that is designed specifically for rust removal of tools. Place the rusted tools in the solution. Soak the tools according to the manufacturer's instructions, which can range two hours to overnight. Rinse the tools with warm water and dry completely before storing them.


Apply a thin spray of commercial rust inhibitor to tools and then wipe away the excess to help prevent them from rusting.


Never use sandpaper on rusted tools; it will scratch the metal.

Things You'll Need

  • Rust eraser pad
  • Clean shop cloths
  • Penetrating lubricant
  • Plastic scrubber
  • Liquid chelating solution
  • Plastic basin
  • Rust-inhibitor spray (optional)
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About the Author

Emmy-award nominated screenwriter Brynne Chandler is a single mother of three who divides her time between professional research and varied cooking, fitness and home & gardening enterprises. A running enthusiast who regularly participates in San Francisco's Bay to Breakers run, Chandler works as an independent caterer, preparing healthy, nutritious meals for Phoenix area residents.