How to Clean a Rusting Stainless Exhaust

Updated November 21, 2016

The exhaust plays an important part in the overall function of a vehicle. It is responsible for moving and carrying away the gases that are created when the fuel and air are burnt in the car. Keeping the exhaust on your vehicle clean can help car function and aesthetics. Rusty exhausts are a common issue and can become a serious issue if not attended to quickly; luckily this issue can be easily remedied at home. Stainless steel exhausts require some special treatment in order to avoid scratching the surface.

Turn the vehicle off for at least an hour before working with the exhaust as this part of the car can be hot.

Remove dust and grime from the exhaust first. Take a dry, soft cloth and rub the visible exhaust parts with it to remove as much debris as your can. Do not be too vigorous and work slowly; working too quickly can result in unsightly scratches. Don't use water at this point. Stainless steel can form water spots if the water is not wiped off quickly after application.

Use water and a dry wipe if the dirt and grime is particularly stubborn. Use caution and work quickly to avoid staining. Use a soft cloth dipped in water to gently scrub the exhaust, then immediately wipe the surface dry with another clean soft cloth.

Use mildly abrasive cleaners to remove more stubborn rust. A mix of apple cider and vinegar works well for those looking for an eco-friendly option. Dip one soft clean cloth in the mix, wipe it over the surface being careful not to scratch the steel, then immediately dry with another clean, soft and dry cloth.

Spray a small amount of household cleaners that contain dilute acids onto a cloth for cleaning if there are still rust stains on the exhaust. Wipe the cloth over the exhaust and dry with a clean, soft and dry cloth immediately after application.

Buy a stainless steel rust remover product if none of these methods work to remove the rust. Be sure that the rust remover is stainless steel safe. Rust removers can sometimes be too abrasive for stainless steel.


It is OK to clean your stainless steel exhaust frequently. It is impossible to over-clean stainless steel.


Avoid carbon steel brushes or steel wool. They will leave scratches or particles that will aid future rusting.

Things You'll Need

  • Clean soft cloths
  • Small bucket of water
  • Vinegar
  • Apple Cider
  • Household cleaners
  • Stainless steel rust remover product
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