How to clean rust from vintage iron or steel

While searching for great vintage items, you are bound to come across some old and rusty iron or steel pieces where the rust doesn’t add much charm. Items such as lawn furniture, gates, tools and buckets will rust over time due to exposure to water and air. Near the ocean, high salt content in the air or water will cause items to rust faster. These rusty gems can easily be cleaned and sometimes restored.  

Cast Iron Candelabra Sculpture
Cast Iron Candelabra Sculpture

Start by using a wire brush to remove as much loose rust as possible. You may want to use some medium to fine grit sandpaper if you will be painting or sealing the item.

There are several methods you can use to remove rust with household items you probably already have on hand.

  • Vinegar: soak your item in a container filled with vinegar for 24 hours and then rinse.
  • Salt and lemon or lime: coat the rusted portion of your item with salt and scrub with lemon or lime. Let it set for a few hours, then rinse thoroughly.
  • Baking soda and water: Make a paste and use a toothbrush to spread the mixture on the affected part of the metal. Let set for several hours and then rinse.
  • A potato and some dish soap: Cut a potato and apply some dish soap to the cut end, rub it on the rusted area and let set for several hours.
  • Soak the affected item in a glass of cola: If you have ever dropped a penny in a glass of cola and seen the quick brightening of the copper you will understand its rust removal properties.

Once you have removed as much of the rust as possible, you can use a rust-sealing primer on items you will be painting. Or, for items you are leaving as is, you can coat the metal with a light oil or wax to help preserve the finish. FYI, restored rusty gems are probably best used as decor and not as something to serve food out of or in.

The best is yet to come! Pam, Vintage Renude

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