How to Clean Rusty Mechanic Tools

How to Clean Rusty Mechanic Tools

When your tools have gone rusty, you can get rid of tool rust by soaking the tools in liquid dish detergent and warm water. After a bit of time soaking, clean the tools with steel wool, sandpaper, or a Dremel tool if you have one to polish your tools, or use the wire wheel attachment for your drill. For learning how to clean up rusty tools try using the methods below.

How to clean up rusty tools

Disc sanderIf your tool heads are pitted, some pit marks can be removed with a disc sander using a 100-grit abrasive pad. 

Oxalic Acid PowderWhen you have more damage, put the head in a vise and use a hand-file to smooth the surface.

Use vinegar and salt to remove rust from tools. Use clear distilled vinegar and salt to soften the rust and scrub it away the same way as in the first paragraph.

How to remove rust from hand tools can be accomplished using commercial products available if the above ideas don’t work. Oxalic Acid Powder will succeed too. Not only does this remove rust, it bleaches wood decks, and you can use for iron stain removal, metal cleaning, as a bleaching agent, wood stain cleaner, pool stain remover, and much more.

Cleaning Rusty and Corroded Hand Tools

Cleaning Rusty and Corroded Hand ToolsYou can find old rusty tools to clean at garage sales, lying along the ground of weeds and ivy at old houses, abandoned farm houses, barns, sheds, old ignored toolboxes, old cars and  trucks, and at estate sales.

Most of the time you’ll find that the original wood handles are rotted, cracked, or missing. I always notice a charm in those old handles and try to find a name on the handle somewhere. Pure nostalgia for me.

How to clean mechanic tools and to restore rusty hatchets, hammers, and the occasional sledge hammer with old hickory wooden handle, (most sledge handles are fiberglass today). You’ll need patience for the ambitious task you plan to undertake—for I’ve done it!

First, remove what’s left of the wood handles. Cut the handle with a saw flush with the tool head. You can use a vise clamping the head into it and hammering the wood to punch it out of the head.

How to Clean Rusty Tools With Vinegar

Clear distilled vinegarTo remove years of oxidization, I soak the tool heads in a bucket of 1-gallon of clear distilled vinegar. (Vinegar is not white—milk is white, and I don’t get why even the manufacturer’s call it white.)

The multi-purpose vinegar is 6% acidic whereas the vinegar for home use is 5% acidic.

Now that the rusty tools are covered with only vinegar, cover the bucket with its lid or a board letting the rusty tools soak for about 4- to 5-hours. If all the rust wasn’t removed, let the tools continue to soak all night.

Clean rusty toolsRub the tools with #1 grade steel wool and all the rust should come off. Rinse the clean rusty tools with cool water to remove the vinegar and wipe them dry with a cotton cloth. Paper towels will break off and also leave paper lint that I don’t like to deal with. The vinegar smell will disappear quickly.

After all of your hard work, wipe the tools clean with mineral spirits, and prime with a rust-preventive metal primer, such as Rust-Oleum® and finally paint with a gloss alkyd enamel also made by Rust-Oleum® sold on  Hand-hone on water stones for woodworking tools the hatchet’s cutting edges.

You’ll be very pleased with yourself after adding a hickory handle to the specific tool’s head.

Hickory handle

Cleaning Tools to Help Prevent the Spread of Covid-19 Virus

  • Clean rusty tool surfaces with liquid dish detergent and warm water to remove the dirt and grease.
  • Wet a clean cotton cloth, not paper towels, into a bucket of bleach and water.
    • A diluted bleach solution can be made by mixing:
    • 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water or
    • 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water
  • Wring out the cloth so it is not dripping wet to clean rust off tools.
  • Wear rubber gloves and wipe handles making sure not to let the water/bleach get into the tool.
  • Never mix ammonia with bleach as the fumes are toxic to breathe in.
  • Let the tool completely air dry.
  • Remove the rubber gloves and wash your hands.

Always wear a mask when around other people using tools with you. The Safe+Mate cloth face mask in the picture is the #1 best seller on

Safe Mate

The masks are washable and reusable in many sizes, colors and patterns made of cotton with filter. These are available in packs of 5 for about $6.

Rust Removal with Baking Soda and Vinegar video.

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