Cleaning some rusty tools

So my father-in-law and I have been using most of his tools heavily over the past year-year in a half and some of them have picked up some rust along the way (ie water pump pliers, some wrenches, etc). What’s the easiest way to take out the rust and then try to prevent it from coming back? WD 40 bath, then a coating of liquid wrench/PB Blaster? Scrub with steel wool?

Depending how bad the rust is I use a wire wheel to remove as much as posable then use a container that will hold them and cover with ATF and leave them set for at least a week some will take longer and some will not take as long when they get done wipe the excess ATF off the light film of ATF that is left will protect them for a long time.

If they are rusting, that means they are not stainless steel. Immersion in sulfuric acid would work best if they are not lubricated, but you might not want to work with strong acid then dispose of it properly. I think a coarse steel wool would do the trick, then prime and paint them. Once painted, they won’t rust again unless you chip the paint off. This is for the handles, not the working surfaces. Some oil on the working surfaces would prevent moisture from getting through.

What kind of tools? Hammers? Shovels?


This is a constant problem in humid Florida. There are rust removal chemicals like EvaopRust or Rust-O-Leum Rust remover Gel that works well on bare steel. Steel wool works pretty well with a shot of WD40 for a lube.

WD40 doesn’t work very well to keep rust away, however. I’ve been using Boesheild lately for that. THAT works really, really well. Developed by Boeing.

water pump wrench and his adjustable wrenches primarily. The ratchets and sockets are all ok still, the coating hasn’t chipped off. Not really much lubrication in the tools, but I can regrease the adjuster on the adjustable wrenches. Probably wouldn’t hurt to smear some on the water pump wrench too.

@jtsanders definitely not stainless. I’m not opposed to disposing of acids, but if I can avoid it I would prefer to. Painting is a good idea…

@Renegade will the ATF eat through the rubber handle covers?

@Mustangman I may go this route…it looks easier

I’d go the steel wool/wire brush route, then lubricate and use @Mustangman’s coating. I might disassemble the adjustable wrenches (if possible) to get them really clean.

The only problem that I have is if the ATF gets between thr rubber or plastic the some times slip off until they get dryed up good never ha a problem with it eating through. When I first moved into the house I now live in 14yrsgo I wanted to start a garden in the process of digging it up the first time I unearthed a pair of slip joint pliers and a pair of side cutters from who knows how long they were under ground I used the method I described it took quite a while but I am still useing them to this day also the side cutters had plastic handles.


you can use something like this for handles. I never tried it though.

Unless they have changed their formula since 1 last tried quite a few years ago I didn’t care for it.

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I get surface rust on my steel builder’s squares from time to time. I have to remove it in order to make gadgets useable again. What seems to work best for me is a 1/3-1/3-1/3 solution of acetone, automatic transmission fluid, and WD 40. I coat the surface, let it sit overnight, then some rubbing/polishing w/ some steel wool the next day. Sometimes I have to do this 2 or 3 times to get the surface bright and shiny and the numbers and markings easy to read.

I’ve heard the tale – never tried this myself — that molasses is very effective at removing surface rust. Anybody here ever tried that? I think you have to live in a farming area to have access to large amounts of molasses. I have no idea where to buy it in gallon+ containers here in San Jose.

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I have not heard that, but hear back strap molasses a tbsp a day is good for hemorrhoids, another miracle in a bottle?
Another solution, wear. Use it often enough! Hedge clippers and plant trimmers the biggest things for me, as wife leaves them out and get rained on. PBlaster Is how I usually treat them, sure not perfect and shiny, just functional.

Never tried it myself but electrolysis is popular among some. Lots of info on Utube.

I’ve used electrolysis to remove rust from tools and old motorcycle parts.

Also used it to Parkerize some tools and parts.

I use “Metal Rescue”. It’s $20 or so at Home Depot for a gallon jug, and you can reuse it until it gets really dark color. It’s a water based something that does remove surface rust (and clears the inside of a motorcycle gas tank), and you can get it on your hands without worrying.

Mineral spirits and steel wool works great to remove the rust.

To prevent the rust from coming back, use a product called TopCote. It’s a dry lubricant/water repellant. I use it on the cast iron tables on my shop tools and never see rust on them. And cast iron will rust if you look at it funny. I apply it 3 or 4 times a year, depending on how much I’ve been using the tools.

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For the cast iron table saw top I made a 3/4 thick plywood top the same size with 1 x2 pine frame around it. It kept the top from rusting and provided a flat extra work surface. I can’t remember what wood working show I saw that idea on but it works.

Yeah, I do that too. I still use the TopCote, though, because it gets humid here in the summers. And because it’s a good lubricant that sprays on and wipes off quickly, so I don’t have to sit there hand waxing all 52" worth of table saw top. :wink:

Anytime, you get a package in the mail, you know whether it’s sneakers, electronics, usually, they come with these little silica packets. toss them in your tool box to help with the moisture. or you can buy them online. they are cheap. maybe 100 for $10.