DIY: Removing rust from my tools using vinegar

05 April 2016

Everyday, I try to find something to do at the house aside from the normal chores.  Today, I decided to tackle reorganizing one of our storage closets.  To make a long story short, I ended up throwing a lot of things but the worst was I found that my toolbox and the tools inside got wet (for some reason) and now they're rusted! So, some of you may say that I should just buy new tools but see, these are my grandfather's and father-in-law's tools.  They're really heavy-duty! :)

Anyway, I was racking my brain to figure out how to remove the rust without further harming the metal.  Obviously, I couldn't just wash it in water and soap because that would just exacerbate the rust.  I turned to Google to find out what I needed and after several articles they all pointed to using vinegar to remove the rust from my tools.

Knowing that, I took inventory of my tools and planned how to go about it.  First, I didn't have enough vinegar to be able to soak the tools in one go.  Second, I didn't have a big enough tub with which to soak them in too.  So, I knew I'd have to do this in two parts - smaller, lightly-rusted tools first to test just how much vinegar to use and how long I have to soak them in for.  The more rusted ones will follow.  I asked Patrick to buy a gallon of vinegar just to be sure.

Like I said, I started with the smaller tools first.  Silly me, I forgot to take a before picture because I was intent on making sure that I wouldn't get cut or hurt handling the tools.  I put them in a small pail and added just the right amount of vinegar to soak everything. The picture below shows the result of soaking them overnight and scrubbing and scraping off the stubborn rust with a steel wool brush.  I rubbed oil on them for good measure.

Now that I've seen that the acid in the vinegar actually eats through the rust, I was ready to deal with the heavier tools and I remembered to take pictures this time :)  Instead of a pail, I used a medium-sized basin.   I also put some vinegar in the bottom of the tool box although I kind of felt that I was going to throw it anyway but just wanted to try first.

As you can see, after a few hours, the clear bottom has turned murky and dark from the rust.  I turned them over so that the other side can be soaked as well.

When I figured I've given the vinegar enough time to penetrate the rust and make it easier for me to scrape it off, I did just that.  The thing is, during the first trial, after removing the tools from the vinegar, I immediately dried them off and polished them quickly.  With the second set of tools, I left them to air dry after the scrubbing and the scraping since I had to clean the bathroom first.  This was a mistake.  There was some oxidation on the tools which meant that I needed to double my efforts in cleaning them again.  This didn't happen with the first set of tools. So, Lesson Learned. :)  I remembered too late that you're supposed to put some baking soda on the tools to stop the acidic reaction but I forgot that. 

There was a remarkable change in the tools as you can see.  I made sure to really put a lot of oil on them too.

Anyway, it felt really good to see the rust coming off.  It was a lot of work and it's a pain on the hands but it's all worth it.  I hope that this helps :)