Did a google for rust removal and saw a few references for removal of
lightly rusted hand tools using table salt and vinegar. Any of you use this
method? If this works would like to try it before scrounging up the parts
for electrolytic rust removal. How much vinegar and salt do you mix with
I have used the salt and vinegar method for cleaning small hand tools for
several years. It works slowly, but works well for high carbon steel --
especially plane irons and chisels. You will need to use something slightly
abrasive to help clean the surface -- I have found that 3M ScotchBrite pads
work well. On badly rusted plane irons, 2 to 3 cycles (soak for 30 minutes
and scrub with pad) will clean it pretty well.
The mixture is simple, standard 5% acidity white vinegar and table salt --
just dissolve as much salt in the vinegar as it will take, and it takes
quite a bit and dissolves slowly as it nears the saturation point. The
mixture can be reused several times even though it turns red from the rust.
Another important point, the steel will rust very quickly when removed from
the solution. Keep some clear rinse water and a can of WD40 spray handy to
clean and protect the tool.
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This may sound odd, but I have used plain ole brake fluid to remove rust. Wear
goggles when using it because it is death to eyes. Not really, but it is bad stuff.
No harm done to try it on some totally unimportant rusted steel or iron. "Nothing
ventured Nothing gained"
Ken Vaughn wrote:
salt and any mild acid -- vinegar, lemon juice, etc. -- is extremely effective
at cleaning up oxidized copper. takes off the oxidization, without touching
the 'clean' metallic copper. I'm not sure of the entire chemical reaction,
but one of the byproducts is copper chloride, *bright* blue.
I'm guessing the situation with iron is similar, i.e.
iron oxide + salt ==> iron chloride + ??
I've used salt + lemon juice on copper cookware, for many years. lemon juice
straight out of the bottle, enough to wet the surface, and just sprinkle some
salt on. doesn't take a lot. The reaction is fairly quick -- seconds, to a
few tens of seconds. a single grain of salt seems to work over an area about
half the diameter of a penny. for heavy oxidation, a paper towel thoroughly
wetted with lemon juice, laid on the item, and then sprinkle some salt on.
The _nice_ thing about cleaning copper this way is that it is a 'self-limiting'
reaction. When the oxide is gone, things _stop_.
I've never played with the technique on iron,, but I'm guessing that iron
reacts considerably more slowly.
I've used sandpaper, then fine steel wool. Works just fine, and gets
rid of heavy to light rust.
Works on wood too, I hear.
On one very badly rusted item I started with a fairly decrepit rough
hone and scraped away with that. This was followed by sandpaper and
steel wool. It changed an old piece of rust I'd bought at a yard sale
for $5 Can into a cabinet maker's plane [hollow grooves in the base,
about 18" long.] I repainted also, and gave it as a gift to a person
with infinitely more talent than I have. He's still using it.
As others have said, it works fine. What no one has discussed yet is the
fact that it darkens the iron a lot. Like to a dark brown color.
I don't really like that color for the surface of my jointer but I don't
dislike enough to have the tables ground.
I know nothing of chemistry so my questions are(1) When disposing of this
stuff, anything in particular to worry about? (2) When storing, is a metal
coffee can ok, should the container be vented? Don't want to use this
mixture in anything that it will eventually eat thru. Thanks all for your
help and advice.
I just store the stuff in the original vinegar container (labeled and in
the garage of course).
As for disposal, I just put the used stuff down the drain. The
ingredients are foodstuffs after all. The used mixture can stain from
the rust, so you do need to be careful that way.
I store mine in the 1 gallon plastic containers that the vinegar came in. I
don't think you would want to store it in a metal container. I haven't
disposed of mine yet, but I would think you could neutralize the weak acid
(vinegar) with baking soda. Coffee cans rust pretty quickly with just plain
water -- I use one with water for cooling lathe tools when I grind them --
it looks pretty rusty.
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(sodium chloride) and the vinegar (acetic acid) reacted to make
a weak hydrochloric acid. So I wouldn't store it in metal.
I have some in the original vinegar bottle (plastic) that's been
there for at least a couple of years. As someone pointed out,
it gets dirty but it still works. I do add a little more salt
from time to time.
It doesn't work especially well.
It's _really_ risky on some copper-based alloys, especially bronzes.
You do _not_ want to start chloride-based corrosion on bronzes, as it
can be impossible to stop this afterwards.
Acid processes around ferrous materials are likely to give colour
changes (mainly darkening). You may find this useful, if you _want_ to
If you're cleaning ferrous metals, go for cathodic electrolysis. It's
easy to do, hard to get wrong, non-damaging and works really well.
For ferrous, a citric acid technique is commonplace (mainly for
museum-grade work on _really_ damaged items, particularly iron rather
than steel. IMHE, electrolysis is much simpler and works as well.
For brass or other cuprous alloys, a vinegar soak alone can be useful.
Don't leave it too long, or you'll find the brass de-zincs and turns
I'm wondering why the salt. It surely does nothing but perhaps cause
problems later on. I would prefer a stiff brush and kerosene or WD40.
Although vinegar will not rapidly dissolve iron, it will very slowly.
It will also, a little more quickly, dissolve rust, but I would prefer
to remove this mechanically with something that impedes further
rusting. Just my 3 cents...
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