Does Apple Cider Vinegar Remove Rust? Complete Guide

You may have a few rusty gardening tools in your shed that you want to clean, but you don’t want to spend money on a commercial rust remover. In that case, you may use some substances available at home. One of which is apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar can remove rust. In fact, it is a popular rust-removal remedy that works well because it contains acetic acid but doesn’t smell as strong as regular vinegar. This active cleaning ingredient has been found to remove rust as well as dirt.

In this article, I’ll explore what you need to know about using apple cider vinegar to remove rust. I’ll provide the steps to follow when removing rust using the substance and explain why it works effectively.

Effectiveness of apple cider vinegar on rust.

Effectiveness of Apple Cider Vinegar on Rust

Apple cider vinegar is a popular cleaning ingredient because it can remove the following:

  • Dirt
  • Mineral deposits
  • Bacteria

It achieves this because it contains acetic acid, which is its active cleaning agent. However, it has to be at the correct concentration to provide rust-removal properties.

There have been multiple research conducted on the ability and effectiveness of acetic acid on rust, as well as rust stains. For example, research has found that a 2% solution of acetic acid worked effectively to remove rust stains from eggs.

When it comes to surfaces in the home, such as metal, acetic acid reacts with the rust to form salt and water in a neutralization process. A study tested a variety of acids to see how well they removed rust.

It found that while muriatic acid is still the most effective cleaning agent to remove rust because it has the highest mean weight of rust removed in grams, it’s dangerous to human health.

On the other hand, citrus (which contains citric acid) combined with vinegar was considered an effective and healthier alternative. 

Therefore, the first step to removing rust using apple cider vinegar is to choose a product that contains at least 2% acetic acid. Most apple cider vinegar products contain around 5% acetic acid, which is also fine.

If you have a more concentrated product, you can dilute it in distilled water. You can use it by itself or you can mix it with lemon juice.

Steps to Remove Rust With Apple Cider Vinegar

The steps to follow when using apple cider vinegar can vary a bit depending on the type and size of the item you’re cleaning. If you have small items, such as rusty screws or bolts, you can soak them in apple cider vinegar. You can follow the steps below:

  1. Put the small rusty item into a container with 150 ml (0.6 cups) of apple cider vinegar.
  2. Leave it to soak for two hours.
  3. Check the item to see if there is still some rust on it.
  4. Leave the item for up to one more hour until all the rust disappears.

If you can still see rust on it, scrub the item with some baking soda mixed with apple cider vinegar to remove any leftover rust. Use a hard-bristle brush to give you more scrubbing power.

This is also a good option if you don’t have time to soak the item in vinegar for a long time. Baking soda works well to scrub the rust off items because it’s gritty in nature.

If you have an item that’s too large to soak, such as a shovel, you should follow these steps:

  1. Place the item in an area where you can safely pour the apple cider vinegar over it. 
  2. Pour vinegar onto the rusty area of the object.
  3. Set the item aside for a few hours. For more severe rust, you can leave the vinegar to work for up to 24 hours. You may need to add more vinegar every few hours if the surface of the item dries up.
  4. Use a clean piece of cloth to wipe away the rust.

If there’s stubborn rust left on the metal, you can use a wire brush to scrub it off the surface. Use the cloth to wipe the area and inspect the condition of your item.

Pro tip: If you’re struggling to get enough apple cider vinegar on the rusty area of the object, you could also soak rags in vinegar and place them on the rust. This might be easier to achieve without getting vinegar all over your floor.

Precautions When Using Apple Cider Vinegar to Remove Rust

Although apple cider vinegar can work well to remove rust from surfaces, it’s not safe for use on all types of metal. Vinegar can damage some types of metal, and this is especially the case when used on the following materials:

  • Aluminum. The vinegar reacts with the thin layer of protective film on aluminum which is oxide. The substance slowly corrodes it until the acetic acid evaporates.
  • Stainless steel. Some grades of steel are more susceptible to damage from vinegar than others, so always test the vinegar on a small part of the metal before soaking the entire item in vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar can also damage wood, so if you’re treating an object that contains metal and wood, be careful not to get any vinegar onto the wooden part.

Although vinegar can work effectively to remove rust from surfaces and items, a study found that if the items are left to soak in vinegar for extended periods, this can actually cause them to rust.

In the study, iron nails were left in different solutions (one of which was vinegar) for seven days. By the end of the week, it was found that the vinegar and all the other solutions accelerated the rate of rusting.

Therefore, after using vinegar to remove rust, always clean and dry the item properly. It’s also useful to apply a protective oil or lubricant on the metal after you’ve removed its rust to prevent more rust from building up later on.

What Vinegar Concentration Is Most Effective?

You might wonder what vinegar strength works better to remove rust from metal. We tested the following vinegar strengths to see how they compared:

  • 5% (regular cooking vinegar)
  • 6% (cleaning vinegar)
  • 30% vinegar

In the study, strips of rusty metal were soaked in different vinegar strengths. When they were cleaned, it was found that they all looked the same, and all of their rust had been successfully removed.

To investigate further to see how quickly the different vinegar strengths worked to remove rust, a second experiment was conducted.

It was found that the lower-concentration vinegar removed rust better, even when left on the item for longer, as compared to the 30% concentration that was left on the rusty item for a shorter amount of time.

If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, you can use regular vinegar that has 5% acetic acid, as it works effectively to remove rust. It also leaves behind a gray finish, which is salt, that provides a bit of resistance to rust in the future.

It’s worth noting that apple cider vinegar and household vinegar are pretty much the same, but apple cider vinegar smells more pleasant and doesn’t leave behind a very strong scent that some find overwhelming.

In addition, they have different concentrations. While vinegar contains around 5-10% of acetic acid, apple cider vinegar contains approximately 5-6%.

Based on the previous experiments, you don’t have to spend more money on a type of vinegar that has a higher acetic acid concentration. Since apple cider vinegar has about 5% of this acid, it can work well to clean your rusty items. 

Final Thoughts

If you want a safe and cheap way to remove rust from various metal surfaces and items, you can use apple cider vinegar to get the job done. This works effectively because of its acetic acid content.

You can remove rust from metal items using apple cider vinegar in three ways, depending on what item you’re cleaning.

  • Pour vinegar on the item if it’s large.
  • Plac rags soaked in vinegar on the rusty area of the item.
  • Soak a small item in vinegar for 2-24 hours.


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