When iron bolts chemically react with water and oxygen, they form iron oxide, which is also known as rust. This corrosion can compromise the metal and make your bolts unusable. If the rust has not yet damaged the bolt, the rust can be removed to return them to their clean and optimal working condition.
So, how do you clean rusty bolts? There are three ways to clean rusty bolts:
- Soak bolts in an acidic substance or solvent
- Apply common household and food items to bolt surface
- Use metal scraping tools for more difficult removal
There are many methods for cleaning rusty bolts, which gives you plenty of options with ingredients and tools you may already have. Some applications may work better than others, depending on the amount of rust on the bolts and material. We will cover all the methods you can try and how to take care of the bolts best to prevent rust in the future.
Three Methods for Cleaning Rusty Bolts
If you find yourself with rusty bolts, they may not fit when being secured or will weaken and, therefore, not be useful in fastening things together. As long as the bolts have not lost their strength, you can clean and return them to their ideal conditions.
There are a wide variety of methods to accomplish this, all ranging in effectiveness.
1. Soak Bolts in Acids or Solvents
Certain types of acids and solvent solutions can dissolve rust while others create it. You must use only the specifically mentioned acids to remove rust so that the problem is not exacerbated.
These are some types of acids and solvents you can apply to bolts for cleaning:
- Phosphoric acid: This acid can be used to remove rust, but should be used with gloves as contact with the skin can be dangerous. Soak the bolts in the solution or rub with a wire brush.
- Hydrochloric acid: Another acid that will break down the rust, it is very abrasive and should also be used with caution and personal protective equipment as it can damage the skin. It should also be diluted so that you do not damage the metal after the rust dissolves.
- Rust converters: These will not always completely clean the rust off of bolts, but they do an excellent job of stopping the spread of rust that has accumulated. If there is minimal rust on the surface of the bolts, you can use a rust converter.
All of these solutions can be found at hardware stores as they serve a variety of purposes and are popular choices for rust removal. They just need to be handled with caution as they are potent chemicals. We recommend soaking the bolts in these solutions for hours to let the solution fully activate.
2. Use Common Household Items for Cleaning Bolts
You often don’t need special items to clean a rusty bolt. You can clean them with many of the materials and ingredients being found around your home. Even if you don’t have these items at home, they are very easy to acquire.
Try these common food and household items to clean your rusty bolts:
- Vinegar: White or apple cider vinegar are acid solutions that can be used for rust removal. Fully submerge the bolts in vinegar and consider putting them in a bottle to shake. These can be left for a day, and you should be left with clean and shiny bolts that are free of rust. Click this link for more information.
- Baking soda: Making a paste of baking soda and water works well on thinner metals, including bolts. It reacts with the rust and can be wiped away after hours of sitting.
- Salt and lemon: The lemon will act as the acidic solution to remove rust and salt will act as an abrasive texture as well as react with the lemon for better removal. After leaving the mixture on for a few hours, you should scrub it off. This can be done with a smooth surface since you already loosened it with the mixture.
- Potato and dish soap: This is an interesting method that works well on many metals. Potatoes are naturally acidic, containing oxalic acid, and they can break down the rust. Combining with dish soap or baking soda will make this acid adhere to the rusted areas. Rubbing the potato against the rust can get rid of it.
You should soak the bolts in liquid solutions for multiple hours to be most effective. The longer that the acidic solutions are in contact with the rust, the better the results will be.
3. Scrape off Rust from Bolts
Soaking or rubbing substances against the rusted areas may not always be effective, especially when the bolts have been heavily affected. Rubbing metal against the rust can help to remove it with greater force. This is also the best method if you do not want to use chemicals, but it will require a bit more physical work (fortunately, bolts are small). Check out my list of the best rust remover tools.
With the small size and crevices on bolts, cleaning rust by hand can be more challenging than submerging them or applying a liquid solution.
Multiple tools can be applied for successful removal:
- Power tools: If you have power tools around the house, they create enough force to remove the rust with minimal effort. Any tool that will mimic a scraping or scrubbing motion will work, such as oscillating tools, sanders, and grinders. This method can be more difficult when working with a small bolt, so make sure the bolt is not being held in your hand while in contact with the power tool.
- Steel wool: Sheets of steel wool are excellent for removing rust because the steel fabric is durable and abrasive against metal surfaces. You should be using fine steel wool to remove the rusty surface. Look for 000 steel wool.
- Sandpaper: An alternative to steel wool, you can also apply sandpaper for similar results. Use wet/dry sandpaper so you can use it in any environment and use around 300-grit for removal.
- Wire brush: A quality wire brush is a good option for getting the severe initial rust off. If there is still rust left over, use the steel wool or sandpaper for a more thorough removal. It can also be used in conjunction with applied removal liquids.
If you still have rust on the bolts, add one of the liquid removal methods we’ve mentioned to clean the surface thoroughly. If soaking beforehand, be careful with abrasive surfaces as they may damage the metal underneath.
How to Prevent Bolts from Getting Rusty
If one option isn’t working for removing the rust, there plenty of others to try! Once you have cleaned the rust, you want to prevent it from coming back.
The best way to keep bolts free from rust will be to keep them dry. Because rust requires water and oxygen to react, drying these areas will slow this process. This may not be feasible in all locations.
To provide additional protection from rust, you will want to add a protective coating to the bolts. This will keep the water from damaging the bolts. Additional measures to take include:
- Using stainless steel bolts or galvanized metals
- Avoiding scratches on the bolt surface
- Regularly maintaining the bolts
Keeping your bolts clean from rust will make them more durable and prevent larger accidents from occurring if they break.
Especially for bolts that are used for vehicles or weight-bearing items, you will want these bolts to be strong to keep people and nearby surroundings safe.
Cleaning rust off of these bolts will also act to keep them sturdy and reliable.