That orange-brown discoloration that appears on metals (particularly iron and steel) is both destructive and unsightly. The rusting process starts slowly, but as soon as it spreads, it can weaken objects and structures and compromise functionality. That’s why it’s better to prevent rust formation upfront.
How to prevent rusting begins right from the way you handle objects made of iron-containing metal. Proper storage away from moisture cannot be overemphasized. Regular maintenance is also necessary. Other ways of preventing rust formation include painting, applying oil, powder coating, among others.
We’ll explore this topic in detail even as we look at the effects of rust, how one can remove rust, and the benefits of rust-proofing items. But first, let’s begin with a clear definition of rust.
What Is Rust?
Rust is a form of iron oxide that results from a reaction between iron and oxygen found in the air or water. It’s a kind of corroding process that takes place in the presence of water or even simply moisture.
As a result of the chemical reaction between iron and oxygen, an orange-brown flaky coat is formed on the metal. And since rust is porous, allowing water and air to pass through, the corrosion easily spreads to the metal underneath.
The presence of salt easily accelerates rust formation and build-up. This is why people living in areas near saltwater bodies will notice faster corrosion of metal objects.
So why should we prevent rust formation? What are its effects on metallic objects and structures?
Effects of Rust
Rust has a degenerating effect on the objects it affects. Let’s look at some of them:
- One of the most obvious effects of rusting is a change in the appearance of the metal. You will notice that familiar orange-brown discoloration starting to show. This color change is mostly a problem when it comes to aesthetics.
- Another consequence of rust is a weakened structure. The iron oxide eats away at the metal and replaces its robust structure with flaky powder. This is dangerous, especially if the object affected is meant to support other structures. Whether it was supporting a seemingly small weight like a chair or a bigger object like a bridge, the results of a corroded metal object can be quite destructive.
- Effect on mobility. Parts that were meant to slide over each other will get stuck once rust creeps in. Take, for example, nuts and bolts. These would be pretty hard to unscrew when covered in rust.
- Electrical conductivity ceases when rust builds up. This is because rust is an insulator; therefore, any metal object that was meant to conduct electricity will stop functioning.
- Rust can be a health hazard. Take, for example, metallic pipes that carry water to buildings. If these pipes rust, any water that passes through them will be contaminated and dangerous for consumption.
- Rust does not have the optimum magnetic properties of an iron-containing metal. Once an iron magnet has been totally corroded by rust, it can no longer function as a magnet.
- Rust corrodes items so much so that it can create holes in metal sheets. If iron sheet roofing, for example, starts rusting, you may soon end up with holes and a leaking roof.
How to Treat Metal to Prevent Rust
Because rust has no positive function and only results in destruction, preventing its formation in the first place would be the best way to go.
To prevent rust formation, you’ll need to interfere in the chemical reaction that produces iron oxide. You can do this by preventing the iron-containing metals from coming in contact with water or moisture. This way, no chemical reaction will occur to start off rust formation.
Here are the different ways you can prevent rust formation.
Ensure Proper Storage
We’ve already established that rust develops when iron combines with oxygen found in water. So, when we talk about ensuring proper storage to prevent rusting, that basically means keeping your iron objects away from water.
For starters, remember to remove any metallic items from outside where they are directly under the natural elements like rain, mist, or fog. So, when you’re done using your tools, take them back inside, e.g., in the garage.
When storing these items, you will need to clean and dry them first. This is because dirt like mud can expose the metals to moisture. Also, ensure the storage environment is neither damp nor humid. You can use a dehumidifier to get rid of all the humidity.
For smaller items that can fit in a box or container, you can keep them in a sealable container that’s both watertight and airtight. Watch this video for an interesting trick of using mentholated cold and flu chest rub to protect your stored tools from rust:
That being said, there are obviously some items that have to remain outside, such as the gate, a bridge, and tanks. Those would then need another method of preventing rust formation, which we’ll look at shortly.
Provide Regular Maintenance
When carrying out regular maintenance, any rust that has started to form should be removed. You can use warm water and soap to clean out the surfaces.
After all the rust is removed, apply your choice of rust-proofing coating to prevent any more rust formation.
Apply Oil or Grease
Oil (or grease) is often used for lubrication to enable smooth movement between two or more metal parts. But apart from that, the oil forms a coat which acts as a barrier against rust formation. This is how oil is used to prevent rusting.
Unfortunately, applying oil comes with some disadvantages that may discourage one from using it. First, it can be quite messy to handle. Secondly, because of its lubricating property, it is slippery and can result in unbalanced parts. Also, applying oil has to be repeated every once in a while, and this takes time.
Apply a Dry Coating
Instead of the slippery oil, you can use a dry coating to prevent rust formation. This product uses the same principle of coating a surface and preventing the metal from coming into contact with moisture or water.
One of the pros of dry coating is its clean finish. Once applied, it is dry-to-touch. It, therefore, doesn’t result in slippery parts. The dry coating can also be used to enhance other methods of preventing rust; for example, you can spray dry coating over painted surfaces.
Paint the Iron-Containing Metal
This is another common way of preventing rust formation. Most often, you’ll paint surfaces and objects for aesthetic purposes. But the good thing is that in the process, the objects get the needed protection from rust.
The type of paint you use is very important. Oil-based paint is the right type to prevent rust. This should be applied all around the objects to create a complete barrier from water or moisture.
Painted surfaces or objects can be used for long periods so long as they are not scratches to reveal the underlying metal since that will expose it to corrosion.
In some cases, painting over rust can even stop the rust from spreading.
Galvanizing is the process of coating iron or steel using zinc. The reason zinc is used is that it takes much longer to corrode from rust compared to iron. Therefore, rust will not be able to form as easily.
Galvanizing protects by forming a barrier between the object and the environment. Also, since zinc is highly reactive to oxygen, it can quickly form zinc oxide, an added barrier on the metal object. This will also prevent the iron from further oxidation.
One of the disadvantages of using zinc is that it can get corroded by acids, salt, and rain. This means it can end up being vulnerable to rust corrosion as well.
Galvanized items can also have a changed appearance, and that may be a problem depending on its intended function.
Use a Rust-Resistant Alloy
An alloy is a material or metal made from a combination of two or more metals. The idea is to take advantage of the best qualities or properties of the different metals to form a better metal.
So in the case of rust prevention, iron is combined with metals of varying corrosion rates. This results in an alloy that will not easily rust.
One of the most popular alloys is steel. It’s a combination of iron and carbon. Steel is also used to make other alloys that are even better at preventing rust formation. Some examples of metals that form steel alloys are nickel, manganese, chromium, among others.
Alloys may not completely prevent rust formation, but they significantly slow down the corrosion process.
This rust-proofing method involves applying the powder coating over the metal or object. The item needs to be totally clean before application.
Once the powder has been evenly applied, the object is passed through a furnace to turn the powder into a thin film. This powder coating can be polyester, acrylic, nylon, vinyl, among others.
The thin film acts as a barrier to the metallic object to prevent rusting.
Most often, powder coating is applied using an electrostatic spray process. This makes use of the charged powder particles, which are attracted by the electrically conductive object. After this, the item is taken through the heating process.
Bluing is a process of creating a coating known as magnetite, which is quite similar to rust itself. The difference is that bluing steel is less corrosive and protects the metal underneath from rust formation.
This technique is mostly used with small steel objects like fine clocks and firearms. The term “bluing” is coined from the black-blue appearance that results from this coating technique.
VCI (Vapor corrosion inhibitors) packagings are packagings infused with a chemical used to protect ferrous and non-ferrous metals from corrosion and rust. VCI can be infused into paper, chipboards, poly films, among other materials.
So how does the VCI packaging work? When metal items are stored in the packaging, VCIs activate the vapor inside, and VCI ions form a protective shield around the metals, which prevents rust formation and corrosion.
A great example of this is Armor Protective Packaging A30G1010 VCI Paper. Unlike others, this brand offers VCI on both sides of the paper, which makes it much easier to use.
Benefits of Rust Prevention
By preventing rust formation, you are doing yourself (and probably others too) a great service since there are several advantages of preventing rust.
Let’s go ahead and look at these benefits of rust prevention.
Lower Repair Costs
If you actively rust-proof objects like fences, gates, your vehicle, etc., you will end up with fewer maintenance issues. This is because several structural and functional failures occur due to rust build-up. So if you work against rust formation in the first place, then many of these mishaps will not occur.
By reducing the number of repairs, you not only save on cost but on time as well. A few minutes of spraying your car with rust prevention coating can save you days of waiting for your car to be repaired at the garage due to a mechanical failure brought about by corrosion.
The same goes for household items. By being diligent in ensuring, e.g., your metallic kitchenware are always stored dry, you can avoid the hustle of soaking and scrubbing those utensils to remove rust or even the need to replace items that have been too damaged by rust.
Preserved Aesthetic Value
We all agree that rust does not look pretty on items. By preventing rust formation, you can easily preserve the beauty of an object. Hence you get to enjoy using such objects for a longer time.
Higher Resale Value of Items
If you plan on reselling, say your car, it will fetch you a much better price if it’s free of rust.
When buyers spot rust on an item you’re trying to sell them, it gives the impression that the item is too worn out or hasn’t been well maintained, and so is bound to have many other problems.
This will either put them off completely, making you lose potential buyers. If not, you won’t have much of a bargaining power hence having to settle for a much lower price than you hoped for.
Also, a rust-free car has its beauty preserved as we’ve mentioned above, and so can command a higher resale value.
Rust-proofing can greatly boost the safety of using a small object or a big structure.
If you thought rusting is just a small inconvenience on metal items, think again. Several famous bridges collapsed, e.g., the “Silver Bridge” that was reported to have been caused by corrosion. And even if rust wasn’t the only cause, it definitely played a big role in weakening those structures.
This means that there’s a crucial benefit of preventing rust formation or removing rust from objects as soon as they start forming.
Preventing rust can also help protect and preserve the environment by reducing waste. This is because rust-free objects can be recycled instead of being discarded as waste.
Metallic parts that have no more use in a given structure can be reused for another construct if they are still in good shape and free from rust.
Also, by rust-proofing items, you can use them for a much longer time without the need for replacement.
Longer Life Cycle
Rust-free items can last longer, both structurally and functionally.
Actually, all the benefits we’ve listed can be summed up into this one advantage. Since rust-proofing can reduce repair costs, it will make economic sense for you to make the few repairs on an item rather than go out to buy a replacement. So you’ll end up using the item for a longer time.
Likewise, by preserving the beauty of a metal object through rust prevention, you’ll be more confident using, say, that car, for a longer time since it will still be looking almost as good as new.
Also, because a rust-free object can fetch a better resale value, that means a buyer would be more willing to purchase it and continue using it and extend its life cycle even further.
Removing Rust from Metal
So, what if you have items already covered in rust, is it the end of them? Or is there a way to salvage the situation? Absolutely, there are several ways you can remove rust from metallic objects.
Here are a few homemade remedies you can use, especially for household items and tools covered in rust.
Dip in White Vinegar
This method is ideal for small items that can easily fit into a container.
Put some white vinegar in a container. Submerge the rust-covered items and leave them to stand overnight. If the objects are too big to be submerged, you can soak pieces of rags in the white vinegar and cover the rusted areas.
After standing overnight, remove the items and scrub away using a metal brush or steel wool.
This is one of the easiest ways of removing rust because the white vinegar does all the magic while you’re asleep. You only need to scrape out the rust, which is quite easy to do after the vinegar bath.
Use Baking Soda
If the rust is not too much, this is the method you may want to try out.
Clean the object and let it dry. Sprinkle baking soda all over the item and let it stand for one hour or so. After that, use steel wool or a metal brush to scrub away the rust.
For more information about removing rust with baking soda, check this article.
Apply Lemon and Salt
This is a convenient method seeing that it uses common items that you probably already have at home. But note that this will mostly work when removing small stains of rust that are less stubborn. You can apply this method, for example, to clean out rusted kitchenware like knives, spoons, or forks.
So, the first thing to do is coat the area that has rust with a generous amount of salt. Next, cut a lemon or lime and squeeze out its juice onto the salt layer. Let this set-up stand for a few minutes then scrub out the rust using the rind.
Since the salt and lemon mixture is not very abrasive, you may not get out all the rust on the first try. So repeat the process until all the rust is cleared. Wash the item and dry it.
Submerge in Citric Acid Solution
Citric acid has similar properties to lemon but much more concentrated. You may not have citric acid lying around in your kitchen, but the good thing is that you can easily buy some at a store near you or online. Check out Milliard Citric Acid.
Begin by putting some hot water in a container. At least a few inches deep is enough to make sure the item you want to clean will be submerged. Add about 2 to 3 tablespoons of citric acid. Stir to dissolve.
Submerge the item inside the bath and leave it there overnight. Remove the item in the morning and scrub off any remaining rust using a brush. Rinse and dry your rust-free item.
Rust Prevention: Summary
In conclusion, rust, the orange-brown substance that eats away at iron-containing metals, can cause several problems. These include weakening structures, creating a health hazard, and interfering with the normal functioning of an object like electricity conduction or magnetism. This is why rust prevention is so important.
You can prevent rusting by painting, coating metal with rust-proofing powder or bluing steel, applying oil or grease, galvanization, using alloys, or storing items in VCI packaging.
But in case rust has already formed, you can still remove it using some simple homemade remedies, e.g., soaking in white vinegar or citric solution, applying lemon, or using baking powder.
At the end of the day, you can enjoy the benefits of rust-proofing objects, which include environment preservation through waste reduction, getting higher resale value for items, preserving the appearance of objects, among others.