How to Clean Rusty Cabinet Hinges

Steel cabinet door hinges are prone to rusting, especially in bathroom and kitchen cabinets which are exposed to humidity and quite a bit of wear and tear. To keep cabinet hinges working smoothly and looking new, one should clean them once a year, perhaps even more often if you live near the ocean!

Scrub rusty cabinet hinges with a salt and lemon juice paste or with steel wool and white vinegar.  Remove any remaining spots with grade 0000 steel wool. Wipe the hinges clean with rubbing alcohol and coat in a thin layer of mineral oil to protect them from future rust.

There are several rust removal products available on the market, of which WD-40 is the most famous, but you can also clean your rusty cabinet hinges with just a few common things that you probably already have at home. The secret ingredient is chemistry! Let us first look at what rust is, why and how it forms.

What Is Rust?

Rust, also known as iron oxide, forms due to a chemical reaction between oxygen, water and iron in ferrous metal alloys, like steel. Rust causes metal to first discolor and then slowly decompose. The chemical reaction is not reversible and the only way to get rid of rust is by removing it – chemically with an acid, and physically with an abrasive.

Why Rusty Cabinet Hinges Need to Be Cleaned

When metals rust, it initially affects the surface only. This superficial rust just looks bad, but is not too problematic for the hinge, apart from the aesthetic.

Rust quickly spreads and can penetrate all the way through, corroding the hinge and weakening the structural strength. Hinges on cabinets that are frequently opened, like the kitchen pantry, take a fair amount of stress. Over time, due to wear, rusted hinges will break and need to be replaced. To prevent this, clean hinges regularly and eliminate rust before it gets too bad.

Beware of old rusty hinges with sharp edges! If you cut yourself, the rust can enter your bloodstream and cause tetanus poisoning! You will need to go to the hospital for an injection.

Now that we have established why it is important to make the effort to clean rusty cabinet hinges, let us learn how to harness the power of chemical reactions to rid hinges of rust!

3 Easy Ways to Remove Rust From Cabinet Hinges

Lemon and Salt

Who would have thought that fish and chips seasoning can fix rusty hinges?

  1. After unscrewing the hinges and removing them from the cabinets, mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (fresh or bottled) with enough table salt to form a paste.
  2. Using a clean, dry cloth rub the paste onto the rusted hinges.
  3. Lemon juice is acidic (hence its sour taste) and chemically reacts with the rust to break it down. The salt helps to scrub the rust off of the metal because it is abrasive.
  4. It may take a while and you may need to mix up another batch of lemon-salt paste,  but keep scrubbing until all the rust is gone.
  5. Use ultra-fine steel wool (grade 0000) to remove any stubborn bits of rust, then polish the hinges to give them a smooth finish.
  6. Wipe the hinges with a clean cloth dampened in rubbing alcohol to remove any debris or dust from polishing.
  7. Use another clean cloth to apply mineral oil to the hinges in a thin layer. This will prevent the hinges from rusting in future.
  8. Reattach the hinges to the doors and cabinets and marvel at what a difference clean cabinet hardware makes!

Vinegar and Steel Wool

Vinegar contains acetic acid, which will break rust down chemically, even more effectively than lemon juice, which contains slightly weaker citric acid.

  1. After unscrewing and removing the cabinet hinges, dip steel wool in white vinegar and scrub the rusty hinges until they are clean.
  2. When all the rust has been removed, wash the hinges in water and dish detergent, and allow them to dry thoroughly.
  3. Using a clean cloth, apply a thin layer of mineral oil to the hinges.
  4. Reattach your good-as-new looking hinges!

The Cola Method

Here’s how to clean rusty cabinet hinges with coke products:

  1. After removing the hinges, scrub the first layer of rust away with steel wool.
  2. Submerge the hinges in a container of cola (any carbonated, sugary drink will do) and leave it for 12-24 hours.
  3. The carbonic acid in the cola dissolves the rust. Check on the progress of the reaction every few hours.
  4. When all the rust has been removed, clean the hinges with dish detergent and water, let them dry and coat in a thin layer of mineral oil using a clean cloth.
  5. Reattach the hinges and tell everyone about your new-found life hack!

Tips for Cleaning Cabinet Hinges

  • When unscrewing the hinges, put all the screws together in a container to prevent losing them.
  • If the hinges are so rusty that you cannot get the screws out, spray the hinges and screws with WD40, let this sit for 15-30 minutes, and try unscrewing them again. WD40 is an oil-based lubricant that is designed to dissolve rust.
  • After removing cabinet doors, label them using masking tape or sticky notes to keep track of which side goes up and which doors belong to which cabinets.
  • If you want to give your shiny metal cabinet hinges a contemporary update, spray paint them black after cleaning the rust off. The paint will protect the metal from rusting again and your cabinets will get a stylish update.

Do I Have to Remove the Hinges From the Cabinets to Clean Them?

If hinges have not been cleaned for years and are covered in rust and grime, there is no way around it, you will have to take apart the cabinet doors to isolate the rusty hinges for cleaning. This is why it is recommended to clean cabinet hinges regularly by wiping them down with a mixture of water and mild detergent.

If cabinet hinges are just starting to rust in one or two places, it may be okay to scrub those spots with vinegar and steel wool without removing the hinges. Remember to wipe away debris and dust with a little rubbing alcohol and a soft cloth. You do run the risk of missing some rust spots, so you will need to keep checking on your cabinet hinges to ensure more rust does not spread.

To be on the safe side, it is recommended to remove the hinges from cabinets when you are deep cleaning them.

Do All Hinges Rust?

Normal steel hinges generally rust easily, especially on doors or cabinets that are outdoors, or if you live near the sea, where the air is full of salt and moisture (rust’s favorite conditions). If you are tired of deep cleaning your rusty hinges, you should consider replacing them with hinges made of a more rust-resistant material.

Galvanized steel hinges take much longer to rust, but even better than them are stainless steel hinges, which are designed not to rust. Of course, the latter option is more expensive than the former.

Brass, a metal alloy of bronze and copper, does not rust and is a very durable material for hinges. They are more expensive than coated steel hinges, but will almost certainly last a lifetime.

Conclusion

When giving rusty cabinet hinges a deep clean, it is always a good idea to remove the hinges from the cabinet so that they can be cleaned thoroughly. Use WD-40 if the hinges are so rusted that the screws are stuck. Rusty hinges can be scrubbed with a lemon juice and salt paste, or with steel wool dipped in white vinegar. Cola can also be used to soak the hinges in to dissolve rust.

After cleaning the scrubbed hinges with a clean cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol, or with water and dish detergent, get them dry thoroughly before coating them in a thin layer of mineral oil to protect them from rusting in future.

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