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Should I use sandpaper to clean the rust from the tools (e.g. Needle-nose pliers), or can I soak them in vinegar or lemon juice?

Would I be better off just buying new tools (which can be an expensive choice for expensive tools)?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 16 down vote accepted

While I don't use hand tools much, I certainly own a lot of hand tools. This happens when you sell them all day. Norm Abram at This Old House provides some pretty good tips on cleaning rust from tools.

His tips, summarized:

  • First, store tools in a dry drawer or toolbox. Use silica gel packets to keep this place even more dry.

But once rust appears...

  • Spray with a penetrating lubricant such as WD-40 and scrub with a heavy-duty Scotch-Brite pad. Abram is very clear that you should NOT use sandpaper, as it tends to scratch metal.

For seriously rusted tools...

  • "For more heavily rusted metal, try a spray-on, wipe-off, acid-based rust remover like Rust Free. Follow with a rust-inhibitor spray like Boeshield T-9, which leaves a thin, waxy film on the surface. Wipe away any excess immediately."

klein proper use and care of hand tools

Klein makes an excellent guide that covers nearly all hand tools they sell. Check out the free, downloadable PDF "Proper use and care of Hand Tools" available here.

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A upvote for the guide that you provided and marked as answer for the recommendation given. –  Larry Morries Dec 2 '11 at 8:12
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Nice answer. a rusty tool is paramount to treason! lol. I used to be a factory rep for Klein Tools many moons ago, good stuff. Still use many of my 30 year old plus Klein tools every day. But of course, I got a ton of them for free back then. –  shirlock homes Dec 2 '11 at 10:28
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I keep all the silica gel packets that come with pills and electronics and throw them in the tool drawer. –  Chris Cudmore Dec 2 '11 at 13:36
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I've used this stuff; amazing. One of the most amazing products I have ever got my hands on. I had a drill press left in the rain for two years. I soaked the parts in this and restored to near brand new. The original machine marks can still be seen.

http://www.evaporust.com/

Harbor Fright carries gallons for $20. You can reuse it over and over too.

I put some pics up in this old thread: How to clean rust in hard to reach points?

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I've used Evaporust extensively and it's hands down the best rust remover and it's pretty safe to work with as well. Gets in to the nooks and crannies. Ranch supply stores carry it in my area in 5 gallon buckets –  Erikest Feb 3 '12 at 3:30
    
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I've always just used steel wool etc. and elbow grease.

But if you really want to get crafty, pull rust from your tools using electrolysis. Check out ToolNut's step-by-step instructions on how to make a DIY electrolyzer for about $40 at instructables.com.

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This stuff

https://www.google.com/search?gcx=w&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=naval+jelly

is what I was told to use - have yet to try it

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My Dad cleaned up some old rusty planes that my grandfather let rust with naval jelly. They looked awesome when he was done. –  fry.pan Jan 11 '13 at 21:04
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My mom taught me how to use crumpled up aluminum foil dipped in water to scrub away rust spots on chrome. The beauty of this is that the aluminum is softer than the steel, so less scratches. I won't say no scratch marks, because some of the rust particles or chrome flakes might get ground in. Obviously you need to dry your piece thoroughly after using water on it, especially the nooks-and-crannies.

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To clean old rusty tools, old shears, or even old rusty needles, soak them overnight in ketchup. Some may need a second soak. Clean them with hot water and dry them, and apply a thin coat of coconut oil or olive oil. Store in a dry tool box with silica gel; cat litter also works to keep them dry.

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You simply soak the tools in ketchup, no wiping or scrubbing required? –  Tester101 Jan 11 '13 at 16:56
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Vinegar does wonders for rusty tools. Just be sure not to leave it on for too long as it will weaken the metal. I am sure this is the same with other rust removers.

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