accessoriesbarb blairbefore & after basics

before and after basics: rust removal

by Barb

I have always been a lover of rust, patina, character and charm when it comes to the things I surround myself with . . . and I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone here! I love the colors and textures that age gives to pieces of the past, but there are times when rust inhibits the beauty of a piece or is harmful to the future of a beloved heirloom. Today on Before & After Basics, I will present some simple steps for putting a little love into those rusty spots and making them fresh again. — Barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • wire brush or metal cleaning pad
  • steel wool
  • rust removal kit
  • rags
  • commercial rust cleaner (in this case, use gloves and a mask for protection)
  • baking soda and vinegar (the environmentally friendly way!)


1. First remove all loose rust by scrubbing with a wire brush, steel wool or metal cleaning pad. These will all do the trick for most small- to medium-sized rust projects. You can also purchase rust removal tool kits at your local hardware store for more intense projects.

2. Apply the rust remover of choice to your piece. There are several commercial products that you can use, like Rustaid, but I prefer Naval Jelly. I like the Naval Jelly for its thick, gel-like consistency, which clings to the piece and because it tends to work rather quickly . . . and by quickly, I mean 10 minutes. Then you simply wipe off with a rag. Just make sure that you are either working outside or in a well-ventilated area while using these harsh chemicals. Gloves and a mask are also needed for your protection.

3. There are some home remedies that can be just as effective. A cocktail of white vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice works great for small projects that you can soak. Just place the item in the vinegar solution for about 10 minutes, and then remove and wipe down with a rag or steel wool. Really stubborn stains may require a second soak, and for larger items that you can’t soak, just scrub them down with the vinegar solution, wait 10 to 20 minutes, and then give them a once over with a wire brush. For really tough stains, this will take some elbow grease!

4. After all of the rust has been dissolved and removed, make sure to protect your item using a finishing wax, or paint it with a rust-free primer and paint.

The thing to remember about rust removal is that even though there are only a few simple steps to this project, it is a messy job that takes patience and sweat to accomplish. It will come off, and some things quicker than others, but don’t give up! If you research this topic at all on the Internet, there are several different products and approaches to removing rust, but those mentioned above are the ones that I have found get the job done the best . . . for me. Happy scrubbing!

Rust removal tools photo via Smart Shop Buy; Naval Jelly photo via Home Depot

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  • I was just talking to a friend about this because I have an old Schwinn that I want to redo this summer.
    Thanks for the info.

  • Hey Barb, I just wanted to say that while I don’t often comment on your series, I save each and every post for future reference. I love these how-tos. Thanks for putting so much effort into them!

  • I love this!! Thank you so much for the tutorial. I love the rust look also but there are some things I just need to remove it from. Can’t wait to try this out!

  • This is a very handy post indeed. A refurbished bike is almost better than a brand new one because you’ve spent time and care on it… thus making you prouder to ride it!

  • this is such a great post and my ladies frame has a bit of rust and i would love to spruce that lady up!


  • Great post!

    Another handy tip for the home remedy route is to use Tin Foil dipped in White Vinegar and rub it on rust spots. (for small projects that are too big to be soaked)

    I used this method on my rusty handlebars for my vintage Raleigh & it worked wonders. Apparently it creates a nice little reaction with the tin foil, vinegar and rust. Just wipe down after with a damp cloth.


  • Hello!! I’m from Argentina and I just love this blog!! I just bought an old, like really old (30 years old) Bertoia Chair. This is because here new ones are really hard to kind or cost lots of $$$$. The thing is that the crome on the chair is a bit rusty and old…I was wondering if this would work or you have better ideas on how I can bring back to life this amazing chair. Thanks!!

  • Request: Please do a Before & After Basics post on how to paint laminate surfaces. My kitchen is a ’70s laminate cabinet nightmare but I’d like to paint instead of replace – to save my wallet and the addition to the landfill! Thanks for considering!

  • Thank you thank you soo much for this! I’ve been researching how to remove rust from this great small cabinet piece I bought a few months back but I’ve been so nervous to try anything but when I see it on my trusted Design*Sponge I know I’m in good hands. I’ll definitely have to give this a try.

  • All great tips!

    Another handy tip for those light rust spots on chrome, nickel or stainless steel pieces is to simply use a high quality metal polish (Weiman’s, if you can find it is excellent) and an old sock. It will remove the rust without any scratching from abrasives like steel wool and actually remove lots of fine scratches all over as well. But obviously this approach is for very light spots, not heavy rust.

  • I learned a great trick from the upholstering mavens at Spruce Upholstery for bringing the shine back to cruddy chrome: Bon Ami and elbow grease. And Bon Ami is eco-friendly, too!

  • Just thought I’d point out another alternative for those not excited about the time and energy involved with the above method. If you are looking to completely restore a rusted surface, it may be useful to seek out a sand blasting facility.

    I once bought an eames wire chair that was a bit too rusty. I had it sandblasted and powder coated and it looks perfect. I know a lot of my friends have done this to bike frames they bought on CL, but just wanted to change the color.

  • hi,
    Awesome post!! I have an old rail cart that I am starting to refinish, and this is super helpful…I have one question though- do you recommend a particular brand of finishing wax for say, an iron wheel? :)

  • when i was little my dad taught me how to remove the rust from my bike with coca-cola. made me think twice about what it does to teeth!

    • liz, totally! oh my goodness….scary :)

      dominique, My absolute favorite brand is Fiddes, and for protection/finish purposes only I would use the clear

      nancy, I love the spruce girls!…thanks for the extra tip!

      veronica, these processes will work on your chair, but if you feel like it is more than you can handle, then I would check into having it sand blasted. It will look brand new again!

      kristan, thank you so much girl! you are so sweet to let me know ! So glad these have been helpful for you!

      thanks to all for your sweet words, good luck with all of your projects!

  • Great tips; I have used lemon juice and steel wool for small projects like my vintage chocolate molds; I was recommended also Coca Cola instead of lemon juice.

  • I have been restoring old bicycles for years Many times tin foil removes most of the rust.

  • One of the best tips I have ever used: just wad up a piece of tin foil. I got that tip from a guy who restores vintage cars with LOTS of rust and chrome and it worked WONDERS. I restored a gorgeous (but very rusty) antique pram and that was the only thing I used. Try it!

  • To Sarah E: I refinished a laminate counter in my bathroom by sanding it first to give it some “tooth”, priming with Kilz, then a semi-gloss cabinet paint. I probably should have given it some coats of poly too, but didn’t. It has held up well for 12 years now considering I used acrylic paints instead of oil. The counter is just starting to need touch-ups on the edge where it gets the most wear. We plan to remodel someday, but this has bought some time. Also, remember to use a gentle spray cleaner, no abrasives or scrubbing!

    Barb – Thanks for all your tutorials. I refurbish furniture too, but always learn something new reading your posts. I look forward to each one.

  • Another note: My grandfather , a traditional farmer, always used boiled linseed oil to treated de-rusted tools . Seems like it would work great on outdoor furniture and bikes too.

  • I third the foil suggestion! I used it with a little white vinegar, but I’ve heard cocoa cola works, too.

    The metal legs of my mid-century hutch look a million times better after that treatment, and I didn’t have to buy any new supplies.

  • Just wanted to through in another suggestion for an awesome rust removal/prevention products…

    {I had posted it here a while back: http://fortheloveofbikes.blogspot.com/2009/07/art-of-bike-maintenance-rust-remover.html

    Hey, particularly for the year-round bike commuter rust is an issue.

    Boeing originally developed Boeshield T-9 for the airline industry but fortunately for us it is available to the public! Their “Rust Free” product works miracles and takes just seconds to penetrate and remove the worst rust – honestly. You can THEN apply the waterproof Boeshield T-9 to prevent future rusting.

    After my beater commuter bike had accumulated four seasons of being neglected outside it worked so well in seconds that I ran around the apartment removing every bit of rust everywhere.

    Fun stuff!

  • Golden Grain or any type of high grain alcohol(180 proof) is great for removing rust.

    Also when removing rust from chrome, brass wool is the way to go. It’s very similar to steel wool but just made of brass so it doesn’t scratch the chrome.

  • Best thing I have used is this “rust converter” you can get at auto-parts stores. Not your typical ones, but think like the places that custom mix paint. The one I use is POR-15, but I presume there are others.

    You just scrape away the loose stuff, and paint it on. Ends up being painted black, and not rusty.

    Some weird chemistry is going on. If you get a drop of it on the edge of the can lid, it never comes off again. And no way can you re-use a brush. Give it a shot.

  • Naval Jelly is very toxic, there is safer ways of battling rust. I restore cars and old bikes. Rust Terminator is a great product and it’s non-toxic

  • i have a new glass hot i have few brown marks on it,i am worried what 2 use on it dont want to scratch it,can any one help please?