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How To Repair & Prevent Rust on Car Tools

If you want to take care of your vehicle in your own garage, you will need an array of car tools. Similar to everything else, your car tools require proper maintenance to stay in good working order without getting rusty. Rust can render a tool useless and worse, can cause them to break entirely. It is dangerous if a rusty tool breaks while in use. 

Car tools replacement can be costly, thus knowing proper tools maintenance to prevent rust in the first place will be very handy. In addition to pro cleaning and storage tips for maximizing the lifespan of car tools, this article will also teach you how to remove rust on car tools and return them to pristine conditions, so that you can save money instead of discarding those rusty tools.

How To Repair & Prevent Rust on Car Tools

There are different methods on restoring rusty tools, so there’s no need to throw them out immediately at the first sign of rust. That said, serious corrosion might form tiny holes in the metal. You’ll definitely want to discard such a tool, since its integrity is now destroyed and if you keep using it, it might break in use, which means your safety is compromised.   

There are two types of car tools, that is hand tools and power tools. Power tools include batteries or come with cords for plugging into power outlets, so you must always remove the batteries and unplug them before submerging them in any kind of rust-removal solution. Apart from that, you can apply the same cleaning solution and procedures to remove rust from car tools.

Sand Away Rust 

If you’re not dealing with serious buildups, trying to sand or scrub the rust away with an appropriate abrasive material might be sufficient to thoroughly remove it. However, if rust has gone unchecked for an extended period, this might only be able to remove some of the rust. That said, trying to give the problem tool a scrub first is always recommended. 

Follow the steps below to sand, scrape or scrub rust from tools\:

Step 1 – Initial cleaning: Before actually trying to scrub or sand off the rust, its’ best to use dishwashing detergent to give your tools a quick cleanse to remove any grease or dirt. This will make scrubbing easier later on. Then rinse the tools, wipe them immediately with a towel and then let them dry completely.

Step 2 – Scrub the rust: The right abrasive materials for this job include sandpaper for sanding, or steel wool and scouring pads for scrubbing. Use your chosen scrubbing tool to scrub the rusty surface. The rule of thumb is to start off the process with the coarser abrasive to remove most of the built-up rust and pockmarks as quickly as possible. Then, move on using a finer abrasive to smooth out any grooves and remove any residue left. 

For serious rust issues: If an initial cleaning and then scrubbing is not effective in removing rust, you might need to bring in a drill-powered wire wheel. You’ll need an electric drill plus some wire wheel brushes that are compatible with the drill, and some paraffin as a cutting lubricant (also called kerosene). First, apply paraffin or kerosene on your rusty tools and let the lubricant coating sit for a few minutes. Then attach the wire wheel to the power drill, use it to buff the tools’ surface to remove the rust. When you’re done buffing, if there’s still some residue left, sand the tools with fine-grain sandpaper to get rid of it.

Baking Soda

remove rust from car tools
Using baking soda to remove rust from car tools. Photo: The Spruce

If you’re not dealing with very serious rust buildup, you can remove smaller areas of rust from your car tools with a safe and universal cleaning solution that can readily be found in your kitchen: baking soda. Baking soda is very effective in softening buildups of rust or dirt and grime around the house. 

For this process, all you need is a brush for scrubbing, and towels for drying the tools at the end. Follow the easy steps below to remove rust from your car tools with baking soda:

Step 1 – Initial cleaning: Same with the process of sanding or scrubbing the rust off, it’s best to prep with an initial cleaning with dishwashing liquids to degrease the tools to make things easier for you later on. Give them a rinse, then wipe them off with a towel and let them dry.

Step 2 – Applying the baking soda paste: Mix baking soda and enough water in a small bowl until they form a paste. Apply the paste generously on the rusted area and let it sit for two hours so that the baking soda has enough time to penetrate deep into the buildup and soften it up. This will loosen up the rust and make scrubbing much easier. If the rust is quite serious, you can let the paste sit for longer or reapply some more after a while.

Step 3 – Scrubbing the tools: Once the paste has had sufficient time to saturate the rust, use a brush to scrub the rust off. 

Step 4 – Rinsing and drying: After you have gotten all of the rust off, rinse your tools to get rid of the buildup as well as the paste, wipe them with a towel and let your tools dry completely before storing them away, so that they won’t rust again any time soon.

Vinegar

If you like the idea of a safe household cleaning solution, but have to deal with large areas of rust, a mixture of vinegar and salt would be a stronger rust removal substance than baking soda. Like baking soda, this mixture also helps soften up the rust, making it easier to scrub the rust off using a brush. And you should already have them in your kitchen.

For this method, you will need a large mixing bowl or a bucket to fully submerge the rusty areas on your tools, enough white vinegar to fill such a container, dishwashing detergent for initial cleaning, some towels for drying, plus a hard, abrasive brush or some steel wool for scrubbing.

The process for rust removal using vinegar and salt is in general quite similar to the process using baking soda:

Step 1 – Initial cleaning: Like the two methods above, start with cleaning your tools with dishwashing detergent to get rid of any dirt, grease or grime to make scrubbing easier. Rinse them off with water, wipe dry with a towel and let them dry.

Step 2 – Mixing the vinegar mixture in the bucket: Place your rusted tools in a bucket. Pour white vinegar into the bucket, mix in 1/4 cup of salt for every liter of vinegar used and stir until fully dissolved. Put your rusty tools in the bucket so that the rusty surfaces are fully submerged in the vinegar solution.

Step 3 – Let the rust sit in the solution: Like with any solution, you need to let it saturate and penetrate the rust to effectively break down or soften up the buildup. In general, you should let the rusty surfaces sit in the vinegar somewhere between one to three days before proceeding with scrubbing. At the end of the day, you can try using a brush to scrub on the rust to see if it’s adequately softened.

Step 3 – Scrubbing the rust areas: After the rust has softened enough, use an abrasive brush, or a metal brush or steel wool to scrub the rust off. If the rust has been sitting in the vinegar for long enough, it should be easy to scrub it off. Otherwise, you can repeat the whole process again, or try the next method below meant for the most stubborn rust.

Step 4 – Rinsing off and drying: After scrubbing, give your tools a rinse to remove anything kicked up from the scrubbing process. Then, use a towel to wipe them clean and let them dry off completely.

For Stubborn Rust: Oxalic Acid

If you’re lucky, you might be able to get rid of the rust using the safe rust removal solutions above. But if they don’t work, you can try oxalic acid on stubborn buildups. This acid is a powerful commercial rust remover meant for serious rust issues. 

For this process, you also need dishwashing liquid for an initial cleaning, some towels to wipe dry the tools, a bucket or a container large enough to fully submerge the rusty areas on your car tools in the oxalic acid solution, plus rubber gloves and goggles for protection, since you’re dealing with a strong acid. You won’t need a brush, since the oxalic acid can dissolve the rust entirely.

The steps are in general similar to the process using the vinegar mixture above, but be extra careful when using oxalic acid:

Step 1 – Initial cleaning: Before you try to remove the rust, start with cleaning your tools with dishwashing detergent to get rid of any dirt, grease or grime to make scrubbing easier. Rinse them off with water, wipe dry with a towel and let them dry.

Step 2 – Put on gloves and goggles: Safety first. Put on your safety accessories before you handle the acid. It’s recommended that you wear thick clothes that cover your whole body, and it’s best to wear old clothes since oxalic acid can bleach and even burn through thin fabrics.

Step 3 – Prepare the solution in a bucket: Fill a bucket or a container large enough to fit your tools with water, so that the rusty areas are fully submerged. For every gallon of water, add three tablespoons of oxalic acid. Carefully stir to mix the mixture, avoid splashing the acid solution out. 

Step 4 – Let the tools sit: Carefully put your rusted tools into the bucket. As with any rust removal solution, you need to let the rust sit in the solution to soften it up. Check the instructions on the oxalic acid product, but for oxalic acid in general, you should wait 20 minutes for the rust to get dissolved. 

Step 5 – Rinsing and drying: After 20 minutes or after checking that the rust has fully dissolved, all you need to do is give your tools a rinse to get rid of any residue and importantly, remove all traces of the acid. Then wipe them with a towel and let them dry completely before storing them away.

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How To Prevent Rust on Car Tools: Maintenance 101

The cheapest, easiest, least time-consuming way to keep your tools in good working condition is to prevent rust from forming in the first place. Like always, prevention is key, and proper maintenance is your best friend. Particularly if you perform a lot of DIY maintenance for your car, you would own an array of tools, which would be expensive. You would want them to stay in tip top shape for a long time.

Below are the easy tips to keep your car tools from rusting and in excellent conditions for years to come:

Wipe down your tools regularly: Leaving grease, dirt or grime on your car tools will speed up the corrosion process, so one simple thing you can do after every car maintenance job is to wipe down your tools thoroughly with an old towel. It’s crucial to remember that before you store your car tools away after a DIY job, make sure to wipe off any debris. If you need to clean or rinse them using some washing detergent, wipe them dry with a towel and let them dry completely before putting them away in a toolbox or storage. 

Inspect for damage: After wiping down your hand tools, while you’re at it, make it a habit to inspect them for any signs of rust or damage that can pose potential danger during use or render the tools less effective, including cracks, splinters or breaks. If you find any damage that compromises the tool’s integrity, best set it aside (with some kind of note) until you can repair or replace it. 

Use a lubricant or rust inhibitor: Once you’ve done with cleaning, checking for any damage and letting the tools dry completely, it’s a good habit to lubricate any tool with adjustable parts with an all-purpose lubricant, like WD-40. This oil can act as a rust inhibitor and help prevent rust and corrosion. 

This is because rust forms when metal is left exposed to both water and oxygen for long enough, and this oil will act as a protective coating that keeps water and oxygen from deteriorating the metal surface.  After your car tools are completely dry, lightly spray them down with the oil, but make sure no oils get on the handles of the tools. Then use an old towel to wipe off excess oil before storing your tools away to best prevent rusting. 

Apply rubber sealant or paint to exposed metal parts: Metal car tools often come with a protective layer of powder-coated paint or chrome to prevent rust, but over time, this coating would deteriorate and become useless. Thus for older tools, you should apply rubber sealant or paint on exposed metal parts to protect them from rust and the negative effects of the elements in general. 

Store your tools in a dry and clean place: No matter how you take care of your tools, or how expensive and rust-resistant they are, you must always store your tools in a dry and clean storage area or toolbox. The “clean” criteria is crucial, as dust can attract moisture. As stressed above, it’s also important to wipe off and let your tools dry completely before putting them into storage.

Keep moisture off storage – Use a dehumidifier or silica gel packs: If you live in humid weather, it’s best to invest in a portable dehumidifier. Typically, if you have a garage, that will be where you store your car tools and other tools and gears in addition to your car, so you get a lot of use out of an affordable dehumidifier. Or else, if you store your car tools in tool boxes that you store inside your home, you can place silica gel packs in the toolbox to prevent excess moisture from building up.

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