Removing Rust Easily and Effectively

Rust is possibly one of the most difficult stains to remove from clothes or other household items. Some of the more common causes for rust on our items can range from a metal ring on a can that got wet and sat on a towel or maybe laying a sweater on a metal outdoor chair that has collected water.

Rust is the result of iron and oxygen reacting to each other in the presence of moisture or water. With exposure to water or moisture iron will corrode, causing red, rusty marks on anything it comes in contact with. It is an infrequent and unfortunate occurrence but how do you get those pesky stains out once they show up?

In the commercial cleaning world, we had a product called Erusticator with a huge skull and crossbones on the side to let you know that was scary stuff. You were even required to use a neutralizer after you were finished to flush out the harsh chemical and not eat the material you were working on. Serious stuff that is not available to the general population. So how do we deal with these types of stains at home? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Lemon juice and steam

To remove rust from aged or vintage materials that are more fragile like a table covering or heirloom top, the process needs to be a little less abrasive. On any article that is 100% white cotton, simply open the fabric into a single layer and liberally squeeze lemon juice over the affected areas and stretch it taught over a pot of steaming water. Allow the water to boil for about 10 minutes, then check to see if the stain has lifted. Be careful on colored items, the lemon juice may affect the color. Rinse the area with water and repeat again if necessary.

2. Lemon juice and coarse salt

Liberally apply coarse salt over the rust spots. Over a big bowl in the sink or in a utility sink, rub a half of lemon over the salt in a circular motion while gently squeezing some of the juice onto the stain as well. The friction from the lemon rubbing over the salt will lift the rust stain out, while the juice can penetrate the fibers getting all the way through the fabric. Wash garments as instructed on the label when you have removed the stain. This process can also work on metal scissors or other tools that have been out in the weather and became rusty.

3. Vinegar

Lemon juice works well on rust when the items you are working with are white cotton. But, for a color safe option, turn to good old white vinegar. This may take a little longer than the methods mentioned above, but the results are still promising. Simply saturate a cotton ball with the vinegar and carefully dab on the rust marks on your colored garments or textiles. The acid in the vinegar will break down the rust. You may let this set over a decent period of time to allow the chemical process to work. Once you are happy with the outcome, simply wash and dry as directed.

If you have rust on outdoor furniture coverings or pillows, use the above mentioned processes but to dry the area quickly you will need to use a hair dryer on the affected area to ensure no yellow ring is left where you treated the stain. The ring will occur when the fabric is not dried quick enough after the initial treatment.

White vinegar will also remove rust from small tools left in the rain or a damp shed as well. Fill a bucket or small pail with the rusty tools and allow them to soak overnight. Pull them out in the morning and wipe with paper towels. Good as new!!

sliced lemon beside sliced lemon on white textile
Lemons are a good DIY trick used for rust removal . Photo by Polina Kovaleva on