The Secret Weapon Against Rust On Your Metal Tools Is Hiding In Your Laundry Room

Anyone who has ever owned a metal tool is familiar with rust: its appearance is unmistakable, and the orangish-brown spots often begin to spread quickly over the surface, making it challenging to prevent metal from rusting. Not only is rust unsightly, but it also can cause irreparable damage to metal over time unless adequately treated. To remove rust buildup on metal tools, you will need only a few supplies: borax, lemon juice, and a cloth.

If your metal tools have begun to show the telltale signs of rust damage, there's no time to lose. Create your rust-busting cleaner by mixing two parts borax powder with one part lemon juice until you have a runny but workable paste. Apply the mixture to the rusty surface of your tool and leave it for roughly 30 minutes (the exact time will vary, depending on the severity of the rust buildup). Once the paste has done its work, you should be able to wipe away the rust with a cloth or brush. Finish by thoroughly washing the metal tool before drying it and putting it away.

Why borax and lemon juice work

Rust is an inevitable part of life for most iron-containing metals. This corrosion occurs when moisture and oxygen are present on the surface of the metal, resulting in the flaky substance known as rust or, more technically, iron oxide. The whole rust situation is also mainly made unavoidable because metal tools are almost always exposed to moisture and oxygen — whether it is a knife in the kitchen or a trowel that you use in the moist garden soil. 

While the corrosive buildup can be difficult to remove when using the wrong approach (such as pure elbow grease), it is made easier with common kitchen ingredients that clean rust stains, such as borax and lemon juice. In the chemical magic of rust removal, borax creates a protective oxide layer to slow the accumulation of more rust on the metal item. In contrast, the lemon juice's acidity lifts away the existing rust, leaving a clean surface. 

Proactive rust prevention

Since rust will occur when metal is exposed to air and water, keeping this corrosive activity at bay is a somewhat uphill battle. It is, however, one that you should be committed to fighting, as unfettered rust will — over time — transform your once resilient metal tool into a brittle and flaky shell of itself. The best way to prevent rust from accumulating on your metal tools is to keep them stored in dry conditions, such as in a shed or garage. The less moisture they are exposed to, the more slowly the rust will take hold. 

Additionally, once you have finished using your tools, wash them well and dry them thoroughly. If you need a little extra protection, some multipurpose oil spread over the rust-prone surfaces will create a natural barrier between the air and the metal, giving you more time. Whenever you find rust growth too out of control, bust out the old borax and lemon juice approach or try another easy hack to eliminate rust and renew your pieces before they become too corroded.