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How To Clean Rusty Hand Tools

Last updated on February 26th, 2024.

Buying good tools for your day to day work can be quite expensive. Learning how to clean rusty hand tools like pliers, wire strippers, screw drivers, and hammers will help you save money.

Neglecting routine care and maintenance means even the best tools can fall prey to rust, diminishing their performance and undermining your investment.

Rusty tools are ineffective and very hard to work with. Tools that have movable joints like pliers and wire cutters are particularly the most prone.

Rust build up will clog the hinges and joints making them harder to open or sometimes immovable.

Seeing rust on your tools? The fix is simpler than you think: a thorough clean and lubrication.

Rusty tools can be cleaned to get rid of the rust and any dirt on the surface to make them useful again. Here is a guide that will teach you how to easily lubricate and clean rusty hand tools at home.

How To Clean Rusty Hand Tools and Keep Them Lubricated

Depending on the degree of rust on the items you want to clean, there are a range of cheap home supplies that you can use to clean you badly rusted tools.

Some of the items required are cheaply available at grocery stores and Home Depot.

What you’ll need to pick up:

  • White vinegar
  • Salt
  • A metal brush
  • Rust Inhibitor like (WD 40 or Boeshield T9)
  • Scouring Pad like Scotch Brite or Steel wool
  • Anti-rust agent ( a gallon of Evapo-rust in this case)
  • A detergent

The steps involved in cleaning the tool will be influenced by the degree of rusting on the tool. Depending on how long the tool has been left exposed to open air and moisture the severity of the rusting differs.

Some tools have rust that has eaten deep into the surface of the metal, while some rust is just on the surface.

Below are the two methods that can help you get rid of any rust on the surface and joints of your hand tools.

For Light Rust

clean rusty hand tools

Step 1. Mix two handfuls of white vinegar in a bucket of water and dip the pliers, wire cutters, or any rusty hand tool in the mixture.

Cover the bucket and let it settle for about six hours.

Step 2. After six hours, add about 500g of table salt.

Table salt increases the ability of the vinegar to get rid of the rust. Add it in the mixture and stir properly. Now you can cover the bucket again and let the tools and mixtures stay overnight for 24hrs.

Though vinegar takes its time to combat rust, its effectiveness is unparalleled.

Step 3. After letting it stay in the vinegar mixture overnight, a rusty paste will have formed on the tool. Gently scrub the surface of the metal with a metal brush or a scouring pad like Scotch Brite or steel wool.

The rust should come off easily leaving behind a shiny metallic surface.

If you notice that there are still remnants of rust on the surface after scrubbing thoroughly, then try this second method to get rid of the rust totally

For Badly Rusted Tools

clean rusty hand tools

This method is for clean rusty hand tools that have been exposed to moisture for long periods and have badly rusted.

Step 1. Wash the hand tool thoroughly with water and a detergent to get rid of any dirt on the surface of the metal.

Step 2. It is time to use the Evapo-rust.

Evapo-rust is a heavy duty rust remover that works to remove any rust of any degree. Pour the Evapo-rust in a container that has a lid and dip the hand tools you wish to clean and get rid of the rust. Cover up the mixture and cover the container. If the metal is badly rusted, let it stay overnight.

Step 3. Uncover the lid and rinse the hand tools to get off excess Evapo-rust.

Pour back the used Evapo-rust into the container so that you can reuse it again and again. Your tool will be clean and all the rust will be gone. Rinse it with clean water.

After getting rid of rust and thoroughly cleaning your tools, it’s important to spray them with a rust inhibitor, grease the moving parts and store them properly. Spray your hand tools with a good rust inhibitor like Boeshield T9 or WD 40.

Best Way To Lubricate Your Tools

clean rusty hand tools and lubricate

3-In-One multi-purpose drip oil is a trusted tool used by electricians for years – and it’s what I use on my hand tools.

It was designed to not only clean, lubricate moving parts, and protect tools; but also to prevent rust as well.

3-IN-ONE’s versatile multi-purpose drip oil has been a trusted tool used by professional tradesmen since 1984

Here’s a breakdown of what 3-In-One oil does:

  • It’s a multi-purpose lubricant reduces that friction and silences squeaky parts
  • The oil penetrates into tight spaces to release parts that have been rusted together
  • The lubricant removes dirt and grime leaving you with a clean tool

Make sure you lubricate the moving joints of all your hand tools. This helps maintain the each tool’s effectiveness.

Stop Using WD-40 To Lubricate Your Tools

clean rusty hand tools with wd40

For as long as you can probably remember WD-40 has been used to “lubricate” everything. Well, I’m about to blow your mind.

Contrary to popular belief, WD-40 doesn’t serve as a lubricant.

Say what? I know, I thought the same thing.

WD-40 is actually a fluid that is used as a solvent or rust dissolver that displaces water to prevent corrosion. It can help clean up rust or grime off of tools, engine parts, or other mechanical parts.

The WD stands for “water displacing” and 40 is the number of chemical formulas used before the chemist Norm Larson perfected his methods.

The lubricant-like properties of WD-40 come from dissolving components.

Buuuuuuuut,  the effect doesn’t last, which means you’ll have to repeat the task periodically.

When To Use It

WD-40 can be a good start when you’re trying to clean up rust or other grime on your tools.

But you don’t want to stop there. You’ll want to use true lubricant that is based on silicone, grease, Teflon, or graphite.

Check out this article from Lifehacker about when not to use WD-40.


Keeping your hand tools free from rust isn’t just about restoration; it’s about ensuring peak performance with each use through diligent cleaning and lubrication. By cleaning your hand tools after you use your investment will last you a long time.

Did I miss something? Be sure to leave a comment.

About Thomas Hawkins

I run Electrician Apprentice Headquarters, a one-stop-shop for learning how to become a licensed electrician in the USA. I'm a licensed Master Electrician with over 20 years experience working in the Mining & Construction industries. Why do I do it? Well, because even plumbers need heroes.

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