Rust in Peace: Cleaning Rusty Metal

By Jason Sandy

metal mudlarking finds

Have you ever tried to remove stubborn rust from your iron beachcombing finds? For years, I didn’t have the patience to clean my rusty finds. During the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020, I finally decided to clean the rusty artifacts that I recovered from the River Thames while mudlarking. Following the advice of my mudlark friends, Monika Buttling-Smith and Nick Stevens, I used these eight easy steps with great success!

steps to remove rust

Step 1: Let the rusty, encrusted objects fully dry out for several weeks or months. It’s a lot easier to remove the rust if the moisture is completely gone.

Step 2: You will need a hammer, flat head screwdriver, wire brush, steel wool, old toothbrush, gloves to protect your hands, and dust mask so you don’t inhale the rusty dust.

Step 3: Use a hammer to gently tap off the encrustation. Large pieces of rust are quite easy to remove if you have let it dry out sufficiently.

how to get rust off beach metal

Step 4: Once you have removed most of the large areas of rust, use the flat head screwdriver to get into the tight areas to gently scrape off the rust.

Step 5: Use a wire brush and steel wool to remove the thin layer of remaining rust from all surfaces. You should be able to see the bare (gray) metal appear from beneath the rust.

Step 6: After rinsing the objects with water, place them in a bath of Evapo-Rust (available for purchase online) for 24 hours. Make sure the objects are completely submerged.

steps for cleaning rusty metal found on beach

Step 7: Rinse off the objects with water and scrub with an old toothbrush. After the objects have completely dried, apply a thin coat of oil, such as WD40, to all surfaces.

Step 8: Remove excess oil. Over time, the metal will darken in color and obtain a nice patina. Your restoration process is complete, and the objects are ready for display!

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This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2021 issue.

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