How to Remove Surface Rust

Rust is cancer for metal and it can be a small annoyance or can even wreck an entire car. Removing heavy rust can be a long, labor intensive job. Surface rust or rust stains can be removed fairly easily if you have the right arsenal of tools or chemicals. Below we put together our top 5 ways to remove surface rust from metal. Whats your favorite? Let us know in the comments!



  1. Abrasive Pad- Often times light surface rust or staining can be removed from the surface with little effort. You can take a scuff pad or steel wool and rub the surface to remove very light surface rust or staining. If you are trying to remove staining from paint we suggest using a very fine steel wool like 0000 grit. This is fine enough it won’t put big scratches in the paint and the cleaned surface can be hand polished with a rubbing compound.
  2. Chemically Remove- There are a lot of different chemicals out there for removing rust and they all have their place. If you have surface rust on bare metal you can apply Fast Etch and let it sit on the surface. This will allow you to rub or wipe the rust off if it is light and the metal will be etched and ready for a primer or paint to seal it back up. Fast Etch and other heavy duty rust removers have a phosphoric acid in them that could harm paint, chrome, or fabric so we suggest taping off or covering any of those areas nearby. If you want to use something more gentle a Rust Dissolver allows you to dip or saturate the metal and remove the rust without an harmful acids. This will leave virgin clean metal and the area will need to be cleaned and primed immediately. Some rust dissolvers are safe to use on a mixed surface that has paint and bare metal covered in surface rust.
  3. Abrasive Blasting- If the surface rust is bordering on being more severe or it covers a large area you may be better to media blast it and get the area perfectly clean in one swift motion. Media blasting will normally remove ALL coatings and requires a primer or sealer to keep the metal from flash rusting. We also offer small spot blasters than work well if you’re attacking a confined area.
  4. Mechanical Removal- This method would be using a sander, grinder, or other abrasive removal tool. The severity of the surface rust will tell you what tool to use. A simple DA sander with sandpaper can remove light surface rust pretty easily, but it’s slow if you’re working a large area. A grinder with a flap disc will remove rust quickly, but can remove metal too and is only suggest to for heavy flaky rust. If you need to quickly do a large area we suggest using our Contour SCT with the wide drums. The SCT can strip 3″+ patches in one pass.
  5. Electrolytic Rust Removal- This method will make you feel more like a chemist or myth-buster than a weekend warrior; but can be an affordable solution if you have the means. This method involves using a battery or battery charger, a bucket, a sacrificial piece of metal for an anode, and a cleaner of your choice (baking soda is a simple one). The electrical current causes your part to push or soften the rust without any sanding or damage to the surface. There are a number of tutorials online that show the process if you want to learn more.

Whatever method you choose, always remember that you need to primer or seal the surface up so that future rust can’t come back. We offer a full line of rust solutions here:

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