So, you started that project in the driveway with the very best of intentions, but then you got distracted. You left the wrenches out because it was such a small fix and you were coming right back to it … only you didn’t. And then it rained. And now you’ve got rusty car tools. Now what?
What Is Rust?
Rust is formed by a chemical reaction between iron, water and oxygen. With water acting as a catalyst, iron atoms (found in different metal alloys, steel especially) lose electrons to oxygen, converting the metal to rust. Given enough time, water and oxygen, iron, and its family of alloys, will completely disintegrate into rust. This is usually a very slow process, especially when other metals such as chromium are added into the mix. Manufacturers use different metal alloys in tools, but they have to be careful not to compromise durability and hardness, and steel is one of the strongest out there. So it’s no surprise that after a few days in the rain, there might be a light layer of rust on your wrench.
Luckily, rust typically does not take over more than the most superficial layer, and therefore can be removed with products currently available on the market. For lightly rusted car tools, rust dissolver gel is a quick and easy solution. The chemical makeup of the gel dissolves the iron oxide compound of rust, leaving the metal underneath fully intact.
For proper application, all you have to do is brush the gel onto the affected areas, taking care to get in any pitted spots. Let it sit for 5–10 minutes, then wash off with water. The process is a much faster and simpler one than the alternative of scraping or sanding. For stubborn spots, you can reapply immediately, or let it sit a little longer. Just be careful with any plated surfaces or chrome — don’t leave on for more than five minutes. Also, avoid getting the gel on painted surfaces, which could fade if they come into contact with it for extended periods of time.
The gel also helps prevent future rusting by creating a protective barrier between the iron and surrounding oxygen. That way, even if you do forget them in the rain again, rust will be much slower to form. Of course the best preventative measure is to keep tools stored in a clean, dry area.
The big takeaway here is that if you do find your tools rusted, it’s not necessarily time to replace them. As long as the rust hasn’t penetrated several layers and is not flaking apart at the touch, then the structural integrity is not compromised, and you’re looking at purely cosmetic damage. Dissolver gel saves you time and energy, and protects against future rusting. It’s well worth the 10 minutes it takes to restore your tools to their prior glory.
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Photo courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.