How to Remove Rust from a Car and Keep It Off For Good

Feb 02, 2024


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Rust is one of the most common issues that cars experience as they get older. The elements slowly eat away at the exterior layers of paint and primer, exposing the metal underneath and causing it to corrode. This guide will show you how to remove rust from a car and keep it off with some simple preventative maintenance.

How to Remove Rust

Before we get into the specific rust removal methods, you first need to determine the severity of the issue. There are two types of rust — scale rust and penetrating rust. Scale rust is more serious because it pits into the car’s metal and forms rough scales. These scales are usually impossible to remove without professional help.

Penetrating rust isn’t quite as serious, but it still eats through the car’s metal and creates small holes. In most cases you can cover the holes with patch panels, but sometimes you have to replace the entire part to stop the rust from spreading.

Rusty car sitting in junkyard

Hopefully the rust on your car hasn’t gotten this severe yet and you can simply apply some cleaning solutions. Here’s how to remove rust from your car with some common household items. 

1. When in Doubt, Use WD40

When in doubt, you can always rely on WD40 to fix rusted panels and assist with many other DIY car repairs you might want to try. It can remove rust from iron, chrome and steel without discrimination. All you need to do is apply the WD40 to the rust spot, let it soak for 15 minutes, and wipe it off with a microfiber towel. 

2. Use a Rust Converter

Rust converters are chemical cleaning solutions that convert iron oxide into ferric phosphate, a a black or blue non-porous substance that protects the targeted area from further corrosion. It essentially neutralizes the rust and prevents it from spreading to other areas. It also acts as a primer, so you can paint over it once the solution is dry. 

3. Scrub It Off With Soda

Soda isn’t the best cleaning solution for dealing with rust, but it can get the job done in a pinch.  Soda’s carbonation enables it to dissolve metal oxides, which means it can slowly break down rust’s chemical composition over time. The dissolution process will be slow, but using a cleaning brush will accelerate the rust’s removal. 

4. Spray Some Citric Acid

Citric acid is another household cleaning product that can remove rust from a car. Since it comes in powder form, you need to add a few tablespoons to warm water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution on the rusted area and scrub hard with a brush or sponge. Lemon juice and orange juice are also viable alternatives, but pure citric acid is the best option. 

5. Soak the Rust in Vinegar

Vinegar is a combination of acetic acid and water, so it does a decent job dissolving bacteria and other contaminants. However, it’s not as effective as other chemical cleaners. You’ll need to soak the rusted area with vinegar for at least 24 hours, then scrub it off with a strong brush. You might have to repeat this process several times to remove every bit of rust.

6. Scrape It Off With Sandpaper

If none of the above chemical cleaners solved your rust problem, then you should try using sandpaper or sanding tools. Orbital sanders and disc sanders are the most powerful, but sanding sponges, blocks and pens are the easiest to use. In any case, the sander’s coarse fabric will cut through the rust’s iron oxide and remove it piece by piece. 

Just be sure to wear gloves and eye protection and work in a well-ventilated area. Sanding will produce small flakes of rust, which you obviously don’t want to inhale or ingest.

7. Switch to Steel Wool

If you don’t want to use sanding tools, a chunk of steel wool will achieve similar abrasive effects. However, it needs to be a premium non-plastic steel wool product. Plasticized steel wool will fall apart after heavy use, but non-plastic steel wool will stick together. Get the strongest, coarsest steel wool you can possibly find and scrub off that rust for good.

How to Prevent Rust in the First Place

Now that you know how to remove rust from a car, it’s time to go over some simple precautionary measures. Here’s how you can prevent rust from appearing in the first place and keep your car looking new.

1. Wash Your Car Often

Washing your car often is the simplest way to prevent rust. You might think that the extra water exposure will create rust more quickly, but that’s not the case. Rust appears more quickly when dirt, grime, salt and other corrosive substances are in the mix. Plus, your car is constantly exposed to moisture anyway. It might as well be clean water instead of dirty water.

Man washing black car with soap and sponge

A high-pressure car wash is key for rust removal purposes. A pressure washer or high-speed hose will help you target specific areas and cut through surface-level stains, removing all traces of the aforementioned contaminants.

2. Follow the Inspection Schedule

The next key to preventing rust is following your car’s inspection schedule. Rust is easily fixable if you catch it early on. Paint damage is the first warning sign that you must address. Your car’s seals, drain holes and water channels are the most likely areas to develop rust. Additionally, if your car vibrates while driving it could be a sign of rust on the driveshaft.

3. Wax Your Car

Wax is a great additional protective layer for your car’s paint, blocking out moisture and debris so the metal underneath stays in good condition. As a general rule, you should wax your car twice a year — once at the beginning of fall and once at the beginning of spring. If you want to wax your car more frequently, be sure to do it after a good wash.

4. Apply a Rust-Proof Coating

A rust-proof coating is another excellent protective layer for rust prevention. However, it’s not a good idea to apply the coating on your own unless you have lots of DIY experience. Play on the safe side and leave the application of advanced chemical products to a professional. Next time you bring your car to the shop, ask for a rust-proof coating treatment.

5. Store Your Car Safely

Red car sitting in garage

Along with these basic preventative maintenance tasks, you must protect your car from the elements to prevent rust in the long run. A cool, dry garage is perfect for car storage, but a basic plastic or polyester car cover is also adequate. The key is to limit moisture exposure. Sheltering your car will also extend its lifespan and help you save money on other repairs.

Nip Rust in the Bud

Rust always becomes a bigger problem for vehicles as they get older. It doesn’t matter how often you drive them. That’s why you need to nip rust in the bud before it reaches below the surface level. Now you know how to remove rust from a car and keep it off for the foreseeable future.

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.