Rust is the oxidization of metal–most often iron and, in the case of Lady Liberty here, copper. Rust stains come from a multitude of sources, and they occur in almost as many places. The main problem is that rust then gets rubbed, dropped, or scraped onto something else creating a stain. Some of the most common places for rust stains to occur are on clothing, carpets, upholstery, concrete, tubs, sinks, showers, and occasionally, stainless steel surfaces. There are a variety of ways to get rid of these rust stains.
The first thing you should do is find out which of the five sections below best describes your current rust stain. Within each of the sections, there are multiple ways to get rid of that particular stain. You may end up trying more than one before you actually remove your rust stain (each step will weaken the stain just a bit), but hopefully, you won’t have to try them all. At the bottom of the page you’ll find some information about active ingredients in commercial rust stain removers.
Best Steps to Getting Rid of Rust Stains on Fabrics
There are three things you can try to remove rust stains from clothing or other fabrics.
The first is a combination of lemon juice and salt.
Lay your clothing out flat, and pile salt over the stain. Then, pour some lemon juice onto the salt until it’s saturated. Let that sit for 30 minutes before you rinse it. Some people leave it out in the sun for 30 minutes, but be careful because citric acid can bleach fabric.
The second thing you can try is plain white vinegar.
Soak the stain in vinegar for a few minutes, then rinse it with water.
Third, since chlorine bleach will set a rust stain, try a little hydrogen peroxide and cream of tartar
Make a paste, and spread it over the rust stain. This one can only be used with rust stains on white clothing. Whatever you do, don’t put anything in the dryer until you have removed the rust stain; drying might set it.
Getting Rid of Rust Stains on other Surfaces
Getting rid of rust stains on upholstery and carpet
A steam cleaner is a good way to remove stains of all kinds, and many cleaners offer special detergents that can be used to remove rust stains. You could check out this multipurpose handheld cleaner from Comforday at Amazon if you wanted to try it for smaller stains. There are other commercial rust stain removers, but they can be rather harsh. I would try a cheaper and less caustic option before reaching for the industrial strength stuff. Applied to the stain, a paste made from salt and lemon juice should take care of it just as well. Be warned that the citric acid in lemon juice can bleach colored fabrics and upholstery, so test it on an unexposed portion first, for example, under the sofa. After applying the paste, let it sit for a couple of hours before vacuuming. Reapply and repeat as necessary.
How to remove rust stains from concrete.
Because concrete is usually found in moist spots like the garage or basement, it’s a common place for rust stains to occur. If you leave anything metal in contact with concrete, you are almost sure to cause a rust stain. To remove rust stains from concrete, try using hydrogen peroxide (a.k.a. oxygen bleach) mixed with water. Apply to the stain and scrub it with a stiff, non-metal bristle brush. Another substance that works well is Bar Keepers Friend, but make sure you wear gloves when you use this stuff. Three things you will want to avoid when cleaning rust stains on concrete are TSP, chlorine bleach and muriatic acid. These substances are extremely caustic and can be very harmful to you and the world. It just isn’t necessary to put your health in risk when cleaning a rust stain.
The best way to remove rust stains from bath tubs and toilets.
As long as the bathtub, sink, or toilet is porcelain, the best way to remove rust stains is to use a pumice stone. Start by cleaning the whole thing with some soap, water, and/or vinegar. Scrub the whole area once with a hard-bristled scrub brush; this will remove any other grime, leaving just the rust stain. At this point use a pumice stone soaked in warm water to scrub the stain. If you’re dealing with a non-porcelain surface, use rubber gloves and CLR to remove the rust stain. You may also want to try Bar Keepers Friend, or, for a truly green option, a paste made from cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide. Just follow the formula: apply, rinse and repeat, until it’s the way you want it. 4-pack of Mr. Pumice stones from Amazon.
Removing a rust stain from a stainless steel surface.
Stainless steel should never rust—unless it is left dirty or wet for long enough. This is because it’s an alloy with chromium in it. That chromium oxidizes on the surface and makes a barrier, keeping the iron from doing the same. When rust does form on the surface of stainless steel sinks it is because of a leaky faucet or because something was left sitting in it for too long. To clean rust off of stainless steel you need to just scrub it off and keep it dry to prevent it from happening again. The best way to do that is to get a green scrubby and some soap, or, if you’re lazy, use Bar Keepers Friend and a metal scrub brush.
Active Ingredients of Commercial Rust Removers
Some very common and popular rust stain removers are Iron Out, Whink, Star Brite, Bar Keepers Friend, and Zud. Whink contains an acid called hydrofluoric acid; it is highly corrosive, and it can cause poisoning on contact. If you chose to use this stuff, use extreme caution. The others, Iron Out, Starbrite and Zud, use oxalic acid as their active ingredient. Prolonged exposure to oxalic acid is bad for you, but as long as you wear protective equipment and keep the area ventilated, you should be okay. There are a number of other rust cleaners on the market, and I always recommend reading the MSDS (material safety data sheet) before you buy something. That way you know what to expect before you buy, and you can make the necessary safety preparations before you start work.
Best Natural Rust Stain Removers
Lemon juice and salt is used to remove rust stains from fabric, cloth, carpet and upholstery as well as hard surfaces. Make a paste and apply it to the stain, let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, and then sponge or rinse it off with clean water. Be careful as citric acid can bleach colored fabrics.
Cream of tartar can be used in combination with hydrogen peroxide for white clothing. For another option, you could dampen the fabric with water, apply some cream of tartar (a small pile), and then hold the fabric over a pot of boiling water. Repeat until the rust stain is gone. A paste of cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide can also be used to remove stains from sinks and bathtubs.
White vinegar has a mild acid known as acetic acid in it, which can help to remove rust stains. Just soak the item in the vinegar for an hour or two, and then give it a good rinse to see if the stain is gone. If it remains, repeat the process while perhaps scrubbing a bit. It’s a bit safer than using the industrial cleaning agents.