Several Ways To Do Rust Removal
There will always be that age old battle — whether to purchase a product made of steel that is strong, solid and durable – or to have something made of a lighter material that is easier to maintain – like plastic. Fact is, products made of steel – when properly maintained – will far out last most other building materials. Unfortunately, with steel, rust will eventually set in. But that really isn’t so bad. Some of the oldest standing American structures were built from steel and continue to stand tall and beautiful after decades of use. Can you imagine how long the Manhattan Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge would have lasted if they had been made from wood – or worse yet — plastic? So what’s the big secret about keeping steel in good condition? Making something last is no big secret – all it takes is a reasonable maintenance program. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is constantly being cleaned and repainted. A bridge made of steel that is built over salt water — now that’s got the be a world-class maintenance challenge.
Sooner or later everything oxidizes — in one form or another. Steel rusts, paint chalks and plastic gets brittle. When plastic gives off enough free chlorides (which plastic does from the day it is made) the result is a brittle material that cracks very easily. Oxidized plastic can not be repaired so we recommend contributing the crumbling goods to a recycle center – or better yet a charity – at least then you can take a tax deduction. When paint mixes with oxygen it gets chalky. Paint is not normally very thick, so after polishing away a chalky surface several times most paint begins to fade and finally disappear. When steel oxidizes the result is rust. But unlike plastic and paint, rust can be removed from steel year after year, layer after layer, without causing appreciable damage to the structural value of the steel. This is probably the main reason why steel is such a good buy – simply put – steel can be maintained over very long periods of time. All you have to learn how to do is control rust. Note, we didn’t say “completely prevent it”.
We can’t absolutely prevent rust, but we can sure show you how to slow it down. Paint and oil are two types of coatings that can be relied upon to shield a metal surface and therefore prevent oxygen from getting to it. With wood paint keeps water from causing rot. With steel the same paint prevents water from causing rust. As paint deteriorates (oxidizes) its effectiveness as a rust barrier diminishes. Eventually, moisture makes its way through the surface of the paint and gets to the metal – result – rust.
Once rust occurs it must be completely removed before a new layer of paint protection can be applied. A rust removing chemical such as naval jelly works wonders on thinner layers of rust, but other techniques must be used on thicker layers. Massive layers of rust should be scraped, wire brushed, wire wheeled, sanded or rubbed with steel wool – depending on the density of the rust. Finally, naval jelly should be used.
We prefer a wire wheel attached to an electric drill. Using this technique, the drill does most of the hard work. Naval jelly is used to remove the really fine layer of rust that is left behind by the wire wheel. Naval jelly is nothing more than phosphoric acid (usually found in a gelatin-like form). Phosphoric acid makes light work of lighter layers of rust but does not work well on heavy build-ups. Buy the way, naval jelly also is available in spray form. But, spray or jelly, you don’t want to get it on your skin or in your eyes. So please, if you decide to purchase and use naval jelly – make sure to heed the manufacturers safety instructions – it is potent stuff.
Once the naval jelly has done its job, the cleaned surface can be washed with a paste of baking soda, which can be rinsed with water. Quick thorough drying is a must. Raw, wet steel will begin to rust in minutes.
Finally, don’t be confused by penetrating oil. Penetrating oil will break down a certain amount of rust, but it is not considered a good rust remover.