Using Acetone to Remove Rust: Does It Work?

Removing rust with acetone.

If you’ve noticed that your gardening tools or kitchen knives have become rusty, you might wonder how to make them sparkle again. Some household remedies renowned for removing rust include acetone.

Acetone can remove rust because it’s a solvent that effectively cleans metal. It also works well to clean metals before they need to be painted. However, acetone is not the most effective way to remove rust, especially if large sections of the item are rusted.

In this article, I’ll explore what you need to know about removing rust with acetone. I’ll also look at what you need to know about the effective methods of cleaning rust and important precautions to take before using acetone on different surfaces. 

How To Remove Rust With Acetone

According to the New Mexico State University, acetone is a common ingredient in solvents that clean items thoroughly. Acetone can effectively

  • Dissolve grease.
  • Eliminate oil.
  • Remove oil and grease.

While there’s no mention of acetone being an effective way to remove rust since it cleans so well, you can try it on the rust you’re hoping to eliminate.

In addition, cleaning metal with acetone could work well as a preventative method to keep your metal items clean and rust-free. Best of all, acetone doesn’t leave an oily residue when used on materials, reducing your cleaning efforts.

Before using acetone to remove rust, ensure you work in a well-ventilated area or outside the home.

You need the added ventilation because acetone fumes can cause side effects such as nausea and headaches. You should also wear rubber gloves to protect your skin from dryness and irritation.

Here are the steps to follow to remove rust with acetone.

  1. Pour a quarter cup (60 ml) of acetone into a glass container, not plastic, as it will melt.
  2. Dip a scouring pad or sponge into the acetone. Note that you should use a brush or scouring pad to remove rust from hard surfaces such as metal, but a sponge is better for use on other surfaces.
  3. Gently scrub the rust off the item. You should scrub the item until you can’t see any rust on it.
  4. Wet a lint-free cloth with water to wipe away any rust residue on the item.
  5. Dry the item with a clean cloth.

After cleaning items with acetone, you should be careful about how you dispose of it. If you saturated a cotton ball or cloth with acetone, you should squeeze out the excess liquid into a sealed container before disposing of it.

Never pour acetone down the drain where it can damage your PVC pipe. PVC is a type of plastic; acetone is known for eating into plastic, making it brittle and prone to breakage. Instead, take the wasted acetone to your local hazardous waste treatment site.

How To Remove Rust Stains With Acetone

If you’ve removed rust from an item but are left with a rust stain, you can use acetone again to eliminate it, as long as you’re sure the acetone won’t damage the surface.

The acetone will also work well to remove stains from a rusty item that made contact with water.

Follow these steps to clean rust stains using acetone.

  1. Wet a clean cloth with some acetone.
  2. Gently rub the stain with the cloth. If you’ve used a lightly-colored cloth, you will see the rust stains transfer from the surface into the material.
  3. When you can no longer see the rust stains, wipe the item down with a wet sponge. The sponge will also remove any acetone residue, which is important to prevent the acetone from eating into the material.

Problems With Using Acetone to Remove Rust

Although acetone can remove surface rust, it’s not the most effective solution. There are some potential drawbacks to using acetone, so here are some things to consider.

  • Acetone can remove paint from surfaces. You must be careful when scrubbing items or surfaces with acetone to remove rust, as it will also strip their paint. Acetone is effective at removing a variety of paints, such as enamels. It also works well to remove oil-based paint.
  • You need a lot of acetone to clean all the rust. It might look like the acetone has cleaned the rust without actually eliminating it. This ineffectiveness is usually observed when trying to eliminate a large amount of rust. You will have to choose a different ingredient or commercial product for a more effective rust-removal method.
  • Acetone is flammable. The flammability of acetone is important to bear in mind and should prevent you from using it on any items coming into contact with heat. Acetone is flammable in both vapor and liquid form. Don’t use it next to an open flame.
  • Acetone has a strong smell. To some, the strong scent of acetone is unpleasant, making it difficult to work with. You will have to ensure you always wear a protective mask.
  • Acetone is dangerous to human health. Making contact with acetone can cause skin irritation, such as in the form of dryness and redness. If you get acetone in your eye, it can irritate or damage the eye. If you breathe it in,  it can irritate the lungs. The damage caused by acetone increases depending on the extent and duration of exposure.
  • Acetone isn’t effective at deeper rust stains. If you have a small area of new rust that you want to remove from a surface, acetone can work well. You can even soak the item in acetone to make it work thoroughly. But, sometimes, you might have to use a stronger ingredient to get the job done.
  • Acetone can’t be used on all materials. If an item can dissolve, such as wood or plastic, you should refrain from treating it with acetone. It can easily strip the wood.

Effective Store-Bought Alternatives That Remove Rust

Although there are other household items that you can use to remove rust, such as vinegar, you can also purchase products that are specifically designed to tackle rust.

These can sometimes be more convenient, especially if you’ve tried to remove rust with acetone and it didn’t work as well as you’d hoped. Here are some of the best rust-removal products that are available from Amazon.

  • Workshop Hero Metal Rescue Rust Remover. This product is easy to use because you don’t have to brush or scrub the product onto the rusty surface. You just have to soak the rusty item in this rust remover. It also doesn’t contain any potential injury risks either, unlike acetone.
  • WD-40 Rust Remover Soak. It works quickly to remove and dissolve rust to restore your metal items. It’s a non-toxic product that you can use to soak items in, and it’s biodegradable, which makes it easier to dispose of after use.
  • Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer. This product is a good alternative to rust-eliminating products. You can use this product on any metal surface to cover up rusty parts so that you can easily paint them. It also prevents rust from forming in the future, so it’s a great preventative product to own. 

Final Thoughts

If you have rusty items in the home or garage that you’d like to clean, you can use acetone. Acetone works well as a cleaning solution and degreaser, so it can remove some small areas of rust and is safe to apply to various surfaces.

However, if you have larger or more stubborn areas of rust that you need to eliminate, you’d do well to follow up the acetone with a commercial rust-removal product.

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