Remove rust off your gear and tools with vinegar or ketchup

Did you know that vinegar is a great way to remove surface rust off of metal objects like tools, stoves, or camping gear? I didn’t, but after seeing it done on YouTube I gave it a try and it worked quite well.

I do take care of my tools, but have inherited and found some used tools that were neglected and gathered some rust.


The following two were my fault though. The small pair of wire cutters and the rust on this parang were from me not applying a protective layer of oil on them.




The first step is to scrub everything down with soapy water to remove any grease or oil that is on there. This is an important step because I forgot to do that the first time I put all these in a vinegar bath and not very much rust came off. After washing them properly and then soaking in vinegar again, it worked much better.

Because it would take quite a lot of vinegar to submerge the parang, I opted to try spraying it and the wire cutters down with some ketchup on just the areas that have built up rust.


The rest of the tools I submerged in vinegar for 24 hours. Without even touching them, look at the rust that has just flaked off.


Taking a brass wire brush, I lightly brushed off the remaining rust and the tools are looking much nicer now!


Some of the files and punches still had some of the 20+ year old rust on them, but they do look much nicer now and I’m happy with the results. Another soak or two with additional brushing probably could get them back to new.

The parang however didn’t show any signs of improvement. I’m not sure why, because the ketchup worked great on the wire cutters. Maybe it is the type of steel it is made out of.

I then put some oil on a rag and wiped all the tools down to prevent this from happening again.

Neat little trick, but hopefully I never have to do it again and can prevent this from happening with proper maintenance in the first place.

Further reading: How to maintain garden tools with a bucket of sand and oil


  • Comments (7)

    • 4

      For heavy rust I use a strong solution of washing soda and electrolysis, a car battery or 12 volt battery charger is perfect for the job. You will also need a sacrificial piece of iron for the anode (+). The rusty object is the cathode (-)

      It really works, I have taken a rusted Sheffield steel Army knife that I bought at a sale for £2 and stripped the rust off with almost no effort using this method to reveal a really great knife. Before electrolysis it was rusted solid, it is now my every day carry pocket knife.

    • 2

      Very interesting. Thanks!

    • 3

      I have a jewelry repair kit with one piece that has rusted and it bothered me a lot, but I didn’t know what to do about it. After reading your post, I placed that rusted base piece in a cup with vinegar for a couple hours and used a old toothbrush to clean it off. Thank you so much for sharing this tip and getting my piece back to how it was.

      Before and after jewelry

      • 1

        Fantastic results! Glad it was helpful for you Alisa.

    • 2

      I have a few jugs full of vinegar with a bunch of rust in it.

        I’ve restored horribly pitted hand planes, saws, files and all sorts of hardware like rusted door hinges and such with it.

        I usually just hit them with steel wool after the initial soak, wash them and then medium grit sandpaper and work up through the grits to get a decent surface and seal with paste wax.

       They take some effort but I mean people sell rusty things super cheap.

       There are professional mixes, I think rust away? The big YouTube restoration channel uses it but white vinegar is super cheap.

      vinegar also works on hard water deposits, and will clean your faucet aerator nicely, and you can even throw brass items in to remove any patina. Works nicely with water hose connectors.

      And if I remember correctly you can use the rust solution as a wood dye and ebonizer with the right products.

      With the parang, you could probably wet some paper towels and stick them on the edge in a shallow bowl for a bit and see how that works, but I would personally just use a fine grit and sharpen the rust off

      • 2

        Thank you for the tip on soaking some paper towels on the edge of the blade of the parang, I should try that and use some sand paper to sand it off and then keep it well oiled. 

        That would be a good test to compare cheap vinegar with a professional product like rust-away.

      • 3

        Another tip for parts that cannot be soaked: once you’ve saturated the paper towel in the vinegar and applied it over the rusty part, cover the paper towel with plastic wrap. That will keep the solution from evaporating.

        I’ve also had excellent results using a commercial product called “Evapo-Rust”. It’s definitely not as cheap as vinegar, but it works amazingly well. I use it frequently on old bike parts. After soaking for 12 hours, they come out looking like new. It’s not caustic, doesn’t stink, is reusable several times and is biodegradable.