A few months after I sold my first horse, I was walking through the pasture and found a shoe he’d lost sometime in the preceding year. Although it would be a nice keepsake and something I could use to create an equestrian project with sentimental value, it was covered with layers of rust.
Thankfully I’d been experimenting all winter with using citric acid to clean rust off garden tools that I (oh-so-irresponsibly) tend to leave out in the elements. Turns out, the basic combination of citric acid, water, and time completely removes rust from metal. I was pretty thrilled, especially after trying to remove rust from tools with caustic chemicals like CLR and The Works without luck. A common ingredient in canning recipes, citric acid is an organic acid a little stronger than vinegar, depending on the concentration you mix it in.
Supplies You’ll Need:
A bucket or plastic container large enough to hold your rusted object(s)
Very hot water
Pure Citric Acid – You may be able to find citric acid locally, but it’s usually sold in small packages by the ounce. Amazon has 5 lb Bags of Citric Acid for a much better price that anywhere I’ve found locally. (I actually get a regular delivery of it, because it’s also great for boosting dishwasher detergent, descaling coffee makers, removing hardware stains, and general cleaning)
1. Scoop the powdered citric acid carefully into your bucket. I add about 1/3rd cup of powder per gallon of water, but you can use more or less depending on how rusty your object is and how quickly you need results.
2. Fill your bucket with very hot water and stir to dissolve powder completely.
3. Add your rusty object. (in this case, a horse shoe and rusty bolt cutters!)
When you are pleased with your object’s new, bright finish, dry it completely and apply a protective coat. (The metal will seem “dirty” and rub off dark marks on your hands, this is normal for steel and iron with no protective coating) You MUST protect the finish or the unprotected metal will rust again almost instantly. You can apply clear coat / lacquer, or just spray with cooking oil and wipe.