How to Keep Your Tools and Machines Rust-Free [Updated 2021]

May 24, 2019 12:53 pm

Rust occurs when iron, or an alloy containing iron, is exposed to oxygen and moisture for a long period of time. If your shop is located in a particularly humid area, you’re likely to be familiar with the issue and you’ve probably already found yourself in the painful situation of finding your tools covered in rust.

Luckily, you don’t need to move your shop to a drier climate to avoid the problem. There are several different solutions and products that will help prevent your tools from rusting. Let’s take a look at them.

Keep the air in your shop dry

Controlling the internal conditions of a machine shop is the first thing you should do to prevent rust from forming on tools and machines. Since rust is related to humidity, the goal is to keep the air as dry as possible.

The best way to control humidity and temperature is by installing an air conditioning system. However, this solution might be expensive and is not always practical. If you are looking for a less expensive option, we recommend keeping the doors of your shop closed as much as possible and running a fan to keep the air moving. Another solution is to get a good dehumidifier like this.

Move your tools to a more dry area

Placing sensitive machine tools near an open door that’s exposed to outside elements will increase their susceptibility to rust. When possible, try to place machines and tools in areas that are less exposed to humidity and that are away from doors.

Treat your tools with rust preventive products

Using rust preventive products on your tools is the easiest and most affordable way to keep them rust-free. These solutions are designed to inhibit any moisture from developing by forming a protective barrier over the metal. Here are our favorite picks:

 

LPS 3

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The LPS 3 is one of the best and most commonly used rust inhibitors in machine shops. It’s fairly cheap and will protect your clamps, vises, tables, etc. for up to two years. All you need to do is spray a light coating on your tool and then spread it around with a clean paper towel.

 

Break-Free

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Specifically created for firearms, this solution creates a thin film around metal surfaces that protects them from moisture and other contaminants. It’s perfect for cleaning, lubricating and protecting your tools from rust.

Rust Bandit Rust Inhibitor 32 oz

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The Rust Bandit Inhibitor rapidly coats and inhibits rust. It even dries clean and quickly, leaving no tacky feel. This solution is non-corrosive, non-flammable and biodegradable. If you’re interested in buying in bulk, they offer a larger size.

Miles Lubricants Qs Way Lube

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This solution was specifically developed and designed to provide an extra margin of machinery protection. Way Lube has excellent oxidation and lubricity. Unlike the other products above, this is not specifically designed for rust inhibition although it serves the purpose.

Rust removal

The solutions listed above are a great way to avoid the threat of rust, but what if your tools are already rusted? Luckily, there are ways to remove it. These products, most often called rust converters, will help you get the job done right. Many of the rust removal products below were recommended by members of the Practical Machinist forum

Many times, removing rust involves a lot of scrubbing and scraping. These products have been developed to avoid that gruesome step. If you do find yourself in that position, check out this thread for some tips. 

Cleaning rust from tools is a pretty simple process and you can achieve good results, but our recommendation is to always try to prevent your machines and tools from rusting in the first place. With just a few easy methods and the right product, you’ll be able to keep your tools and machines rust-free and ready for action.

Evapo-Rust – The Original Safe Industrial Strength Rust Remover

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Evapo-Rust is definitely a fan favorite thanks to its reliability and reputation. Available in liquid or gel form, this product is specifically formulated to remove rust and requires no special equipment. All you have to do is soak your parts in the liquid formula or cover them in the gel, and let them sit for a few hours. Take a look at how Adam Booth (aka Abom79) uses it to clean rusted tap wrenches and C-clamps.

Gempler’s Eco-Friendly RCQ Rust Converter and Primer All-in-One

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This product is great because it is environmentally safe, non-flammable, and made from an easy, clean-up water-based formula. Additionally, the solution does not require pre-process steps, like sandblasting and grinding down the surface, prior to application. 

WD-40 – 300042 Specialist Rust Remover Soak

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This non-toxic soak made with biodegradable ingredients helps make old metal look new again without scraping, chipping, or scrubbing. Especially great for rusted tools, this product is part of the WD-40 Specialist Line which is designed for industrial-strength quality and extreme penetration.

Cleaning rust from tools is a pretty simple process and you can achieve good results, but our recommendation is to always try to prevent your machines and tools from rusting in the first place. With just a few easy methods and the right product, you’ll be able to keep your tools and machines rust-free and ready for action.

 

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19 Comments

  • Old Guy says:

    Used chamfor blocks for years, the vapor gets into places that a spray won’t and no residue to wipe off. Works great in the Mid-South.

    • sortofmachinist says:

      I’m having good luck with wiping bare steel with a mix I make of 1 part butcher’s wax, 8 parts mineral oil. Here in coastal Connecticut, the summers are very humid.

  • ED says:

    There is one item that is fairly illusive that I have been using for a few years. It actually lives up to its claims and very hard to find it is called Gibbs lubricant. http://www.gibbsbrandlubricant.com/ I have never seen it in a store. You can get it on ebay. I am 79 yrs old and I never used anything like it, You can even paint over it. http://www.gibbsbrandlubricant.com/

  • wayne says:

    Put camphor blocks in your tool box.

  • gert7to3 says:

    Use fabric backed rubber material to cover tools, especially saw tables. Rust results from moisture. Moisture condenses on cold tool surafces when the temperature rises in a cold, damp shop.

  • Matt says:

    I had a ductless A/C/heater installed. Not cheap but considering the cost of tools and machinery, not expensive.

  • Mark says:

    I live in Florida, my shop is in my garage. I leave a small oscillating fan on at all times to keep the air moving. Although this does not completely stop rust from happening i have found it really helps control it.

  • Peter says:

    You could zip-tie a tubular gun-safe heater (“GoldenRod” is a brand I remember; there probably are others) to an out-of-the-way part of the main tool casting (like under the bed of a lathe). It doesn’t produce a LOT of heat – not enough to be an issue unless you’re running a super-precision shop, in which case you’re probably fully airconditioned anyway – but it warms things enough to keep moisture from condensing on the metal.

    The heaters come in a range of sizes.

  • John says:

    I keep my cramps, non-chromed wrenches, metal stock, hammers etcetera in the airing cupboard. The wife complains noisily but I’m undeterred. Rusty tools give me the shakes.

  • Dale says:

    I have found that “Bo Guard” T9 works very well on my equipment here in Florida’s humidity.

  • Mike says:

    I prefer “Heavy Coat Rust Preventive”, item #145220 from imscompany.com to LPS3. It dries faster and leaves a less gooey coating. It’s made for outdoor storage of injection molds, although I see on their website they also have tool steel protectant, rust inhibitor, rust remover etc. They’ve got all of the good stuff to keep precision metal finishes free from blemish.

  • Jay says:

    I never heard of using camphor, will give it a try. Any non lethal ideas to keep mice from nesting and pissing in my tool drawers? Thanks, Jay

    • Don says:

      The same solution, camphor or moth-balls in your tool box, no rust and no mice….I use moth-balls in our camper year round as mouse deterrent and camphor in the shop for tools and small machined parts awaiting assembly or finishing.

    • sortofmachinist says:

      Jay, in Connecticut, our oak forests are mouse breeding grounds. If you park or store a camper near oak trees, the mice automatically get in and in months they will fill it with acorns, pee, poop, and baby mice. It’s beyond disgusting. Here’s one thing that works: mice hate the smell of clean. So people put lots and lots of dryer sheets and moth balls all over the place. This seems to make the mice not want to be there.

  • RexTX says:

    The item that has worked for me for many years is simple lanolin, thinned with mineral oil or blended (warm) with machine oil or way oil. Lanolin is the active ingredient in some of the most effective aerosol products (Liquid Film). Under $20/lb, which is about a 5-year supply for me.

  • WOODY says:

    I have used ‘FLUID FILM’ for more than 20 years and I have found it to be the best product for rust control!

  • Ekaeric says:

    Remington Rem oil spray, when I’m done with a project all tools, tool holders, clamps etc…. are lightly sprayed then I dab off the extra with oil damped paper towel leaving a lite coat on each. We live in 90% plus humidity Eureka, Ca. Zero rust problems. I will be adding a gun safe golden rod to sit on VF2SS table with doors closed when not in use just for those days in the winter when the wife opens my shop door to drive her car out.

  • Cast iron says:

    Vaseline, puts a barrier between the air and the metal, keeps your tools, chucks, beds, like new.

  • PC says:

    My boss says if we’d work instead of goofing off, our tools wouldn’t have a chance to get rusty.

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