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How to Clean Antique Metal the Right Way

cleaning metal doorknob

Antique metal is susceptible to rust leading to an unsightly appearance and lower value. There are several ways to remove rust with all-natural solutions from your kitchen. Items like ketchup, vinegar, baking soda and table salt are pantry staples that can restore your antique metal pieces to their original shine. 

Besides the ingredients, you need to know how to clean antique metal using the right technique to remove stubborn rust stains. You must also take precautions to avoid unwanted reactions to your antique metal items.

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cleaning metal doorknob

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Method 1: Vinegar and Lime Solution

Vinegar is renowned as one of the best rust removers because the acid lifts rust effortlessly due to the iron oxide displacing the hydrogen ion in the acid. Citric acid from the lime is a mild acid that won’t corrode the metal underneath the rust, but it provides a potent concoction that fights the oxidation process.

Individually, salt, vinegar and lime juice make exceptional cleaning agents, but together, they’re an effective rust remover. That’s because the powerful acidic properties of lime and vinegar combined with the abrasive qualities of salt eliminate rust easily and quickly.

This all-natural concoction can be used on antique knobs and pulls and even on all types of antique hardware. The ingredients you’ll need are:

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ½ cup table salt
  • Paper towels
  • 1 wire sponge scrub pad

This technique works well for easy-to-remove rust. While some scrubbing is involved, you may find that leaving the solution on long enough makes wiping rust away easy. To effectively remove rust:

  1. Loosen rust particles with a scrub pad.
  2. Dab a portion of the paper towel in vinegar and rub it on the rusted areas. Leave the solution on the rusted areas for at least 30 minutes. 
  3. Remove any leftover rust with the scrub pad.
  4. If there is still rust remaining, combine the lime juice and salt to create a coarse paste. Use the scrub pad to rub circles on the rust using this abrasive solution.
  5. Wipe the antique metal clean with a fresh paper towel. 
  6. Rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly.

Method 2: Vinegar and Ketchup Solution

Ketchup contains acetic acid to help get rid of rust. The ingredients you’ll need to get antique metal squeaky clean are: 

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • ¾ cup ketchup, reserve 1 tbsp.
  • 1 dry soft cloth
  • Paper towels
  • 1 sponge scrub pad
  • 1 soft-bristled toothbrush

Some metal items, such as hardware, need more care than others. A soft-bristled toothbrush, the right cleaning solution and a little elbow grease help bring the sparkle back to antique metal and can remove rust in hard-to-reach places. 

  1. Place all the rusted antique hardware and screws in a bowl and pour enough vinegar to cover all the parts.
  2. Add ketchup and soak for four to eight hours. Check in from time to time to see if the rust is lifting.  
  3. Dab the scrub pad in more ketchup and wipe the rusty areas. 
  4. Use the toothbrush to reach all the nooks and crannies. 
  5. Once all rust is removed, rinse with clean water and drain on a paper towel. 

vinegar baking soda cleaning supplies

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Method 3: Rust Removal with Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil

Although the alkaline chemical makeup of baking soda won’t eliminate rust, this pantry staple is mildly abrasive, and the minute particles can effectively scrub away rust. 

However, baking soda also helps catalyze the reaction between the aluminum foil and the rusted antique metal parts, facilitating the transfer of oxygen to the aluminum rather than the iron. 

You can get your antique metals clean fuss-free without damaging the metal with everyday ingredients in your pantry. The ingredients you need include:

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • ½ cup table salt
  • Aluminum foil (large enough for your antique hardware to fit)
  • ½ gallon hot water
  • ½ gallon vinegar (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. dishwashing soap (optional)

Always use a plastic or glass bowl. Metal containers can disrupt the aluminum oxidation process, rendering this rust-removal method ineffective. 

  1. Crumple up aluminum foil and place the antique metal item on the foil for the solution to work.
  2. Mix 1 tbsp. baking soda, 1 tbsp. salt and hot water to cover all the metal items.
  3. You’ll notice tiny bubbles rising to the surface, which is a sign that the solution is working. Soak for 15-30 minutes. 
  4. For heavily rusted metal items, add vinegar and dishwashing soap to remove any tarnishing.

squeezing sponge water into bowl

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Method 4: A Powerful Rust Cleaner for Stubborn Rust Particles

There are times when stubborn rust particles are hard to remove. Creating a paste works better because the concentration levels provide a potent concoction that’s tough against rust stains. 

Creating your own rust remover with common household ingredients and a simple technique include:

  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice 
  • 3 tbsp. salt
  • 1 sponge scrub pad
  • Paper towels
  1. Make a paste from 3:1 parts salt and lemon juice. 
  2. Apply the salt-lemon paste with a paper towel.
  3. Scrub rust away with a scrub pad using firm pressure and small circular motions.
  4. Wipe the rust and excess rust-removal paste away with a damp paper towel. 
  5. Repeat the process until all the paste and rust are removed and pat dry with a clean, soft cloth and rinse with clean water.

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Seal Metals to Promote Longevity

Although most rust-removal methods are simple and achievable with pantry staples, rust prevention is critical. Some essential rust-prevention techniques include proper storage, drying thoroughly with a hairdryer and treating the metal with sealants, such as clear enamel spray or linseed oil. You can also galvanize your antique hardware, pulls and knobs, as zinc-coated metals slow down corrosion.

Keep Your Antique Metals in Pristine Condition

Antique metals are a worthwhile investment, but they need regular care to prevent corrosion and preserve their shine. You can use all-natural household ingredients to eliminate rust and increase the value of ornaments, furniture fixtures and even antique cutlery. 

Whether you’re upgrading your kitchen, bathroom or even need a library ladder for your remodeled study, Van Dyke’s Restorers can help. Contact us at (800) 237-8833, or browse our online catalog. 

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