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How to Clean Antique Metal for a Rust-Free Finish

Reviewed by Antiques Collector Kate Miller-Wilson
old-fashioned rusty metallic key

If your antique has rusted areas of metal, you can improve the appearance and value by learning how to clean antique metal. Enjoy a rust-free finish on your antiques when you learn how to clean the metal properly.

How to Clean Antique Metal

There are several ways you can safely clean antique metal, but before you get started, give some thought to whether you want a professional cleaning or refinishing. If the item is valuable or very important to you, real restoration is best left to the professionals. However, if you simply want to improve the overall appearance, there are several methods to try. Always test these out in an inconspicuous spot on the piece before proceeding.

How to Clean Rust off Antique Metal With Vinegar and Lime

Rust is susceptible to naturally high acidic properties. This means you probably have the ingredients needed to remove rust off of your antique metal pieces.

Supplies Needed

Instructions

  1. Use the scrub pad to tackle the accumulated rust. Be careful not to scratch polished surfaces.
  2. Use a paper towel sheet to apply vinegar directly to the rust areas. Leave the vinegar on the rust for several minutes.
  3. Use the scrub pad to remove the rust.
  4. Use a fresh sheet of paper towel to wipe the metal clean.
  5. For more stubborn rust:
    1. Create a paste using a 2:1 ratio of salt and lime juice.
    2. Take a sheet of paper towel to apply the salt/lime paste to the rust area.
    3. It will take about 2.5 to 3 hours for the acid to react with the rust.
    4. Use the scrub pad to work the paste into the rust.
    5. With a damp sheet of paper towel, wipe the lifted rust and paste from the metal.
    6. Repeat until all of the paste and rust is removed.
  6. Wipe the metal dry with a clean, soft cloth.
  7. Finish with a blast from a handheld hairdryer to ensure the metal is completely dry.
cleaning rust from vintage bicycle

How to Clean Old Metal Hardware With Vinegar and Ketchup

You can remove the rust from antique metal hardware. The antique hardware is a small detail but has a big impact on the look, quality, and value of an antique.

Supplies Needed

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Dry soft cloth
  • Hair dryer (optional)
  • Ketchup
  • Large bowl
  • Paper towel
  • Rubber gloves
  • Screwdriver
  • Scrub pad
  • Toothbrush

Instructions

  1. Using the screwdriver, remove all of the hardware from the antique piece.
  2. Place all of the hardware and screws in the bowl.
  3. Pour enough vinegar to cover the hardware.
  4. Add ketchup by pouring it over the hardware pieces.
  5. Allow ketchup and vinegar to interact (4 to 8 hours).

Check on Progress of Rust Removal

  1. Don the pair or rubber gloves and lift a couple of pieces from the mixture to see if the acid in the vinegar and ketchup have completed their task. If not, return to the mixture and wait a couple hours more.
  2. Test again, and if the rust is lifting, it's time to scrub.
  3. Dab ketchup to cover the hardware piece.
  4. Use the scrub pad or toothbrush to scrub remaining rust off the hardware.
  5. Return hardware to solution in the bowl.
  6. Let the hardware remain in the bowl for an additional four to six hours.
  7. Check progress and if necessary, scrub hardware with scrub pad or toothbrush.
  8. Remove rust-free hardware from solution and rinse with clean water.
  9. Drain on a paper towel sheet.
  10. Use the clean dry cloth to finish drying hardware and screws.
  11. Use a hairdryer to ensure all moisture removed to avoid rusting again.

How to Clean Antique Aluminum Metal

Some antique pieces may feature aluminum metal that can easily rust. You can clean rusted aluminum with a few simple household/pantry items.

Supplies Needed

  • Clean, soft cloth
  • Cream of tartar
  • Baking soda
  • Hair dryer (optional)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Bowl
  • Fork
  • Water for rinsing
  • Rubber gloves

Instructions

  1. Don a pair of rubber gloves.
  2. Add a 1:1 ratio of baking soda and cream of tartar to the bowl.
  3. Use a fork to mix the baking soda and cream of tartar.
  4. Add enough hydrogen peroxide to make a paste.
  5. Wearing rubber gloves, spread baking soda/cream onto the rusted metal.
  6. Allow mixture to work on the rust for one to two hours.
  7. Rinse metal with warm, clean water.
  8. Dry with a soft clean cloth.
  9. If necessary, use a hairdryer to ensure all moisture has been removed.

Clean Antique Metal to Enjoy a Rust-Free Finish

You can refurbish antique metal with a little elbow grease and pantry ingredients. Choose the best method for the type of antique metal you need to restore.

How to Clean Antique Metal for a Rust-Free Finish