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De-Rusting with Vinegar

by Alan Christensen
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A quick and not too expensive rust removal technique using

V i n e g a r !

        The problem I had to solve was removing a coating of rust from the running boards of my pickup truck.  The running boards had some channels which made brushing difficult.  My son and I bought some vinegar to soak the metal in.  First we measured the running board,  and then went to a warehouse grocery store for supplies. 


        White vinegar was sold in boxes -- two gallons per box. 

        We lined up vinegar boxes on the floor until they were the same length as the running boards (11 boxes or 22 gallons). 

        We also bought a plastic painter drop cloth 3 mil thickness and some phosphoric acid (Jasco Prep and Prime solution). 

        Total cost for supplies was under $50.

        We attached the boxes with duct tape into a line.   Then using a box cutter, we slit the inside partitions of the boxes (with a box cutter) and folded them over using duct tape to hold them down.  This left a little of the side of the box for support.

        Finally the painter drop cloth was placed in the new trough, (and folded into a double layer) and wrapped in duct tape.

        The running board was placed in the box, and then the box was filled with white vinegar.


         The metal was soaked overnight.  The next day it still looked rusty.
        However, a quick spray with a power washer took all the rust and light paint off the running board, including inside channels and difficult crimped corners.    

        We brushed on, and paper-toweled off a coating of phosphoric acid to inhibit rust on the newly bared surface and after letting it dry overnight. It looked brand new and ready to prime.

        We were also able to soak and derust numerous smaller parts.

        Eventually we poked a leak in the plastic.  I was able to drain some of the remaining vinegar into 5 gallon buckets and we hosed down the rest. 

Alan Christensen
Bolter # 5686
Austin, Texas

        We were stumped at how this might work on rust so we asked the Stovebolt's resident Cider 'n Vinegar man ~~ Squeeze!

        "I've never heard of that myself, but I'd give it a try. Vinegar is an organic acid - very corrosive. It might be that it attacks the surface enough to destroy the bond the rust has and allows the powerwash to blow it away. Phosphoric acid itself is a rust remover, and I would think using it afterwards would be critical to preventing re-rusting. Another thought is that vinegar attacks zinc aggressively, which means NO galvanized parts, or brass (which has zinc in it). Acetic acid (vinegar) is the thing that's used to etch new galvanized things to enable them to hold paint

        Most places I've found all recommend the electrolytic method over vinegar, as vinegar actually attacks the underlying steel as well as the iron oxide (rust). This means it must not be left in the solution longer than necessary, and vigorously rinsed immediately, paying attention to joints and hidden areas where it will be hard to flush it all out. Also one place specifies the process works best if the vinegar is heated, which creates strong fumes that will irritate

        With these cautions pointed out, this is one more method to add to the arsenal to destroy rust!

        Keep in mind, too that vinegar is *extremely* damaging to concrete because it eats the lime content, and etches the surface quickly. ( I tipped over a 50 gallon barrel in the back warehouse ....... major disaster. ) Also, vinegar is used as a weed killer! (Hmmm ... some deadly stuff there ... but it's also got some good stuff, even healthy to drink ~~ Editor.)

       Be sure to check out our extensive Forums discussions -- from General Truck talk, Electrical Bay, Big Bolts, Panels and Burbs, Engine and Driveline, Paint and Body, Interiors, Tool Chest -- The Stovebolt Collective can help in your quest and walk you through the mire and magic of working with old iron. ~~ Editor .         

v. April 2006

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