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Fighting the Scourge That Never Sleeps : Household Rust Can Be Eliminated With Inexpensive Tools and Simple Techniques

May 01, 1999|Associated Press

Homeowners often deal with rust ineffectively. But with a range of inexpensive tools and materials at their disposal, homeowners can fight rust and, in the bargain, produce well-protected metal that gives several years of service, even outdoors.

Rust removal basics are simple.

First, clean the surface thoroughly using a detergent and water. Let it dry, then remove the rust and deteriorated paint. Finally, wipe off remaining dust with a clean, dry rag and paint the metal. The idea is to start with a clean surface so dirt and oil are not driven into the steel in the process of removing the rust and paint. You should be left with a clean, well-abraded surface that forms a good foundation for the paint.

The most radical rust-removing tool, short of a sandblaster, is a small disc grinder. On the other end of the spectrum is the hand wire brush and attachments that work with an electric drill. Abrasive wheels and cones also work well. You can hold a small work piece in one hand and grind off the rust with the proper tool. If the rust is severe, clamp the work piece in a vise.

The most versatile rust-fighting tool is an electric drill with a coarse abrasive disc. This is handy for work on curved surfaces. Although not normally considered a rust fighter, the belt-sander is effective on flat surfaces, especially if the work piece can be secured to a workbench.

The best foundation for a rust-resisting paint job is a primer that contains at least 84% zinc by weight.


There are two important things you should know about zinc-rich primers.

First, they work best when the surface is well-prepared. The zinc must make a good metal-to-metal (electrical) connection with the steel. The other point is that zinc reacts with paint resins, especially alkyds, and forms a crude soap. The process, called saponification, can cause the top coat to peel from the primer.

To prevent this, isolate the primer from the topcoat with an intermediate coat. You can use a product such as Rust-Oleum's Zinc-Sele primer, followed by the company's Gutter Shield product as the intermediate coat and a gloss-black alkyd paint topcoat.

To deal with rusty handrails, first remove the loosest layer of rust and deteriorated paint from a handrail using a wire wheel attached to a drill. Next, use a paint-and-rust stripper to remove as much of the remaining rust and paint as possible. Work into tight areas with abrasive strips and pads.

After the railing is painted, caulk where the handrail is let into the masonry stoop. This joint is vulnerable to corrosion. Deicing salts attack the base of the post, especially where the paint has been nicked by snow shovels.

Rust-treating chemicals don't work well for large and heavy rust-removal jobs, but they're fine on small jobs.

The most common rust-fighting chemical is phosphoric acid, such as Naval Jelly, that will strip off rust when applied with an abrasive pad. Rust converter, another chemical, converts rust into a paint-ready zinc-oxide film. The product is applied after loose rust is scrubbed off.

To clean corrosion from old-fashioned brushed aluminum doors and windows, use an aluminum jelly. Don't use a steel-wool pad in this process. Steel wool particles will embed themselves in the aluminum and form corrosion. Instead, use a cloth or a plastic scrubbing pad.

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