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Rust is the name for the orange-brown flakes of iron oxide that form on the surface of any iron-containing metal exposed to air and water. It is a type of corrosion that is unsightly and highly destructive to the integrity of the metal. This article provides tips on how to prevent rust in various kinds of iron-containing metals, such as steel and stainless steel.
Rust Prevention – Understanding the Rusting ProcessThe rusting process begins when iron reacts with oxygen in water, saltwater, acids, or other harsh chemicals. As the iron oxide flakes off the metal surface, it exposes new iron molecules, which continue the reaction process. Eventually, large areas of rust form that may cause the entire metal structure to disintegrate.
Ferrous Metals – How to Stop RustOnly metals that contain iron can rust. All ferrous metals contain iron, so rust prevention is a primary concern among these metal types. Common ferrous metals that can rust include:
- Carbon steel (1018, 12L14)
- Alloy steel (4130)
- Stainless steel (304, 316)
Rust Prevention TipsOxygen in water molecules combines with iron to form iron oxide. Iron oxide is essentially rust. To prevent iron oxide buildup, cars, gates, tanks, and other steel or iron-containing metal forms must be properly cared for, especially in outdoor environments. By wiping down wet ferrous metals and keeping them as dry as possible, rust prevention is possible. The following examples provide some of the best ways to prevent rust.
Reduce Scratching to Prevent RustMetal scratches or cracks hold water. When this occurs, the water remains in contact with the iron, causing rust. Cold rolled steel is more corrosion resistant than hot rolled steel; cold rolling creates a smoother surface without texture that traps and holds water. If you notice a deep scratch on your ferrous metal surface, it must be remedied as quickly as possible using proven rust prevention techniques.
Prevent Rust with Protective Coating ApplicationsDipping metal objects, such as clocks, into a bluing solution of water, sodium hydroxide, and potassium nitrate provides strong corrosion resistance. Commercially available rust prevention products in the form of aerosol sprays or cloth wipes can protect metal objects, including tools, outdoor gear, vehicles, and large metal parts, from rusting. Products and accessories that help prevent rust include:
- Metal Cleaners
- Metal accessories
Utilize Stainless Steel for Enhanced Rust PreventionStainless steel alloys contain iron. However, stainless steels resist rust due to the high percentage of reactive chromium content, which is even more reactive than iron. The chromium in the alloy oxidizes quickly to form a protective layer of chromium oxide on the metal surface, preventing oxygen from reaching the underlying steel.
Galvanized Metals Provide Superior Rust PreventionGalvanization is a coating process used to preserve the substrate steel, providing rust-free protection for many years. In the galvanizing process, a piece of steel is coated with liquid zinc. The zinc protects the steel in three different ways. First, the zinc coating acts as a barrier preventing oxygen and water from reaching the steel. Second, even if the coating is scratched off, the zinc protects nearby areas of the metal through cathodic protection. Third, zinc is highly reactive to oxygen and quickly forms a protective coating of zinc oxide, preventing the iron from further oxidation.
How to Stop Rust with Regular MaintenanceBecause rust spreads quickly, it's crucial to scrape it off as soon as it appears. Following the scrape, scrub with warm water and soap, and apply a metal conditioner or other protective coating to prevent further oxidation. If necessary, use a new coat of paint for the area.
Rust Resistant MetalsCertain non-ferrous metals contain little to no iron, allowing them to exist rust-free. These rust-resistant metals are ideal for applications that require the presence of specific metal properties without the limits that often exist with ferrous metals. Non-ferrous metals include:
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Learn more about corrosion-resistant metals.