How to Rust Metal

It’s understandable that most people want to prevent their cars and power tools from rusting, but some steel objects actually gain character from having a nice rusty patina. With a few household chemicals, it’s easy to speed the oxidation process along. Below, we’ve shared the basic steps to give your outdoor decorations a charming, weathered look.

  1. Buy Materials: You might already have some of these products in your pantry, so scan through the house before buying anything. To give your steel that rusty finish, you’ll need table salt, white vinegar, and degreaser, along with measuring cups/spoons and a spray bottle. We also recommend you buy a new bottle of hydrogen peroxide, instead of using an old one in your medicine cabinet. For safety purposes, you should be wearing goggles and chemical resistant gloves at all times. Remember, you’re going to be combining harmful chemicals, so be careful!
  1. Degrease the Steel: After stripping your steel of any coating or paint, the metal will be ready for degreasing. Read the degreaser bottle’s instructions as you apply it to the metal, and take care not to touch it with your bare hands. You want the degreaser to work its magic, but you don’t want to add more oil and dirt in the process.
  1. Pickle the Steel: Yes, the next step is just like pickling cucumbers, only here you’re pickling steel. This helps to create a uniform coat of rust, instead of certain areas being rustier than others. Pour some white vinegar into the spray bottle and then spray every inch of the metal object. Let it dry in the sun, and then repeat several more times. Now, your steel will be ready for the main event.
  1. Make It Rusty: So you’ve prepped the metal object for rusting, but how does the oxidation process actually happen? First, you’ll need to create a rusting solution by combining 16oz hydrogen peroxide, 2oz white vinegar, and ½ tablespoon of salt. If possible, mix this solution in the spray bottle with some of the leftover white vinegar. Shake it up so that everything mixes well, and then start spraying down your object. If the rusting doesn’t start happening immediately, you may need to put your object in direct sunlight for a while. Heat helps the process.

After you spray the metal, let it dry, and then repeat for about 7 cycles, your steel should look like it’s aged years. Make sure you don’t touch the rust until it has fully dried out, because it might rub off. The longer it stays in the sun, the better.